May 2024

This month (May 14) at last saw a face-to-face meeting in London of five OHT trustees, joined by others on zoom. The meeting heard more reports of the worsening situation in the West Bank, including repeated attacks on village houses, on schoolchildren, extensive arson in the olive groves and arbitrary arrests. Circulation on main roads in the area is also hampered by multiple checkpoints, resulting in agonising delays; travelling to and from the markets and shops in Nablus can take hours. On a positive note, this means that more villagers are now growing their own food in order to boycott Israeli produce which monopolises local supermarkets.

Good news came with the result of the online learning appeal which raised a total of £15,918 including Gift Aid. So far, tablets and smartphones have been supplied to Urif Boys’ School, Burin Agricultural College and Madama Boys School. Further requests have now been received from As-Sawwiya School (including installing wifi), Madama Girls’ School and Tell Girls’ School. Trustees agreed to go ahead with these grants, particularly as the trusted teachers involved had sourced and priced equipment which worked best. Getting the funds to the relevant schools is never easy, and in some cases bank transfers have to transit via Jordan.

Students from Burin Agricultural College – proud recipients of smartphoness

We also heard that Dalia Faraj has successfully obtained her Masters in Technology & Engineering Management in Tarragona, Spain. This was much aided by OHT’s special appeal last year to fund her living expenses. Since then she has married Carlos, an educator, and remains in Tarragona teaching. She says, “‘It has been a wonderful year of personal and professional growth, and I am excited about the future opportunities that lie ahead. Once again, I extend my heartfelt thanks to Olive Harvest Trust for your generous support… I will always remember the pivotal role your organization played in my journey.”

Carlos and Dalia Faraj in Tarragona

Another project suggested and funded by our vice-chair is the repair of an external staircase at Al Sawwiya school. Once the steps are in better shape, students can enter the school from above rather than from the lower road where they are regularly ambushed by the IDF.

February 2024

Nothing has changed in the Occupied Territories since our last update – except that the situation has deteriorated even further. As of today, February 25th, nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been massacred in Gaza and with foreign aid blocked by the Israeli authorities, starvation spreads and hospitals barely function. It is a horrifying picture amid the devastation of homes, schools, mosques and hospitals. Meanwhile, in the West Bank where the OHT works, OCHA figures show the impact of the war on the olive farmers during the 2023 season. An estimated 96 square km of olive groves remain unharvested leading to the loss of over 1,200 metric tons of olive oil and a direct financial loss of US$10 million. This affects not only the farmers, but also their children whose mental health is undoubtedly suffering in the current circumstances.

The Nablus governate (district) has undergone particular violence, recording 40 incidents of vandalised olive trees – just some of the 10,000 Palestinian trees estimated to have been uprooted, burned or chopped down across the West Bank in 2023 – mainly by Israeli settlers.

Again according to OCHA, between 7 October and 30 January 2024, 370 Palestinians (including 94 children) were killed in the West Bank, while 4,386 Palestinians, including 660 children, were injured. The OHT is aware of how much our projects are needed, and we continue to develop plans for a happier future.

December 2023

As we near the end of the year the situation in the West Bank is still deteriorating. We hear from our friends that life is increasingly difficult due to lack of money. Many Palestinians work in settlements or in Israel itself in order to make a living – but at the moment this is clearly impossible. One of our contacts is so desperate he has even asked us for money to feed his family. The problem is always how to get the money to them. One wrote to us “All people live under stress and fear…In this land there are no rules. No one can stop them (the settlers & IDF). We feel alone. Currently there is no difference between living in Gaza or in the West Bank – they want to kill us.”

Luckily the situation has improved for some boys from Urif who are benefiting from using tablets funded by the OHT (see Projects) and able to work together in the village hall while schools remain closed. Equally, Burin Agricultural College has been able to access their greenhouses and keep on top of planting seedlings (below). Some good news at least!

 

October 2023

This is a bleak time. We are all devastated by the news coming from Gaza and the West Bank following the Hamas attack of October 7th in Israel. Some of our trustees were due to visit Burin and Madama during the olive harvest together with the Protective Presence group; their departure was scheduled just days after the attack. With borders closed and no flights, this inevitably meant cancellation of their trip and huge disappointment for our Palestinian friends.

While bombing escalates horrifyingly in Gaza and deaths soar, the West Bank is also suffering. Reports from our friends tell us how they are unable to harvest their olives as they are turned out of their groves by violent settlers supported by the IDF (army), how the schools are closed and children forced to do remote classes (if they have the technical means – for most it may only be a basic mobile phone), how villagers hardly dare go out due to settler attacks on houses, cars and persons, and how they daren’t drive on the main roads. Checkpoints have multiplied and some villages are under lockdown. Food prices are soaring too due to the difficulty of distribution.

As of today, October 22nd, more than 80 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and over 1,000 taken prisoner. We can only hope for a ceasefire.

February – March 2023

Trustees and volunteers were delighted to greet our host from Burin, Doha Asous, in London as a guest of Zaytoun, the importer of Palestinian produce. This was to appear during Fairtrade Fortnight and circulate the word about olive farming under occupation. However just as she left Burin, some 400 settlers started a rampage through the neighbouring village of Huwara, killing one man and injuring many other Palestinians, torching cars, homes and shops. Burin, too, was under attack with cars and houses in flames. In the continuation of this last spate of frightening violence, several more Palestinians were killed.

At the first Fairtrade event in London and another in Bristol, our deputy-chair, Maggie Foyer, spoke eloquently about the activities of the OHT, stressing the need to support the children through their schools. The traumatising sight of this spiralling violence has, yet again, led to their mental health suffering. At the London event, a raffle of Zaytoun goods plus a donations box brought the OHT a welcome £580.

London event for Fairtrade Fortnight 2023

October 2022

This autumn trustees and the Protective Presence team were at last able to visit the West Bank and see the reality on the ground. The news was not good. Violence has spiralled this year, leaving devastated olive groves, increased attacks on schools (Urif Boys School has been forced to install an ‘escape gate’ for students), damage to houses and a general climate of fear and depression. Poverty is part of the picture, as many male heads of families are unable to get permits to work in Israel. In some places (eg the nearby town of Huwara) Palestinians are afraid to walk in the street for fear of being shot by settlers.

In nearby Nablus,violent confrontations between the IDF and inhabitants have resulted in Palestinian deaths and the spread of arms. Out of this has come the Lions’ Den, a para-military group of young men who are forming strong resistance to the increasingly extremist Israeli authorities; nightime raids and arrests are common. At OHT, we are concerned by the effect of this on nearby villages such as Burin and Madama – all the more reason to support their schools.

Settlers attack olive groves

Olive Harvest 2020: Violence in the olive groves

This autumn’s olive harvest has been a particularly stressful and violent one for the farmers of Burin and Madama due to recurring attacks, arson and theft of olives. As children usually help out with the harvesting on their days off, or after school, this year will be very different and even more frightening for them. The absence of international protective presence has meant that Israeli settlers act with a heightened sense of impunity greater than ever before. In some cases young Israeli volunteers come to help the farmers, but this is far from enough to prevent the recurring aggression.

October 2020: New grant agreed for Urif Secondary School

At the OHT video-conference of October 5th 2020, it was agreed by the trustees to give a further grant of £4000 to this vulnerable school. Once we have more precise costings, we shall decide on the breakdown of allocations. In principle it aims to fund more laptops for the teachers, tablets & curtains for the computer room.

May 2020: New grant for Urif Secondary School

Following the last meeting, trustees agreed to give 15,000 ILS (about £4000 including bank costs) to Urif Secondary School to fund extensive repairs of the school roof. This has been leaking badly into several classrooms for some time and trustees felt it was worthwhile repairing the entire roof to preempt any further leaks.

April & October 2020: New grant for Burin school farm

Stock picture of hens

Good news for Burin Community School! At the OHT trustees meeting by video-conference on April 21st, it was agreed to make a grant of 10,500 shekels (about £2400) for extending the school farm. Until now it has concentrated on vegetables and fruit. This new grant will fund 8 rabbits, 60 laying-hens, hutches & related equipment. Delivery of the hens & chickens is expected in October / November; the hutches arrived earlier.
Animal husbandry and agriculture are now part of the school curriculum – an enlightened approach to education which we are very happy to support. Nadil Awad, the new headmaster, is very pleased with the progress of the school farm.

Since the OHT agreed to fund it, an offer has been made by the Educational Authority to lend the school four cows and some goats from Hebron. At the OHT video-conference of October 5th, it was agreed to look into possible funding of a cow-shed, if an existing building proved impractical.

2020 Coronavirus in the West Bank

Full lockdown started relatively early in the West Bank, on March 23rd 2020. One month later there were 461 active cases and two deaths. The Nablus area, where OHT operates, registered only 5 cases. The Palestinian Health Ministry is able to carry out 4,000 Covid-19 tests a day for the population of about 3.2 million. Children suffered during lockdown, as very few had the necessary equipment for home-schooling however in early September they were able to return to their classrooms. The OHT made an emergency allocation of £500 to Urif Secondary School to cover initial PPE and cleaning requirements.

Covid infections started escalating significantly in late August. By late September, Nablus governorate (population 405,754) registered 2600 cases, 22 deaths and 1698 recoveries. The worst situation is in Hebron, with over 16,000 infections registered on 24/09/2020; the total number of cases in the West Bank was then 37,591. 3 weeks later total cases had soared to 56,467, of which 3,340 were in Nablus.

Sadly the Palestinians are also having to deal with an escalation in land-grabs by Israeli settlers – made easier by the lockdown. And in March, demonstrations near Nablus by young Palestinians led to the deaths of two demonstrators, shot by Israeli military.

 

October 2019 visit

This year’s olive harvest was a particularly stressful one due to increasingly vicious settler attacks, in one case targeting volunteers from Britain and Israel. Read this extract (above) from a report by Médecins du Monde and Premiere Urgence: The Case of Burin.

Trustees nonetheless continued to liaise with headteachers and visited school projects (see completed projects).

Bruqin Primary School

A new school that we intend to support is in Bruqin, a village south-west of Burin, Madama and Urif. Here a very neglected children’s playground is  in need of funds for essential repairs. The photos show how much enjoyment this playground gives and the OHT has agreed to donate £1900 towards this.

Bruqin school playground, West Bank, Palestinian childrenBruqin school playground, West Bank, Palestinian children

2019 Urif – a new village school project

In February 2019, two of our trustees visited the village school of Urif (see 2018 news below) in order to understand the reality of its vulnerable location and the effect of persistent attacks by settlers. It was decided that the OHT would finance the construction of a protective wall, which is currently under way and should soon be finished (May 2019).This was completed in July when a gate was attached (not financed by OHT).

Urif school & headmaster
Urif school & headmaster, with the settlement of Yitzhar above

 

Urif school; wall under construction
Urif school; wall under construction

October 2018 visit

A talk about Urif school

Our 2018 harvest visit was bitter-sweet, as we learned that our long-standing friend, headmaster Ayed Al-Qot, had been moved from Madama to a village school in Urif, behind the hill crowned by Yitzhar. In a moving talk he described to us the appalling pressure the school is under due to weekly attacks by Yitzhar settlers, tear gas from the army, widespread PTSD among the pupils and disrupted classes. We hope to support Ayed and the neglected Urif school in the near future.

A visit to Burin Community School

Burin Community School really surprised us on our October 2018 visit – they’ve started a school farm! To oversee this ambitious project, a new agricultural stream has been set up led by a full-time agricultural engineer. It started as a response to the theft by Yitzhar settlers of 40 acres of school land last summer. The school is lucky enough to own 220 acres, which they intend to keep, and the farm is a way of safeguarding it. Growing fruit and vegetables is also excellent therapy, and keeps the pupils occupied outdoors.

 

Burin School's polytunnels
Burin School’s new greenhouses

 

Feras Hassan and orchard
Feras Hassan and orchard saplings

Feras Hassan, one of the English teachers, gave us a guided tour of the existing project, showing off huge, irrigated greenhouses (financed with help from the Mayor of Nablus and village families) as well as an orchard of apple, cherry and citrus saplings.

A visit to Burin Girls School

This school is relatively well off but we hope to fund a new keyboard for them as their musical abilities are strong and need encouragement. (February 2019 update: the keyboard was safely delivered).

October 2017 visit

Madama Girls School – new headmistress

During the 2017 harvest, we were delighted to meet the new headmistress of Madama Girls’ School, the dynamic Nawal Mahmoud Rabaya in charge of 375 students (including 24 in the kindergarten) and 22 teachers. Although grades and averages are high, their drawback is the lack of a science stream and of course the pitiful budget from the Palestinian Authority.

Nawal Mahmoud Rabaya, head of Madama Girls’ School

Despite that, the school looked impressive, partly thanks to Nawal’s existing connections with World Vision and Norway Council. Trustees discussed her school’s needs and agreed to immediately contribute towards the top of her ‘wish-list’, namely a dozen CD/tape-recorders for lessons.

The next item may be a large metal podium to be erected in the playground for speeches, performances and general assemblies. Start saving? (2018 Update see Completed projects – the funds have been donated).

While we visited classrooms, younger children happily stood up and sang for us. The spirit and smiles of these children, despite the stress and limitations of their lives, are extraordinary.

October 2016 visit

A visit to Madama Boys’ School

On October 6th 2016 we visited Ayed Al-Qot at the Madama Boys’ School. Since our last visit the school has been redecorated by the Palestinian Authority, a great improvement on the sad old building. We were shown the smart new science laboratory which we had contributed to, now with granite worktops donated by the South African government. Our visit was very positive much thanks to Ayed’s pride in these improvements. It felt like our input, encouragement and donations made a huge difference. On the list for future funds are black-out curtains for the computer room and bookshelves.

Madama Boys’ School

A visit to Burin Community School

Trustees also visited Burin Community School to meet Abu Ameer, the headmaster. The huge playground is soon to gain a basketball court with the area behind destined for a football pitch and a new canteen being built by the entrance. Abu Ameer noted that Burin was now ‘on the map’ in terms of aid (hopefully we have had some influence here), and Burin Village Council has pitched in to collaborate with other agencies. He also showed us with pride the 15 new computers that had been bought with money donated by Burinites living in the USA. The energy and initiative that he shows in sourcing donations is remarkable.

We have funded the now completed awning beside the playground (see Completed Projects). Our fixer, Abdel Karim Dalbah, dealt with the receipt of funds in the Village Council bank account and payments for the awning. He is given a fee by the trust for overseeing our input.

A new project – English language books When we attended the English language class, the teacher, Munir Shehadeh, lamented their shortage of English literature books; the library (below) looked decidedly shabby. The main hurdle is how to get quality books out to the West Bank. (October 2017 update: see Completed Projects for news on successfully delivered books).

20161006_112741                                      The “English library”