Under siege, Gaza's olive farmers face falling yields

Under siege, Gaza's olive farmers face falling yields
In-depth: Years of blockade and small- and large-scale Israeli military actions have taken their toll on farmers in the coastal enclave, writes Rami Almeghari.
4 min read
10 November, 2017
Palestinian olive farmers have had to replant trees after previous groves were destroyed [AFP]
The olive harvest is the most important season in the Palestinian calendar, particularly in the fertile Gaza Strip. But this year's season has seen reduced yields of olive oil, a source of nutrition and revenue for many of Gaza's two million residents. 

The Auda Extraction Facility in the central Gaza Strip is considered to be one of the largest such factories in the Middle East. Here, olive growers from across the coastal territory queue to process their produce. The plant is booked solidly from from early October to the end of November.

"I came here to extract [oil from] two tons of olives, souri type," said Wael Alqassas, an olive grower from Johr Eldeik in eastern Gaza.

"The souri type is the best... Extracting the olive oil is much better than selling it out, especially this season. Compared with the last season, our production has drastically dropped; last year it was six tons. Also, this year, people's purchase power has notably decreased."
In the last year, I welcomed many customers, but this year, many of those customers did not show up

Alqassas said that the olive oil price has dropped 20 percent on last year. "In the last year, I welcomed many customers, but this year, many of those customers did not show up."

Alqassas told The New Arab that his farmland, more than a kilometre from the Israel-Gaza border, is inaccessible during Israeli army attacks.  
The Auda extraction facility is one of the
largest in the Middle East [Rami Almeghari]

Some obstacles

Naser Auda, owner of the Auda extraction facility, told The New Arab that they had difficulties coping with demand:

"During the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza, we had some of our machines ruined. Yet, we were able to stand on our feet again, thank God. Other difficulties include shortage of power supply, as we need high voltage to run our five Italian-made extraction lines. For the time being, we use a giant power generator that requires us to pay lots for fuel."

Olive a primary crop

The Gaza-based Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture told The New Arab that this year was worse in terms of production than last year.

"In the Gaza Strip, we estimate the quantities of olive production at 23,000 tons, compared with 30,000 tons last year," said the ministry's Nezar Alwehaidi.

"We in the agriculture ministry always seek some sort of self-sufficiency, yet there are some obstacles, including the size of farmland... Since the breakout of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000, Israeli occupation authorities have destroyed 5,000 acres of olive farmlands. Of course, many of those farm lands have been rehabilitated, yet Israeli actions on eastern parts of Gaza are frequent.

"The last major Israeli war, of 2014, caused the ruin of many thousands of olive tress in the eastern areas of Gaza." 

Over the past 24 hours, I have been only able to sell less than 10 kilograms, even though the price is less than last year

Purchasing power

In the Nuseirat refugee camp, in the central Gaza Strip, Rami Albanna has been showing off 100 kilograms of olives, which he plans to sell in the camp's marketplace.

"Over the past 24 hours, I have been only able to sell less than 10 kilograms, even though the price is less than last year. I offer one kilogram of souri olives for 15 shekels [$4.30]," he told The New Arab.

"As an olive trader for the past three years, I can definitely say that this season is the weakest in terms of purchasing."

Each month for the past eight months, more than 50,000 of Gaza's public sector workers on the Ramllah-based Palestinian Authority's payroll have lost 30 percent of their salaries.

The cuts have been imposed by the Palestinian Authority, one of several moves to apply pressure on Gaza's ruling Hamas movement.

"This is a sad moment for me and my family," said Naser Rabah, a 53-year-old PA employee in Gaza. "Every year, we manage to stockpile olives and olive oil, but this year, we can't afford it."

The majority of olive trees here in the Gaza Strip are situated near the border fence with Israel. The most fertile olive farmland is Alsha'af, east of Gaza City.

"We have lost a large number of our olive customers, estimated at 40 percent," Hamdan Hejjy, a long-term olive farmer, told The New Arab.

"Our farm land in the Alsha'af area had been bulldozed in 2004, and again in the 2008-9 war, when we lost the water well and hundreds of olive trees. Our farm is about two kilometres from the border line with Israel.

"The majority of the trees, which we replanted after 2004, have been frequently damaged because of Israeli army actions. Some of the trees we lost are 200 years old."

Rami Almeghari is a Palestinian freelance journalist living and working in Gaza. Follow him on Twitter: @writeralmeghari