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Farmers harvest olives as wall cuts through village

Oct. 11, 2011 1:41 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 12, 2011 9:25 A.M.)
AL-WALAJA (Reuters) -- It is olive picking season in the Palestinian territories, an important harvest as the fruit represents an integral part of the agricultural livelihood of many.

But, the farmers in the West Bank village of Al-Walaja say the construction of an Israeli barrier is threatening this activity.

This small community of 2,300 people located on the edge of Jerusalem's southwest is almost entirely surrounded by Jewish settlements.

The bulldozers have uprooted thousands of olives trees as it clears land for the barrier and has confiscated around 90 percent of the village's land.

The Palestinian villagers say that when building is complete, this barrier will cut them off from their farmlands, cemetery and water source.

In a symbolic event to mark their resistance to the Israeli occupation, men and women from the village gathered to harvest a 3,500 year old olive tree.

"We combined two occasions, a day for Palestinian heritage and the olive harvesting season," explained Maha Saca who organized the event.

"This is all related: olives are a part of our heritage, identity and our existence on this land. We are here to stay like the olive trees. This olive tree represents 3,500 years and gives us 60 bags of olives annually. It is proof that the Palestinian people have existed and lived here for thousands of years," she said.

Israel began constructing the barrier in 2002 at the height of Palestinian suicide bombings in Israeli cities.

It says the barrier is crucial to keeping out attackers, although the route of the wall is twice the length of the Green Line and mostly runs inside the West Bank.

Analysts say the wall -- whose course encompasses Israeli settlements in the West Bank -- is a thinly-disguised move to annex or fragment land in the West Bank.

The International Court of Justice has declared the planned wall - more than half of which is completed - illegal, but Israel has ignored the non-binding ruling.

Earlier in September, EU representatives said they were "deeply concerned" by the impact of the Israeli separation wall on the village, saying it "will cut off much of the village's land," preventing residents from accessing their property and agricultural land.

Upon completion the wall will completely "encircle" the village, EU representatives said, leaving only a single access road connecting the village to the West Bank.

The separation wall is illegal in all areas built on occupied land, they noted.

As well as mounting legal challenges to the route, Al-Walaja residents hold regular demonstrations against the impact of the wall.
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