Every autumn, Zaytoun and the Friends of Madama and Burin coordinate a team of up to 30 volunteers to go out and support Palestinian farmers bringing home their valuable olive harvest. The aim is not just to pick olives, but also to be with the farmers in case of Israeli settler or army harassment.
In the UK we ask interested volunteers to complete an application form which is followed up by a phone interview. A training and assessment weekend is later organised by the Friends of Madama and Burin where the team discusses the practice of non-violence in the specific context of Palestine and the cultural issues involved. In one or two cases the applicant may be considered unsuitable for the tour.
How the tour works
We start in Jerusalem where members of the group meet, staying at hostels or hotels at their own expense, before setting off the next day for the West Bank by public transport. The group is split into three or four teams, staying in different villages for the fortnight, with one day off. This gives time for side-trips to Nablus, Ramallah or Jericho.
Volunteers need to be fit, able to walk about 5 km a day, often uphill over steep, rough terrain, as well as harvest from early morning till late afternoon. Conditions are basic with shared bedrooms and washing facilities for which we pay a modest rent to the house-owner. Cooking facilities are rudimentary, but village shops are reasonably well stocked. Volunteers must be ready to share cooking and/or cleaning responsibilities in the house they stay in - a kitty system is set up for food.
It is not all tough though. The Palestinians are welcoming and appreciative of our presence as it means they have not been forgotten. Harvesting itself is sociable and fun, bringing friendships with the farming families and also between the volunteers. One of the greatest pleasures is sitting down for a sunny picnic lunch in an olive grove, sharing farmers' homemade food (laced with fresh olive oil) and our own contributions, and hearing their stories. Another is getting a tractor ride to or from the olive grove!