Sunday, 7 December 2014

politicised, even the olive harvest.

The first time I realised how delicious olive oil from the West Bank can be was more than ten years ago when a Palestinian farmer offered me breakfast as I stood watching a broad strip of his land being destroyed.

He was unlucky enough to live close to Ariel, one of the biggest Jewish settlements Israel has inserted into the land Palestinians want for a state.

In the first few years of this century Israel was in the early stages of building its separation barrier, the complex of walls and high tech fences that it says are necessary to protect its people from attacks by Palestinians.

The barrier would be less controversial if it followed the old 1949 ceasefire line.

It was the boundary between the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Israel, until the Israeli army captured the area in the 1967 war.

But instead the barrier takes big bites out of land Palestinians consider to be theirs.

That morning it was the turn of the farmer to see the dark earth of his olive groves torn up.

He had tried to move as many trees as possible, but his land was still going to be divided by a fence.

He was going to have to get permits to tend his trees on the other side of the wire. Most farmers, if they are lucky get a day to plough and a day to harvest, assuming the Israeli army is there to let them through gates in the barrier.

Powerful symbol

He invited me back to his house, and served glasses of sweet tea, traditional taboon flatbread, cheese made from the milk of his sheep, and a great bowl of olive oil from his own trees.

I could taste the fruit in the oil, and then a pungent, peppery mouthful. It was impossible to imagine the hills of the West Bank producing anything bland.

Olive oil from the West Bank is perhaps the most political food in the world.

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