04 November 2016
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) on Thursday organized an olive picking event in solidarity with Palestine refugee farmers in the village of Wadi Fukin in western Bethlehem.
The olive harvest is an important economic, social and cultural event for Palestinians, with nearly half of all cultivated land in the occupied Palestinian territory planted with olive trees. However, illegal settlement expansion, restrictions due to the Barrier and the associated Israeli permit regime hinder Palestinian farmers in Wadi Fukin and other areas from tending to their land, including during the harvest season.
Since 2014, UNRWA, through its Olive Harvest Initiative, has provided harvesting tools for Palestine refugee farmers in 30 vulnerable communities throughout the West Bank.
Today’s activities included briefings by Ahmad Sukar, Head of the Village Council; Mustafa al-Hroub, the representative of the farmers; and Scott Anderson, the Director of UNRWA Operations in the West Bank, and encouraged attendees to participate in olive picking and the planting of olive trees.
Speaking at the event, Mr. Anderson highlighted the protection challenges facing Palestine refugee farmers and the Agency’s response: “UNRWA is concerned about the protection challenges faced by Wadi Fukin and other Palestine refugee communities in western Bethlehem, such as the West Bank Barrier, illegal settlement expansion, settler violence and land confiscation. Through the UNRWA Olive Harvest Initiative, UNRWA wishes to support refugees in the cultivation of their land and sustaining traditional livelihoods, as well as contribute to building community resilience.”
Also speaking at the event, the head of the village council, Ahamd Sukar, said: "We express our thanks to UNRWA for their efforts in supporting farmers and providing them with the necessary tools needed for olive picking in the village of Wadi Fukin, which is surrounded by a settlement. Farmers face many problems and they are denied access to their lands. They are also exposed to daily harassment resulting from the practices of the occupation."
The representative of the farmers, Mustaf al-Hroub, talked on behalf of the affected farmers, expressing his thanks to UNRWA for supporting activities for farmers. He also urged for more interventions to strengthen the resilience of the farmers.
Western Bethlehem has been subjected to some of the largest land appropriations in the occupied West Bank by Israel. In August 2014, the Israeli authorities declared around 4,000 dunums (approximately 4 sq km) as state land demarcated for the expansion of the Gva’ot settlement. Wadi Fukin is the village most affected by this action, which amounts to the confiscation of nearly one third of the village land, effectively ruling out appropriate development of the village and its use of this land for agriculture.
UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA Programme Budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s Programme Budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.
UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance.
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