Because of the problems the villagers have harvesting their trees since the Wall was built, they are grateful for any help from outsiders. So off we went for a weekend to help a friend with his family's trees. The olive harvest mostly begins in October - it's best to wait until the rains come, but not always possible. This year it was dry, hot and very dusty!
Work starts early while the weather is still cool. After a 5am wake-up call we head down to the checkpoint at the gate in the Wall and wait for the soldiers to open up. After they've checked that the villagers have the necessary papers to enter their own land we're allowed to walk through and start work.
Once ourselves and the olives are back in the village, and once we've eaten (lots and lots!), the picked olives are taken for pressing to produce the olive oil. Jayous has one press that serves all the surrounding villages, some even coming from near Qalqiliya to press their olives here.
When the Wall was first built, the procedure for getting into the fields was even more uncertain and random. Many of the farmers chose to camp out in their fields for several weeks - if they went home to the village they couldn't be sure of being let back out again. Fortunately this time we at least had the pleasure of a bed, even if it was just for a few hours until we got up to do it all over again!
Sometimes it's not quite that easy to get home and eat. While the gates were supposed to open at 4pm it was well past 5pm when the soldiers finally turned up to let us back into the village - after it had gone dark and after we had sat and listened to the mosque signalling the end of the day's fasting. After a day's hard work with no food and water that extra hour makes a hell of a lot of difference!
Just to make it worse, several army humvees drove past while we sat and waited, the driver even having the nerve to laugh and wave just to rub it in. Despite the long day, lack of food and now this, there was little anger or activity from the villagers - maybe they're just too used to it by now and know that there's nothing they can do about it. Finally the soldiers arrived and with the usual military procedure and precision opened the gates and shephered us through, guns at the ready.
Aaaah at last the day's work is finished and we're all way too tired to walk back, especially with several hundred kilos of olives to carry! Fortunately we can hitch a ride to the gate on this tractor. This year's harvest was during Ramadan so we head back just before the sun goes down (the gate is open between 4pm and 5pm) in order to get back to the village to break the day's fasting.
Even lazing around in the shade under the trees, out of sight of the Wall, it's impossible to forget that these are occupied lands. The majority of vehicles we see during the day are heavily armed military jeeps, driving through the field at top speed and spraying dust all over the trees, and us. While the roads of Jayous are bumpy, slow and dusty, the roads by the Wall are smooth new asphalt... yet the only people who get to use them seem to be soldiers.
At the edge of the fields are 8 foot high coils of barbed wire and red signs signalling that this is a Military Area and that anyone who crosses or tries to damage the fence is in "mortal danger" and "endangers his life"
Once we've made it into the fields the next step is to lay out the plastic sheeting under each tree, in order to catch the olives as they fall. Then start pickin'! The olives we picked in Jayous are mostly small and black and look a bit like grapes. When they come off the tree they're not quite ready for eating yet and have to be soaked and pickled a while first. Although actually the vast majority of the olives here are pressed and used to make some of the tastiest pure green olive oil I've ever had.
Once you've given the tree a good final shake, it's time to collect all the olives from the plastic sheeting. You then sit around for a while and sort through them, picking out the leaves and sticks and preparing them for squeezing. After hours climbing trees and swallowing dust it's quite nice to have a sit down!
Picking olives is exhausting work, especially in the heat and dust, but climbing trees all day is kinda fun too. Made me feel like a little kid all over again! First step in picking is to use a small plastic comb to clear the olives from the lower branches. Then you climb up high and make yourself comfy in the top branches. Then you get to whack the tree with a big stick to shake the stubborn olives off. Then you move onto the next tree and do the same all over again, and again!