Marking the annual olive-harvesting season, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in the Near East (UNRWA) West Bank Field Office organized an olive picking event in the West Bank town of al-Walaja. The village is located four kilometres northwest of Bethlehem and is home to some 2,600 registered Palestine refugees.
The annual olive harvest season is a key economic, social and cultural event for Palestinians, and a festive moment for family and friends coming together. However, every year, farmers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, face threats of various kinds by settlers, including but not limited to physical assaults and intimidation, destruction, uprooting and vandalism of olive trees, theft of crops and harvesting tools.
In addition, the West Bank Barrier and the associated gate and permit regime are additional obstacles for Palestinian farmers facing access and movement restrictions, that have severe consequences for the living conditions and livelihoods.
To mitigate the impact of some of these challenges, UNRWA, along with other humanitarian partners, have carried out activities to protect and support Palestine refugee farmers. This year UNRWA has dedicated a day to assist a refugee family with olive picking while at the same time providing olive harvesting tools and a protective presence to deter potential settler attacks.
This year, in addition to UNRWA staff members, students from the UNRWA Al Walaja School participated in the event. The Deputy Director of UNRWA Affairs in the West Bank, Ms. Kate O’Rourke highlighted the importance of the Agency’s engagement with and continuous support to Palestine refugees. “It is exceptionally important for us to have this activity, both to reaffirm our solidarity and commitment to protection for the Palestine refugee community in Al Walaja, and to participate in such an important part of Palestinian cultural heritage,” Said Ms. O’Rourke.
Also speaking at the event, the Head of the Al Walaja village council, Mr. Khader Araj thanked UNRWA for the participation in picking olives and added, "UNRWA staff participated in picking olive trees on approximately thirty dunums of land that are currently under threat of confiscation. This participation is part of the many contributions made by UNRWA to the residents of Al Walaja village, over the past years, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since 2012, UNRWA has implemented four Community-Driven Protection Projects in al-Walaja, including opening an agricultural road, rehabilitating a water spring, rehabilitating the UNRWA school located there, and providing support to farmers during the olive harvest season.”
Al Walaja is surrounded by the West Bank Barrier on three sides and neighbours the illegal Israeli settlement of Har Gilo. It is also adjacent to the Area B West Bank towns of Beit Jala and Bethlehem. The Barrier has disconnected Al Walaja from some 1,000 dunams of agricultural lands, now on the other side the Barrier. In an advisory ruling, the International Court of Justice stated that the Barrier is in violation of Israel’s obligations under international law and called on Israel to cease its construction and dismantle build up sections.
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 with a mandate to provide humanitarian assistance and protection to registered Palestine refugees in the Agency’s area of operations, namely the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. Thousands of Palestine refugees who lost both their homes and livelihood because of the 1948 conflict have remained displaced and in need of significant support for over seventy years. UNRWA helps them achieve their full potential in human development through quality services it provides in education, health care, relief and social services, protection, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance and emergency assistance. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions.
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