The Lasting Strain on Israeli Olive Growers Six Months After Devastating Attack

The October 7th attack came as olive growers were preparing for the harvest and fundamentally changed how Israelis feel about their country.
The Sindyanna team posed in the olive grove in December 2023 (Phot: Sindyanna of Galilee)
By Daniel Dawson
Apr. 24, 2024 01:05 UTC

There has been no nor­mal life here since October 7th,” said Ido Tamir, owner of Ptora.

The olive har­vest was just get­ting under­way in south­ern Israel when Hamas mil­i­tants crossed from Gaza at sun­rise, killing 1,139 peo­ple and tak­ing an addi­tional 250 hostage.

Nothing will be the same as it was before. Everyone is sad; you can feel the sad­ness all over the coun­try. But I need to keep going. The land and trees are not wait­ing.- Ido Tamir, owner, Ptora

The attack was the dead­liest in Israel’s his­tory, with many com­par­ing its impact on soci­ety to that of the September 11, 2001, attack on the United States.

Tamir has a 40-hectare olive grove located 25 kilo­me­ters from the Gaza bor­der. He remem­bers five rock­ets falling in his moshava – an agri­cul­tural set­tle­ment – and the sense of fear.

See Also:Olive Trees in Gaza Among Conflict’s Collateral Losses

We were sup­posed to start the har­vest on October 8th, so for us, [the attack] was on the first day of the new har­vest,” Tamir said.

Instead, the olives remained on the trees as Tamir and the rest of the coun­try attempted to come to grips with the per­sonal and national tragedy unfold­ing around them.

One of Tamir’s friends is among those who were taken back to Gaza and held hostage. Tamir still does not know what has become of him.

His farm man­ager is also deal­ing with the trauma of the attacks. He lives in Sedot, the scene of the fiercest fight­ing dur­ing the attack, and hid inside his house. At the same time, Hamas fight­ers bat­tled local author­i­ties and were only repelled the fol­low­ing day after the Israeli Defence Force arrived.

At least 70 Israeli police and civil­ians were killed dur­ing the bat­tle for con­trol of the city.

We were in shock and afraid for one week,” Tamir said. Then we started to think about how to man­age the har­vest.”

Normally, he hires Palestinians from the West Bank to help with the har­vest. However, the bor­der between Israel and the West Bank closed imme­di­ately after news of the attack broke and remains closed.

Many Israeli work­ers did not come either, as 350,000 Israelis of all ages were called up to active duty by the Israeli Defence Force.

Additionally, many Thai guest work­ers, who have been a sta­ple of Israeli soci­ety since the 1970s, evac­u­ated the coun­try in the after­math of the attack and are only now begin­ning to return.

Given the grave sit­u­a­tion, Tamir said it was per­haps for­tu­nate that he was expect­ing a sig­nif­i­cantly reduced har­vest – down 60 to 65 per­cent from last year – given the lack of work­ers avail­able to pick the olives and trans­port them to a local mill.

It helped us man­age because if it had been a reg­u­lar year, I’m sure we wouldn’t have been able to man­age the sit­u­a­tion,” he said.

Many Israeli vol­un­teers came from all over the coun­try to help us,” he added. It was a very spe­cial har­vest.”


Volunteers, many of whom had never done any agri­cul­tural work, par­tic­i­pated in the man­ual har­vest despite air raid sirens indi­cat­ing more rock­ets had been launched from Gaza.

Whenever he was not har­vest­ing olives or in the mill, Tamir attended the funer­als of friends and neigh­bors.

Everyone in Israel was very shocked, so it was a relax­ing way for them to escape the news,” he said.


Missile attacks are not unusual in southern Israel, but Ido Tamir said the October 7th attack was unprecedented. (Photo: Ido Tamir)

Ofer Armoni, the owner of Levant Olive Oil, was among the vol­un­teers who headed south to help with the har­vest.

After com­plet­ing the mech­a­nized har­vest of his 19-hectare olive grove out­side of Tel Aviv, Armoni trav­eled to the coun­try’s south to help other olive farm­ers with their har­vests, includ­ing one injured by rocket fire from Gaza at the start of the con­flict. We help each other, and this is our strength,” he said.

I did not rec­og­nize my feel­ings… It was hard for me to acknowl­edge that part of my peo­ple would do such a hor­ri­ble and tragic act against civil­ians, espe­cially those who know what it is like to live in a con­tin­u­a­tion of the Nakba and occu­pa­tion for more than 70 years.- Nadya Giol, chief group facil­i­ta­tor, Sindyanna of Galilee

Armoni said a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of his sales are for restau­rants and the food ser­vice sec­tor. While they have started to return to nor­mal lev­els, he said that the sales com­pletely halted in the imme­di­ate after­math of the attack.

Now, he believes the sit­u­a­tion is slowly tran­si­tion­ing to the next nor­mal. Nothing will be like it was before the attack, but the sit­u­a­tion is becom­ing qui­eter,” Armoni said. We all pray every day that the hostages will come back and hope that there will soon be peace. I only want to grow olives and make olive oil.”

Six months after the attack, Tamir said there is still no sense of nor­malcy in Israel. Nothing will be the same as it was before,” he said. Everyone is sad; you can feel the sad­ness all over the coun­try. But I need to keep going. The land and trees are not wait­ing.”

Tamir said there had been an unspo­ken trust among Israeli civil­ians and the army, espe­cially those liv­ing near Gaza. In exchange for 2.5 years of manda­tory mil­i­tary ser­vice after turn­ing 18, the army would keep them safe and allow them to live a nor­mal life.”

It was dis­ap­point­ing for Israeli peo­ple because the army wasn’t there,” Tamir said. He also believes the country’s fraught polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion is leav­ing Israel increas­ingly iso­lated and turn­ing inter­na­tional pub­lic opin­ion against the trau­mas expe­ri­enced by Israeli civil­ians.

Since Israel started its air cam­paign and ground inva­sion of Gaza, the Hamas-run health min­istry esti­mates that more than 34,000 have been killed and 77,000 injured, about five per­cent of Gaza’s pop­u­la­tion.

International observers believe these fig­ures will be much higher once the rub­ble is cleared and the miss­ing are accounted for. The United Nations esti­mates that 35 per­cent of Gaza’s build­ings have been dam­aged or destroyed.

On the other side of Israel, the team behind Sindyanna of Galilee, a woman-run non-profit that works to pro­mote peace between Israelis and Palestinians, is also com­ing to terms with what hap­pened six months ago.

The Israeli pop­u­la­tion as a whole finds itself in a state of trauma, grap­pling with the com­plex dynam­ics of the war in Gaza,” chief exec­u­tive Hadas Lahav said.

On the one hand, there is a wide­spread con­vic­tion that a ter­ror orga­ni­za­tion can­not be allowed to main­tain con­trol over Gaza,” she added. At the same time, there is also a pre­vail­ing sense of dis­trust towards the gov­ern­men­t’s abil­ity to man­age the con­flict effec­tively.”

For Nadya Giol, a Palestinian cit­i­zen of Israel and chief group facil­i­ta­tor at Sindyanna of Galilee, the October 7th attack unleashed a tor­rent of con­flict­ing emo­tions.

I received a phone call at 6:30 a.m. from a rel­a­tive, a young woman liv­ing in the south of Israel, cry­ing hys­ter­i­cally and say­ing that she does not know what to do alone in the build­ing,” she said.

Giol tried to soothe her rel­a­tive, telling her that this was another out­break of hos­til­i­ties between Israel and Gaza – since 2001, Palestinian mil­i­tants have fired tens of thou­sands of rock­ets from Gaza at Israel – and every­thing would return to nor­mal soon enough.

The hours passed, and the pic­ture began to become clearer,” she said. I did not rec­og­nize my feel­ings… It was hard for me to acknowl­edge that part of my peo­ple would do such a hor­ri­ble and tragic act against civil­ians, espe­cially those who know what it is like to live in a con­tin­u­a­tion of the Nakba and occu­pa­tion for more than 70 years.”


The Nakba, or cat­a­stro­phe” in Arabic, refers to the vio­lent dis­place­ment and dis­pos­ses­sion of land, prop­erty and belong­ings of Palestinians that occurred dur­ing the estab­lish­ment of the state of Israel in 1948. The term is also used to describe the ongo­ing occu­pa­tion of Palestinian ter­ri­to­ries by Israel.

I felt anger, pain and frus­tra­tion,” Giol added. On the one hand, toward Hamas because of the crime com­mit­ted, and on the other hand, for Israel because the sit­u­a­tion we have reached is because of the ongo­ing con­flict.”

Giol’s anger, pain and frus­tra­tion were shared by her col­leagues at Sindyanna. Like many Israelis, they are deal­ing with the dev­as­tat­ing emo­tional and eco­nomic con­se­quences of the war.

Our team and board have been hav­ing seri­ous dis­cus­sions on the need to down­size our expenses,” Lahav said. We had to shut down our vis­i­tors cen­ter [which receives about 10,000 peo­ple each year] for an unknown period of time.”

Additionally, Sindyanna laid off three full-time staff mem­bers and slashed mar­ket­ing expenses.

According to Adi Naali, the head of the Israeli Olive Board, the lack of work­ers has the most sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic impact on pro­duc­ers. He esti­mated that 85 per­cent of the nec­es­sary work­ers were miss­ing.

Due to the war, cli­matic and agro­nomic fac­tors, Israel pro­duced 11,000 tons of olive oil in the 2023/24 crop year, below the 13,500 tons antic­i­pated by the International Olive Council in its pre-har­vest esti­mate pub­lished in November.

Tamir said many small-scale pro­duc­ers left their olive trees unhar­vested. According to the Israeli Olive Board, olive groves in the Golan Heights and near the Gaza bor­der remain unhar­vested after manda­tory evac­u­a­tions.

We could not com­plete the pick­ing until January 2024, a huge delay,” Lahav said. I am sad to say that the olive oil that was pro­duced at this time was of less qual­ity than we used to.”

Despite their chal­lenges, Lahav and the team at Sindyanna rec­og­nized that the sit­u­a­tion in the West Bank has also become incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult – not to men­tion the ongo­ing human­i­tar­ian cri­sis unfold­ing in Gaza – due to the war.

The non-profit increased its pur­chases of Palestinian olive oil to sup­port the com­mu­nity with which it has worked so closely over the years.

Amidst this back­drop, fear and sus­pi­cion have deep­ened between Jews and Arabs,” Lahav said.

However, the trust we have built [between these two com­mu­ni­ties] over the years has proven resilient even in these dif­fi­cult times,” she con­cluded. Our shared vision for a life marked by mutual respect and free­dom con­tin­ues to bind us, and we believe it will pre­vail.”


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