An Olive Harvest Under Bombardment in Southern Lebanon

The conflict between Israel and Hamas has drawn in Hezbollah militants from Lebanon, threatening olive farmers and their livelihoods.
Hills surrounding Deir Mimas, Lebanon (Photo: Amelie David)
By Amélie David
Dec. 13, 2023 13:52 UTC

RMEICH, Lebanon – Sorry for the late meet­ing, but you know, it’s the olive har­vest sea­son, and I need to go there before the end of the day. Otherwise…” Father Nagib’s speech is inter­rupted by the sound of a bomb­ing.

On the top of a nearby moun­tain, smoke rises. The sur­round­ing of Rmeich, a Christian vil­lage in south­ern Lebanon, has been under con­stant bom­bard­ment since October 7th, the day Hamas attacked Israel.

Hamas is the polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary orga­ni­za­tion gov­ern­ing Gaza and is des­ig­nated as a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion by the United States, the European Union and seven other coun­tries.

See Also:Lebanon’s Climate Is Becoming Less Conducive to Olive Growing

So far, nearly 18,000 Palestinians and at least 1,200 Israelis have died in the con­flict, accord­ing to the Associated Press. In Lebanon, about 20 civil­ians and nearly 100 mil­i­tants have died.

Father Nagib’s hands are col­ored green and black as he spent the after­noon pick­ing the fruits of his trees. His grove is right on the bor­der with Israel.

Like him, many vil­lagers in this part of Lebanon have olives in their fields for domes­tic con­sump­tion or to sell for a liv­ing.

According to the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture’s fig­ures, the olive sec­tor in Lebanon counts more than 110,000 olive grow­ers and about 200,000 plots with 12 mil­lion trees. The local farmer’s union esti­mates that 20 and 30 per­cent of the national pro­duc­tion comes from south­ern Lebanon.

The olive sec­tor is impor­tant in Lebanon, not only eco­nom­i­cally but also cul­tur­ally. More than half of the trees are more than 500 years old, accord­ing to at least one esti­mate.

While the eco­nomic and social cri­sis, ongo­ing in the coun­try for the past four years, has impacted the country’s olive oil pro­duc­tion, con­flicts in the south of Lebanon between Hezbollah, a polit­i­cal party and mil­i­tant group with links to Iran, and Israel’s army are mak­ing it even more dif­fi­cult this year.

The Lebanese gov­ern­ment said 40,000 olive trees have burned down since the begin­ning of the con­flict.


Smoke rises from an Israeli airstrike near Yaroun, in south Lebanon, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

If some peo­ple decided to stay to save their har­vest, more than 50,000 peo­ple flew south. Some of them we met at a dis­placed camp in Tyr (north of Rmeich) were agri­cul­tural work­ers. Olives stay on the trees in some fields because no one can pick them.

In Deir Mimas, north of Rmeich but still close to the bor­der, the sound of air­planes is nearly con­stant.

See Also:Nurturing Italian Cultivars in Olive Tree’s Historic Home

Syrian work­ers come back from the olive groves, where they try to rush to har­vest as much as they can.

This vil­lage needed 400 work­ers in the field dur­ing the past sea­son. However, this year, many have already left because of the con­flict. Even though Deir Mimas was not hit directly, it was in the mid­dle of the fights.

Sitting down at her table in her gar­den, Hanoune, who declined to give her full name, fin­ishes her lunch. Despite her smile and warm wel­come, the vil­lager can not hide her wor­ries about this year’s sea­son.

Sometimes, when we are in the fields, we can hear the bomb­ings. It’s scary. But some­times, we can’t,” she said while peel­ing a man­darine.

Hanoune relies on her olive groves and a guest­house for her fam­i­ly’s liveli­hood. She knows this year will not be a good one for either.

We are wait­ing for the olives, and then we sell them,” she said. Every year it’s like this, but what about this year? I made soap out of the oil, the pack­ag­ing, and stuff, it cost me a lot of money.”

But, now I can’t sell them,” she added. It can wait until next year, but how am I sup­posed to live in the mean­time?”

Hanoune fears an esca­la­tion at the bor­der, sim­i­lar to what hap­pened in 2006. During the 34-day con­flict between Hezbollah and Israel, nearly all the local infra­struc­ture was bombed.

It would add another chal­lenge to this year’s har­vest sea­son, more col­lat­eral dam­age of humankind’s fury.


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