The Union of Agricultural Work Committees was established in 1986 by a group of farmers, agricultural engineers, leaders and young volunteers from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The union was formed as a first step towards fostering Palestinian farmers’ resilience in the face of the multiple challenges posed by the Israeli occupation, and its ongoing violations and violent policies. At its start, UAWC’s founders organized multiple volunteering campaigns dedicated towards assisting farmers in cultivating their crops. UAWC’s work later expanded, especially after the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority, and took a more organized and institutionalized form. The organization was officially registered according to Palestinian laws and guidelines, and began to implement various agricultural development projects aiming towards improving the economic and social conditions of Palestinian farmers, and to encourage collective, cooperative and participatory work.
On the local level, UAWC has become one of the most important influencers in the agricultural sector due to the significant and specialized experiences it has been cultivating for over 30 years and alongside 100 workers (specialized in the agricultural, water and environmental fields). UAWC is currently at the forefront of agricultural organizations given the organization’s size, its local presence, and the support it provides to over 30,000 farmers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Internationally, and as part of its work to mobilize support for Palestinian farmers in the face of the Israeli occupation’s policies, UAWC has developed relations with multiple organizations, and has participated in hundreds of conventions and international tours.
UAWC has managed to influence the Palestinian government’s regulations and policies in favor of entrenching farmers’ rights. For instance, UAWC has succeeded in relieving farmers from paying the value-added tax (VAT) as a first step towards relieving them from other taxes levied by the government. UAWC has also managed to direct its work towards lands in Area C; the most marginalized and threatened areas in the occupied territories.
Additionally, UAWC has also been working with great dedication on establishing a compensation fund in order to protect farmers from damage due to natural disasters, and damage caused by the occupation and its settlers. The Palestinian government positively met UAWC’s push through a decision to establish a risk prevention and agricultural insurance fund.
The organization has also established the first Local Seed Bank for authentic and local seeds, and has managed to protect these seeds from the imminent danger posed by the introduction of non-local seeds by companies interested in profit and monopoly. Local seeds are considered as the sole source of vegetables and field crops for thousands of families. They are also the most important component of the Palestinian food chain, especially given that 90% of the West Bank’s farms rely on rain-fed agriculture. Today, following 15 years of ongoing work, the seed bank consists of 35 types of high quality local and authentic seeds.
The protection of local seeds by UAWC, considered as an important Palestinian heritage, has prevented severe economic loss and danger posed to the food security of thousands of families. It has also prevented the negligence of thousands of decares of land that would have undoubtedly made it more prone to confiscation by the Israeli occupation especially given that these lands are located in Area C.
In 2014, in recognition of its efforts towards combating poverty, UWAC received “The Arab Thought Award” for the most important development idea working to improve the economic situation of farmers. In the same year, UAWC received the United Nation’s “Equator Award” for the best idea to combat poverty. Additionally, in 2015, the organization won its third international award, “The Food Sovereignty Award,” for its work on entrenching the concepts of sovereignty over resources, and of combating monopoly.
UAWC continues its work directed towards supporting Palestinian farmers’ resilience, and combating the conditions of poverty under which hundreds of thousands of families live in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. UAWC also continues to carry out its strategic development role in Area C that Israel seeks to annex.
It is for the work UAWC has done, and continues to carry out, as part of its broader mission and goals that official and non-official Israeli organizations are directing incitement campaigns to distort UAWC’s standing as an independent grass-root organization; to stop the funding it receives from international organization; and to continue implementing its policy of land annexation.
The Israeli government represented by its governmental and non-governmental institutions considers the Union of Agricultural Work Committee’s (UAWC) strategic and developmental role of supporting farmers’ resilience in area C and of afforestation of vast areas as a fundamental impediment of its plan to have full control over area C; to seize lands and expand settlement construction in the said areas. Therefore, since 2011, Israel has been conducting an ongoing extensive incitement campaign against UAWC relying on fabricated accusations in order to affect its funding sources, to delegitimize its international and legal standing, and work towards ceasing the organization’s work.
Right-wing extremist institutions such as NGO Monitor, Palestinian Media Watch, “Shurat HaDin” and settler associations such as “Regavim” incite governments and institutions to stop supporting UAWC accusing it of ties with “terrorism,” and of links with “terrorist organizations.” As a result, these baseless and dangerous accusations, had affected some of UAWC’s funders and some decided to cease funding (such as the Australian Government). In June 2018, the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs published a “Hatred Network” report that incites against a number of Palestinian non-governmental organizations as well as international organizations and donors. These organizations and institutions were accused of supporting “terrorism” and boycott, among which were the European Union. These recent accusations are a reflection of previous incitement long led by the Israeli government and its institutions against UAWC.
On 5 July, 2017 Frederica Mogherini, EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs sent a letter to Gilad Erdan, Israel’s minister of Public Security and Strategic Affairs, accusing him of making unfounded and baseless accusations that the European Union’s funding to Palestinian organizations and institutions supports “incitement” and “terrorism.” Mogherini’s letter added that the Israeli accusations are “vague and unsubstantiated” and only serve disinformation campaigns.
The Union of Agricultural Work Committees is an independent agricultural and developmental organization characterized by its full political and religious neutrality, and fully adheres in its work to international law and standards especially the United Nation Security Council and General Assembly’s resolutions concerning Palestinian rights to freedom, development and life. UAWC also adheres to Palestinian laws and guidelines, and is registered as a civil agricultural institution according to the law of Palestinian NGOs and associations No. 1 of the year 2000. In addition, UAWC holds close ties with the Palestinian government and its relevant ministries, and with Palestinian and international development institutions. The organization also represents Palestine in the International Peasant’s Movement “La Via Campesina”.
The ongoing campaigns directed against UAWC must be challenged through increased support of farmers working and living in area C, and through supporting UAWC on both legal and media fronts as part of its work directed towards responding to Israeli incitement.