Settlers destroy olive trees to prevent Palestinian harvest
By Viktor Ibrahim and Meri Verdaguer, International Solidarity Movement
October 17, 2012
About thirty citizens from Jamma’in, accompanied by around 15 international solidarity activists commenced the first stage in the removal of a roadblock on an agricultural road near to the village, just south of Nablus. The earth mound was built on the road by the Israeli occupation forces in May of this year. It restricts the freedom of movement of Palestinian farmers to access their lands to olive groves owned by farmers in the village. As the olive harvest season is starting, access to the fields for farmers’ vehicles has become ever more essential.
After about an hour of removing the earth mound and flattening the road with hoes and buckets, the activists managed to level the road, only leaving behind two large rocks that are to be removed with heavy equipment in the coming days. The event was organised by the municipality and international activists were invited to attend.
According to local sources the earth mound has been removed a number of times by Jamma’in citizens over the past few years.
Jamma’in is a village south of Nablus in the West Bank, which lies directly in between the illegal settlements of Ari’el and Kfar Tappuah, and has suffered with restrictions imposed on them by the Israeli army with access to their lands, roadblocks and road closures over the last few years, in order to expand settlements and build Israeli-only roads.
Hundreds of olive trees have been destroyed and olive groves set on fire, apparently by Israeli settlers trying to make the lives of their owners impossible
By Mark Weiss, Irish Times
October 17, 2012
Palestinians protesting against the uprooting of olive trees by West Bank Jewish settlers yesterday blocked the main 443 motorway to Jerusalem before being dispersed by Israeli border police using stun grenades.
“As long as the Palestinians are being assaulted by the settlers, especially during the olive harvest, and as long as Palestinians’ lives are disrupted, the lives of Israelis will also be disrupted,” said a member of the local popular committee which organised the protest.
The action came a day after representatives of Israeli human rights groups urged the army to act after more than 450 olive trees belonging to Palestinian farmers were vandalised in the West Bank over the last few weeks, coinciding with the start of the annual olive harvest.
The Palestinians accuse militant Jewish settlers of damaging their crops and claim the Israeli security forces fail to provide adequate protection despite similar attacks in previous years.
Representatives of the settlers claim that similar damage done to their olive trees by Palestinians is largely ignored by the media.
Dozens of olive trees were set ablaze at the weekend in the Palestinian village of Qaryut, south of Nablus. Last week Palestinian farmers from the village of Farata in the northern West Bank discovered that the olives from more than 100 of their trees had already been picked. In both cases they blamed settlers.
The annual olive harvest, which traditionally begins after the first rain of the season, has become a point of friction between Palestinian farmers and settlers.
With more than nine million olive trees in the West Bank, the crop is a vital source of revenue, providing a lifeline for many poor families. In a good year the harvest can generate €77 million in revenue.
However, Palestinian agriculture minister Waleed Assaf noted that agriculture now provided less than 6 per cent of West Bank GDP, compared to 28 per cent 20 years ago, because of Israeli land confiscation, bypass roads for settlers, the security barrier fence and wall, and restricted access for Palestinian farmers trying to reach their land.
Following complaints about settler vandalism, the Israeli security forces have stepped up protection and sent soldiers to guard some of the main groves situated close to settlements during the harvest. Most of the vandalism, however, occurs at night when the troops are absent and perpetrators are rarely caught.
The Israeli Yesh Din human rights non-governmental organisation said that of 162 attacks on Palestinian trees since 2005, only one case had led to charges. Representatives of four Israeli human rights groups told army legal advisers this week that the situation was an emergency and more vigorous action must be taken to protect the olive harvest.
Yesh Din says that this harvest season it has documented 17 incidents involving the vandalising of some 500 trees, attacks on harvesters and the theft of crops by settlers. “These incidents reflect the ongoing failure by the security forces to protect the Palestinian population and its property,” it says.
In an effort to deflect criticism of their inaction, police released a video clip, shown extensively on Israeli TV channels, showing undercover officers disguised as Palestinian shepherds arresting three settlers who attacked them in a West Bank field.
Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann from Rabbis for Human Rights, who participated in the meeting with the army officers, told The Irish Times that most of the attacks occurred in the area between Ramallah and Nablus or in the southern Hebron hills, close to militant settler outposts.
“The Torah forbids destroying fruit, even in a time of war. It is incomprehensible how someone who claims to be a religious Jew could do such a thing.”
He noted that in 2009 Israeli border police were positioned around the militant Havat Gilad outpost during the olive harvest and attacks in the area fell to almost zero.
However, according to Benny Katzover, a veteran settler leader and the chairman of the Samaria residents’ committee, more olive trees and vines owned by Jews are vandalised by Palestinians than vice versa. He says such attacks are ignored by the media, which focuses on damage done to the Palestinian harvest.
“Last year there was hundreds of thousands of shekels of damage and we made dozens of complaints to the police. In the end we had to guard our fields ourselves, set up observation posts and carry out ambushes, and then, of course, we were accused of acting like a militia.”
Mr Katzover said the settler efforts resulted in three Palestinians being prosecuted, but the deterrence effect was much more significant.
This week the settlers urged Jews in the West Bank to use video cameras to document Palestinian vandalism and what were termed attempts to fabricate settler attacks.
A video clip was posted on YouTube purporting to show Palestinians, who later complained to the police against settlers, allegedly chopping down their own olive trees. However, Palestinian farmers denied the settler claims, saying the trees the settlers documented were not the same ones that were felled.
Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi called for international observers to protect Palestinian olive farmers. “Given Israel’s support for the settlers and its refusal to allow the Palestinian Authority to provide protection through the occupied territory, the Palestinian people require international intervention to ensure their security,” she wrote in a letter to diplomats.
Robert Serry, the UN special co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process, said he was alarmed over the reports of settler attacks on Palestinian farmers and the destruction of hundreds of their olive trees.
“Israel must live up to its commitments under international law to protect Palestinians and their property in the occupied territory so that the olive harvest – a crucial component of Palestinian livelihoods and the Palestinian economy – can proceed unhindered and in peace,” he said.
Kheir Jaber, next to one of his destroyed olive trees, Qaryut,10 Oct. 2012. Photo: Salam a-Deb’i, B’Tselem
Five attacks on olive harvesters and damaged olive groves in four days
Events raise suspicion that Security forces not prepared to protect Palestinian olive harvesters and their property from settler violence
Media release, B’Tselem
October 11, 2012
Between October 7th and 10th, 2012, with the start of the West Bank’s annual olive harvest, B’Tselem has documented five cases of injury to Palestinian farmers and their olive trees in the Ramallah and Nablus regions. In two incidents, settlers attacked farmers picking olives and damaged their yields. In three other cases, olive trees were discovered damaged or with the olives stolen, apparently by settlers. The direct attacks documented by B’Tselem occurred while members of the security forces were present. All the locations where damage to trees was discovered are familiar to the security forces as areas where Palestinians are subject to repeated harassment by settlers.
The accumulation of incidents since the start of the olive harvest suggests that security forces were not adequately deployed to fulfill their duty to protect Palestinian olive harvesters and their property from settler violence. In the two settler attacks on olive pickers, forces in the field apparently did not abide by clear instructions from the army and the High Court of Justice, which prohibit closing off areas to Palestinian farmers and removing Palestinian farmers attacked by settlers. The police and the army must investigate each of these incidents and examine complaints that soldiers stood idly by during the attacks by settlers.
Following is a list of the incidents in chronological order:
7 October 2012, al-Janiya (west of Ramallah)
Twenty-five very old olive trees were destroyed on land belonging to the Abu Fahaida family. The Zayit Ra’anan outpost was built about 500 meters to the north of the site. Family members discovered the damage when they came to harvest the trees on their land. A day earlier, on 6 October 2012, the family was also working at the site, where the army does not require prior coordination of their arrival. A group of settlers who approached began confronting the family. After about an hour, soldiers arrived and the settlers left. The soldiers instructed the Palestinians to leave the site and the family agreed, but asked that the army protect them when they returned the next day to harvest again. It is clear therefore that the presence of the army at the site on 6 October 2012 did not prevent the destruction of the trees, which apparently was perpetrated later that same day. The family submitted a complaint to the police, demanding an investigation of the damage to the trees. B’Tselem will monitor the progress of the investigation.
7 October 2012, Beitillu (west of Ramallah)
Farmers from the village of Beitillu, who had come to harvest their olive trees, were attacked with stones by about ten masked settlers who arrived from the direction of the outpost established outside the gate of the Nahliel settlement. Clashes developed at the site between the settlers and the Palestinians. The settlers are also suspected of having set fire to the field. Soldiers who arrived at the scene had a hard time controlling the settlers and removed the Palestinian harvesters while firing in the air. The Palestinians who were attacked intend to submit a complaint to the police about the incident.
For video documentation of the end of the incident, filmed by a B’Tselem volunteer:
9.10.2012, Farata (west of Nablus)
On 9 October 2012, Palestinian farmers from Farata and Amatin arrived to harvest olives on their land south and west of the area where the Havat Gilad outpost was established. Rabbis for Human Rights helped coordinate the harvest with the Israeli army and the Civil Administration. On arriving at their land, the Palestinians discovered that unknown persons had already harvested the trees and stolen the olives. The harvesting included breaking branches and damaging the trees. The thieves had taken the olives from about 220 trees belonging to two residents of Farata and one resident of Amatin. Most of the trees, about 130, belong to Ibrahim Salah from Farata, who submitted a complaint at the Kedumim police station with assistance from Yesh Din. It should be noted that Salah cannot reach his land at all without prior coordination with the army due to the proximity of the Havat Gilad outpost.
9 October 2012, Qaryut (south of Nablus)
On 9 October 2012, residents of the village of Qaryut discovered that more than 80 olive trees on land owned by ten families from the village had been severely damaged. The land lies southwest of the village, about two km from an area where the Eli settlement was established. The village residents were present at the site the previous day, so clearly the destruction was perpetrated during the night. The area is one where the army does not require Palestinians to coordinate their arrival in advance, but the landowners reported to B’Tselem that they prefer to harvest in groups due to concerns about settler violence. The residents intend to submit a complaint to the police about the damage to the trees. Rabbis for Human Rights first reported this incident.
10.10.2012, al-Mughayir (northeast of Ramallah)
On the morning of 10 October 2012, a representative of the Palestinian DCL contacted Ratib Na’asan, a resident of al-Mughayir, and told him that the Israeli DCL had reported olive trees damaged in that area. The report apparently originated with a soldier. Na’asan arrived at the site to check on his olive trees and discovered that, on a plot he owns with about 100 olive trees, all had been damaged and most had been denuded down to the trunk. In an adjacent plot belonging to his brother Jamil, another approximately 40 trees were vandalized. When Na’asan arrived, there were already representatives of the police present who documented the damage to the trees and asked him to submit a complaint to the Binyamin police station, as he plans to do.
B’Tselem has documented three prior incidents (January 2008, October 2009, and November 2010) of damage to olive trees and theft of olives from trees on land owned by Ratib Na’asan. The only case in which an indictment was brought, insofar as B’Tselem knows, was when B’Tselem provided the police with a video filmed by one of its volunteers: In the film, settlers are seen stealing olives they harvested at the site. In the two other cases, the files were closed without an indictment. B’Tselem and Yesh Din submitted appeals against the closing of those cases.