Uprooting of olive trees brings bitter harvest for Palestinians
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.