THE AGE: Israeli settlers launch assault on Palestinian agriculture 17Oct12 October 17, 2012

The Age: “Israeli settlers launch assault on Palestinian agriculture” by Ruth Pollard, 17 October 2012


A Palestinians demonstrator is restrained by an Israeli soldier as he tries to reach Palestinian lands to pick grape and olive trees, near the fence of the Israeli settlement of Karmi Tsour, north of the West Bank town of Hebron. Photo: AFP

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TWO weeks into the West Bank’s annual olive harvest, Israeli settlers have destroyed hundreds of trees and attacked Palestinian farmers in what rights groups warn is a dangerous escalation of violence.

Settlers uprooted 300 trees in al-Mughir and Turmusaya villages, cut down 120 trees in Nablus, destroyed 100 olive saplings and 60 vine trees in al-Khader village, uprooted 40 trees in Ras Karkar and assaulted at least four Palestinian farmers, three of whom had to be taken to hospital, the Palestinian Authority reported.

Palestinian Authority executive member Hanan Ashrawi has written to all diplomatic representatives to call for international intervention.

“Rather than defending Palestinian victims of terror the Israeli military often aids and abets the attackers,” she said.

Israeli soldiers killed one Palestinian and injured 125 more during clashes with villagers last year, she said.

“We urge every country with a diplomatic mission to Palestine to dispatch observer teams to Palestinian olive groves in order to discourage attacks by settlers and to document any abuses that occur,” she wrote.

Australia “does not intend to send observers to the olive harvest”, a spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.

“We have raised concerns about settler violence with the Israeli authorities,” she added, but would not detail what, if any, response Israel had given to those concerns.

Last year Jewish settlers destroyed more than 7500 olive trees, according to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). OCHA found that attacks resulting in casualties or property damage increased 32 per cent on the previous year.

In the West Bank village of Aboud, where the Palestinian Authority’s agriculture ministry said 8000 olive trees were either isolated or uprooted by Israel’s security wall or the settler bypass roads and 39 per cent of its lands seized by the settlements, the olive harvesting season is a bitter-sweet time.

“Our farm income is way down and there is no alternative for us … it is 30 per cent less than it was before,” says 65-year-old Khalil Mehsan, who has 80 olive trees on his remaining land of six dunams (an Ottoman Empire measurement equivalent to 1000 square metres). Mr Mehsan and his son Eid, 41, started picking on October 5 and they estimate the harvest will finish by month’s end. Before the construction of the security wall and the settlements, it would have continued until Christmas.

Olives and olive oil have been a way of life for farmers and their families, said Palestinian Authority agriculture minister Walid Assaf.

“In 1994 … olives represented 28 per cent of the GDP — now they make up just 5.6 per cent,” he said. “Trees that are more than 100 years old have been destroyed by the settlers and there are daily attacks in villages.”

Four Israeli organisations — Rabbis for Human Rights, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Yesh Din and B’Tselem — wrote to the defence minister, the attorney-general and military and police commanders in the occupied West Bank to highlight “an alarming escalation … in attacks on Palestinians involved in harvesting olives, the systematic destruction of trees; and the theft of crops”.

“The figures … reflect the gross and ongoing failure by the security forces to protect the Palestinian population,” the letter reads.

The Israel Defence Forces spokesman for military operations in the West Bank, Captain Barak Raz, rejected the idea that the army was neglecting its duties. “We are dealing with a lot of violence from the extremist settler movement,” he said, “but that does not represent the majority of the olive harvest … which happens peacefully without incident.”

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