Olive tree sab­o­tage plagues W Bank Pales­tinian farm­ers

Kuwait Times - - Front Page -

NABLUS: Pales­tinian farmer Mah­moud Abu Shi­nar sur­veys two rows of sev­ered olive trees - some­thing he says has be­come a sadly fa­mil­iar sight. He didn’t see who took a chain­saw to them at night, but he blames res­i­dents of an Is­raeli set­tle­ment a few hun­dred me­ters away. “We came on Sun­day and were shocked that all these trees were cut down,” Abu Shi­nar said. “I called the landowner. They came and the (Is­raeli) army and se­cu­rity forces came too. But of course it was use­less.”

Olives are per­haps the most well-known and abun­dant Pales­tinian prod­uct, with trees lin­ing val­leys and ter­raced hill­sides through­out the oc­cu­pied West Bank. The first rains af­ter the hot sum­mer months are the sig­nal for farm­ers to be­gin har­vest­ing their crop, but it can come with risks. In many places, farm­ers say they face in­tim­i­da­tion and vi­o­lence from nearby set­tlers and call in sup­port from for­eign and Is­raeli sup­port­ers, in­clud­ing Jew­ish rab­bis, to pro­tect them and their crops.

Some of the in­ci­dents are seen as at­tempts at re­venge fol­low­ing Pales­tinian at­tacks on Is­raelis, even if the farm­ers tar­geted were not in­volved. In other cases, say rights groups, there is lit­tle mo­ti­va­tion other than just to de­stroy Pales­tinian prop­erty. Some rights groups have dis­trib­uted video footage of such in­ci­dents in a bid to pres­sure Is­raeli au­thor­i­ties to act.

Is­raeli set­tlers charge that their crops have also been dam­aged by Pales­tini­ans, in­clud­ing an in­ci­dent in May when around 1,000 grapevines were al­legedly de­stroyed. More than 7,000 Pales­tinian-owned trees have been van­dal­ized so far this year, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions. In the whole of 2017, it was less than 6,000, the year be­fore only 1,600. Abu Shi­nar said that in re­cent weeks around 200 trees had been de­stroyed in fields he works on near Ra­mal­lah in the cen­tral West Bank, cost­ing thou­sands of dol­lars in lost earn­ings. “They want the land,” he said, of the set­tlers. “Who else would come and com­mit a crime like this?”

The body that rep­re­sents West Bank set­tle­ments said there was also an in­crease in at­tacks on Is­rae­liowned farms, la­bel­ing it “agri­cul­tural ter­ror”. Is­raeli po­lice said they were “in­ves­ti­gat­ing a num­ber of in­ci­dents when dam­age was caused to olive trees”. “There have also been a num­ber of com­plaints made by Jew­ish own­ers of fields of dam­age caused to olive trees.” Pa­trols have been stepped up, po­lice spokesman Micky Rosen­feld said.

But rights groups charge that Pales­tinian crops have long been van­dal­ized by set­tlers with­out any se­ri­ous ef­fort by the au­thor­i­ties to stop it. Around 400,000 Is­raelis live in set­tle­ments that dot the West Bank and range in size from large towns to tiny ham­lets. The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity con­sid­ers them il­le­gal. A few dozen kilo­me­ters north of Abu Shi­nar’s trees near the city of Nablus, a small group hud­dles un­der a tree, pick­ing through the leaves for olives.

Just 10 m away stands an aban­doned house daubed with He­brew graf­fiti, while the Is­raeli set­tle­ment of Har Brakha is over a hill. Is­raeli forces pa­trol the area, with one sol­dier telling the Pales­tini­ans they are “there to help”. But the farm­ers said that two days ear­lier set­tlers had run down and dam­aged trees. They claimed the army is of­ten slow to re­act and sides with set­tlers. They in­vite in­ter­na­tional and Is­raeli sup­port­ers to at­tend the pick­ing sea­son to help pro­tect them­selves.

Re­tired Bri­tish woman Caro­line, who de­clined to give her full name, said she had been com­ing each year for a decade to work with Pales­tinian com­mu­ni­ties close to “par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult set­tle­ments”. This year, she said, she went with a fe­male farmer to her land near a set­tle­ment, but the army blocked their path. “When she even­tu­ally got into the groves, 100 of her trees had been chain­sawed down by set­tlers. There weren’t even any olives for us to pick,” she said.

Rabbi Gil Na­tiv makes sure to wear his kippa cap as he picks olives to show Pales­tini­ans not all Jews sup­port Is­raeli set­tle­ment ex­pan­sion. “Some (Is­raelis) con­sider us as traitors,” said Na­tiv, who vol­un­teers for the Rab­bis for Hu­man Rights or­ga­ni­za­tion. “For me the main prin­ci­ple of the Jew­ish faith is all men are cre­ated in the im­age of God and all hu­man be­ings are de­scen­dants of the same Adam and Eve.” Yi­gal Dil­moni, CEO of the Ye­sha Coun­cil which rep­re­sents Is­raeli set­tle­ments, said in a state­ment to AFP that they “de­plore all acts of van­dal­ism and pur­pose­ful de­struc­tion of prop­erty”. He high­lighted a se­ries of Pales­tinian at­tacks on Is­raeli set­tle­ments. — AFP

TURMUS AYA: Pales­tinian farmer Mah­moud Abu Shi­nar stands next to de­stroyed olive trees near this West Bank vil­lage north of Ra­mal­lah on Oct 22, 2018. — AFP

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