Olives have been stolen from thousands of Palestinians trees and hundreds more have been vandalized, allegedly by settlers, according to nongovernmental groups such B’Tselem and Rabbis for Human Rights.
Settlers dismissed the claims as false, and said that their properties have been vandalized by Palestinians.
Security forces have mobilized across the West Bank ahead of the start of the olive season in an effort to prevent attacks on property from all sides.
But Rabbis for Human Rights said IDF efforts had fallen short.
“I have never seen olives stolen [from Palestinian groves] to this degree,” said Rabbi Arik Ascherman, who is the executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights.
There have also been incidents of physical attacks, including on Tuesday, when settlers in the area of Yitzhar threw rocks at Palestinian farmers, said B’Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli, who provided photographs which documented the incident.
A Yitzhar spokesman said he did not know of the attack.
Although the olive harvest began only a few weeks ago and does not officially open until this Friday, Rabbis for Human Rights is already considering turning to the High Court of Justice to force the IDF to improve its efforts to protect Palestinian trees.
According to Ascherman the IDF has a responsibility to fulfill its obligation under a 2006 High Court ruling which requires the IDF to protect Palestinian farmers, trees and property as well as to guarantee them access to their land.
Palestinian olive farmers in past years have suffered physical attacks, theft and vandalism from Israelis, many of whom, they believe, are settlers from communities near their groves. Settlers in turn have claimed that Palestinians have vandalized their trees, stolen olives and farming equipment. Both sides often offer documented evidence to back up their claims.
According to Michaeli, on Monday Palestinian farmers from the village of Turmus Aiya in the area of the Shiloh settlement found that vandals had destroyed 100 trees.
Vandals had poured chemicals into holes they drilled into the trees, Michaeli said. As a result, the trees shriveled and died, she added.
Palestinians from the village of Yanun have said that 2,000 olive trees were harvested, said Ascherman.
On Sunday in the area of the Havat Gilad outpost, Palestinians found that 600 of their trees have been harvested, said Michaeli.
“It’s a complete lie,” said Itai Zar of Havat Gilad, who added that no one from his community had harvested those olives. He claimed it is Palestinians who are stealing their olives and destroying their trees.
The IDF, he said, watches the groves around Havat Gilad very carefully. Farmers from Havat Gilad care for the groves, which he said, were largely abandoned since 1967. It is only recently, he said, that Palestinians have come to harvest the olives.
A senior defense source said it was too soon to know whether this year’s Palestinian olive harvest faced more attacks by settlers than previous years, but added that a change in the nature of incidents has already been noted.
“We have had reports by Palestinians of vandalism... What we can see is that in the past, the incidents led to physical confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians, and soldiers had to separate the groups. Now, the vandalism is occurring when the olive harvesters aren’t present, meaning that there have been no confrontations,” the source said.
The change cannot be described as an improvement, the source said, but it did mark a decrease in potentially explosive confrontations.
As in previous years, the IDF’s civil administration and the IDF Central Command worked together to map out areas most targeted by vandals targeting Palestinian olive trees, and have deployed hundreds of soldiers to the trouble spots. The effort was coordinated with Palestinian landowners and the Palestinian Authority.
“We can’t be everywhere at once,” the source added. Soldiers must also guard Israeli property from attacks by vandals, he added.
But Ascherman said that the worst attacks happen repeatedly in the same
areas, and that the IDF could do more to secure those groves.
According to security officials, in cases where vandalism occurs, Palestinians lodge complaints with Judea and Samaria Police.
“We have had a slightly higher number of complaints this year compared
to last year,” a police source added. “But we are fully prepared with a
task force in the field aimed at securing the harvesters, as well as
protecting Jewish-owned property,” he said.