Army prepares to safeguard Palestinian olive farmers

IDF, Civil Administration working to ease tensions between settlers, Palestinians, and left-wing activists.

By
September 29, 2006 03:45
3 minute read.
olive harvest 88

olive harvest 88. (photo credit: )

 
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To ensure a calm olive harvest this fall in the territories, compared to the last four tumultuous ones, the IDF and the Civil Administration have been working in the last month to ease tensions among settlers, Palestinian farmers and left-wing activists. "Our goal is to allow the Palestinians to pick every last olive off the trees," a Central Command officer said of the upcoming Palestinian olive harvest that starts next week and continues until December. "We will do everything it takes to ensure that they are allowed to do this." Rabbis for Human Rights Executive Director Arik Ascherman, who has been working to help Palestinian farmers for the last four years, said he is "cautiously hopeful" that there will be a peaceful harvest season. "We have seen improvements," said Ascherman, who has been working with the IDF to advocate for the rights of Palestinian farmers. This coming harvest, Ascherman said, would test the High Court of Justice's June ruling that the army may not prohibit Palestinian farmers from entering their lands. In the past the IDF had done so with the explanation that these orders were a protective measure against violence by settlers. But the Palestinian coordinator who works with Rabbis for Human Rights, Zachary Sadeh, said he was skeptical that there would be in an improvement in two of the main problems facing Palestinian farmers: attacks by settlers and lack of access to the land. "Until now, all we have received from the army is promises," said Sadeh. To highlight the dangers that still exist for Palestinian farmers from settlers, he accused settlers of burning a Palestinian field next to the settlement of Yitzhar only last week. However, Emily Amrusi, a spokeswoman for the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, said that 90 percent of the stories of settler violence against Palestinian farmers were exaggerated. Amrusi said the council even has video clips, which they released last winter, which show the Palestinians harming their own trees. Sadeh discounted such films as illogical. Why would Palestinian farmers harm trees that take so many years to grow and on whom they rely on for economic sustenance, he asked. To prevent future violent incidents, OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh has issued restriction orders for 16 right-wing activists, preventing them from entering the West Bank. These orders, which are soon to expire, could be extended, a source in the Central Command said, according to the assessments of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the Israel Police. The brigade commanders have deployed forces at hot spots and have held talks with leftists, rightists and Palestinians. The IDF said it expected 40 tons of olives would be picked this year. The IDF and the Shin Bet have mapped out the olive groves next to settlements that have in previous years been major points of tension and clashes between Palestinians and settlers. The IDF and the police plan to deploy soldiers and policemen around these areas - particularly in Samaria and near the settlements of Yitzhar and Har Bracha - to ensure the safety of the Palestinian olive pickers. "We are trying to create a dialogue to prevent violence," the officer said. "The goal is not to have to be a buffer between the sides, but if we need to, we will be there." Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yosef Mishlav met recently with international human rights groups and arranged for them to assist the Palestinians in pressing their olives into oil and in transporting it out of the West Bank. Due to Israel's policy of not talking with the Hamas Palestinian government, the Civil Administration could not discuss these issues with the PA Agricultural Ministry, like it had in the past, and instead had to coordinate with each and every Palestinian olive grower on a personal level. "This will be more effective, although it will demand more manpower since we need to coordinate with dozens of private Palestinians," a Civil Administration official said. Ascherman said that while he has seen an improvement in the IDF safety arrangements for farmers, there had been an increase in problems of access due to the security fence, which often cuts Palestinians off from their lands. This conflict could have been avoided had the fence been constructed along a different route, he said. A coalition of left-wing groups is now working to appeal these restrictions with both the IDF and the courts, Ascherman added.

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