(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz on Thursday established a special team to investigate claims by Palestinians that settlers intentionally uprooted their olive trees in the northern West Bank.
The decision came following complaints by Palestinians reporting of dozens of incidents in the past five years in which Israeli saboteurs allegedly damaged their olive crops.
On Monday, Judea and Samaria Police began investigating claims that Palestinians in the Nablus-area village of Burin hacked down their own olive trees to collect compensation from Israel.
The investigation followed dozens of incidents over the past five years in which Jewish saboteurs stole into Palestinians' orchards in Nablus-area villages and uprooted or hacked down olive trees.
With the Palestinian economy still sluggish after five years of fighting, many Palestinians increasingly rely on farming to earn daily wages.
'Something is clearly suspicious in the way these trees were cut,' said Supt. Shlomi Sagi, spokesman for the Judea and Samaria Police Department, after police investigators responded to claims from the village that settlers hacked down trees. 'We are investigating the claims of both sides.'
Police have no evidence of foul play by either the settlers or the Palestinians in this incident. However, several factors stumped investigators, according to Sagi. Police wondered why the settlers would trek to the far side of the orchard, the side nearest the Palestinians, to chop down the trees. They also wondered why chainsaw-wielding settlers would give the trees 'a grave pruning' rather than cut through the tree trunks.