Sources warn that failure to act swiftly could lead to escalated violence.
By JERUSALEM POST STAFFPublished: JANUARY 9, 2006 23:27Advertisement
With the different law enforcement agencies stepping up their involvement to combat the uprooting and destruction of Palestinian olive trees, security officials believe it will only be a matter of time before additional perpetrators are caught and brought to justice.
The sources warned that failure to act swiftly and aggressively to halt the malicious acts could lead to an escalation in violence.
"A farmer who is physically attacked and unable to work his fields could turn into a potential terrorist if the situation is left unchecked," a source said.
According to security officials, from 2003 until the present day over 2,400 olive trees were destroyed by unknown culprits. In 2005 alone, a total of 1,200 trees were cut down, poisoned or set on fire.
"Once and for all the situation has to be addressed; if settlers are not involved then their names should be cleared. If it is proven that the destruction of the trees is the work of a handful of hotheads, then that must be made known," a source in the security establishment told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
The main trouble spots are located in the Nablus area, not far from a number of settlements.
Several incidents have occurred near Jenin, Ramallah and in the southern Hebron Hills.
Maj.-Gen. Yosef Mishlev, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, who has been monitoring the situation for some time, was deeply dissatisfied with Judea and Samaria Police, who failed to act in an efficient manner to nab those involved, the sources said. Mishlev warned the security establishment that failure to address the situation could lead to bloodshed. "It starts with olive trees and could end with people losing their lives," one of them added.
Seeking to find a more efficient way in which various enforcement agencies could pool their resources and deal with the situation, Mishlev raised the issue with Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz two weeks ago.
In response, the defense minister appointed Mishlev to head an investigating committee, the sources said. Now, aside from the local district coordinating offices who continue to monitor the situation, IDF troops will become more actively involved as well as the Israel Police International and Serious Crimes Unit and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), the sources said. "Hopefully by pooling the resources and utilizing the experience each separate agency brings, the results will be more successful," one of them added.
Last Wednesday, Mishlev met with 20 Palestinian landowners from the Nablus area, one of the most hard-hit regions. After hearing details from the farmers, Mishlev toured the area to inspect the different plots.
According to one of the sources, after hearing the Palestinian farmers it became apparent that not only were trees destroyed, but animals belonging to the farmers were also harmed as were agricultural plots and in some cases there was physical violence.
"In some instances, Palestinian farmers complained that they felt the army was doing nothing to intervene, even though it is the sovereign body serving in the West Bank," one of the sources said.
Citing an example, he recalled that several months ago, an olive grove was set on fire that is located next to an IDF base not far from Eilon Moreh. "Soldiers guarding the base did nothing, even though the grove is located next to the fence surrounding the base," the source said
Meanwhile, the team led by Mishlev is also examining ways of compensating Palestinian farmers. However this will take time, as every plot damaged needs to be inspected by an assessor and estimates of monetary loss submitted, the sources said.
First officials will need to determine whether the cutting down of olive trees was nationalistically motivated or criminal. "It is clear that nationalistic motives were behind the incidents where trees were primatively hacked down, poisoned or cut from the roots. However there have been instances where several trees were uprooted and stolen. Criminal elements are usually behind the latter, as the cost of a 50-year-old olive tree ranges between NIS 30,000 to NIS 40,000 shekels," one of the sources said. In such instances the sources added, the trees were smuggled into Israel and grace private gardens.
Investigating committee members will also need to examine whether farmers lost an entire olive harvest, or succeeded in harvesting the trees before they were damaged. Also to be taken into account was the number of trees, their age and the size of plots, the sources said.
Optimistic that finally the issue is being treated properly, and confident that results should be more successful with the banding together of all the different enforcement agencies, the sources declared "there is nothing more painful then seeing a plot of damaged olive trees."