Olive picking season marred by violence

Ten settler girls allegedly ripped open sacks of olives picked by Palestinians.

olive harvest 88 (photo credit: )
olive harvest 88
(photo credit: )
Security forces have beefed up their presence in order to prevent settlers attacking Palestinian olive pickers in the West Bank, after a group of ten settler girls allegedly attacked Palestinian farmers in the village of Sinjil. The girls were arrested by the Israel Police and detained for questioning on suspicion of ripping open the sacks of olives the farmers had carefully picked. The incident occurred at the beginning of the week, marking the second time so far this season that clashes erupted between settlers and Palestinians surrounding the olive harvest. The harvest began about six weeks ago and is expected to continue until the end of December, officials said. Shortly before the season began, hundreds of olive trees located near Salem in northern Samaria were uprooted and set afire by settlers. Judea and Samaria Police launched an investigation and have detained a number of suspects, security officials said. Adam Avidan, spokesman of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria, said that months before the season opened, Civil Administration officials met with Israel Police and IDF representatives to coordinate ways of preventing violence and dealing with problems that may arise. Head of the Nablus district coordinating office, Lt. Col. Fuad Halhal, said before the season started that officials had mapped out "sensitive" areas where violence erupted in the past. Teams of Civil Administration, police and IDF officials were deployed to each site to safeguard the area to ensure that any violence was dealt with on the spot. "Our teams are deployed in most of the olive picking areas, in the event of trouble, the officer at the site alerts security forces," he said. According to Avidan, settlers in Sinjil attacked the Civil Administration officer at the site. However Halhal believes the situation has improved and noted that this year Palestinians have been picking olives in areas they were unable to travel to in the past. "We will draw conclusions from the events of this year, however the Palestinians realize they have someone to turn to and if necessary we assist them in submitting complaints to the police," he said. "If this is an accurate report," said Binyamin Regional Council head Pinchas Wallerstein, "we hope the police will take care of it, since we oppose any kind of violence or vandalism." As has occurred every fall for the past several years settlers have descended from their hilltop communities to harass Palestinians harvesting their olives. Settlers say that the Palestinians may farm at will, but not close to the perimeter of their settlements. They say the risk of terrorist attacks increases when the farmers encroach their land. Last year, a similar type of incident occurred near the settlement of Yitzhar, where settlers, mostly young men, descended on an olive grove and hacked apart some of the trees. With the Palestinian economy in shambles, an increasing number of Palestinians have returned to subsistence farming, such as harvesting olives, and easily grown vegetables.