Rights groups decry olive harvest settler vandalism

"IDF aren’t doing enough to prevent damage to trees," say human rights organizations in letter to commanders.

PA police at olive harvest (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
PA police at olive harvest
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Despite warnings by human rights organizations to the army about settler vandalism against Palestinian olive orchards, there have been 35 incidents of this sort between the beginning of September and mid-October, the organizations charged in a letter to OC Central Command Maj.- Gen. Avi Mizrahi and the commander of IDF forces in the West Bank, Brig.-Gen.Nitzan Alon.
“We demand that you take all necessary steps to guarantee that the Palestinians in the West Bank receive full protection from damage to their property, and particularly protection against olive theft and damage to olive trees during the olive harvest,” wrote officials from B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Rabbis for Human Rights, Yesh Din Volunteers for Human Rights and The Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
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The IDF had no immediate response to the letter.
According to the letter, seven of the vandalism incidents took place in two villages, Burin and Hawara, which border on Yitzhar.
There were also several incidents in the villages of Turmus Aiya and El-Murain, near the illegal outpost of Adei Ad and the villages of Farata, Tell, Amatin and Yinon, near the Gilad Farm.
The worst of the 35 cases of vandalism occurred on October 15 in the villages surrounding the Gilad Farm.
“Israeli citizens set fire to a large number of olive trees belonging to villagers in Farata and Tell,” the letter stated.
“The Palestinian firefighting services and the orchard owners estimated that hundreds of trees were damaged.”
Worse still, the human rights organizations charged, “from reports about this incident it emerges that the fires were set in the presence of IDF soldiers. The soldiers did not lift a finger to stop what was happening, but prevented the firefighters from reaching the orchard to extinguish the fire.
The soldiers chose to detain a number of Palestinians who had rushed to the scene to try and save the orchards.”
The organizations called for Mizrahi and Alon to maintain a permanent force guarding the known flashpoints and bar access to these areas by all but the owners of the orchards. In addition, the groups demanded that they draft clear orders for every soldier and officer regarding law enforcement authority and duties and that they press criminal procedures against anyone suspected of vandalism.
Group claims Arabs sawed trees in attempt to accuse settlers
Photographs showing Palestinians and leftwing activists cutting down Palestinian olive trees using an electric saw were released on Saturday by a group claiming the images were part of a campaign to accuse settlers of vandalism.
Ynet reported that the photos, taken on Friday near Neveh Tzuf, were made by Tazpit Unit members, an organization identified with the settlers which documents news events in the territories.
Tazpit photographer Ehud Amiton told Ynet that the olive grove was located east of Beit Zayit, located near Route 60.
“I immediately saw that it was no ordinary pruning. It was done very aggressively... Some of the branches broke, and other trees were cut off entirely. When I approached closer with my camera, the Palestinian man waved his saw at me threateningly. I felt uneasy, so I backed off,” Amiton said.
Tazpit unit director Amotz Eyal told Ynet that “during every olive harvest season, just like this one, there are many cases of Arab farmers cutting down olive branches and later blaming it on the settlers.
“Time after time, photos prove that these Arabs are not holding back; they provoke in order to tarnish the image of Jewish settlers,” he said.