Ashrawi calls on diplomats to protect olive harvest

After more than 450 trees vandalized since beginning of harvest, PLO member urges observer teams to document abuse, attacks.

Palestinian farmer, West Bank_521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Palestinian farmer, West Bank_521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
A PLO official called on Sunday for international observers to protect Palestinian olive farmers and their groves, after more than 450 trees were vandalized last week as the harvest began.
“We urge every country with a diplomatic mission to Palestine to dispatch observer teams to Palestinian olive groves in order to discourage attacks by settlers and to document any abuse that occurs,” PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said.
She made her statement in a letter that she sent to diplomatic missions that service the Palestinian territories.
“Given Israel’s support for the settlers and its refusal to allow the Palestinian Authority to provide protection through the occupied territory, the Palestinian people require international intervention to ensure their security,” Ashrawi wrote.
The Samaria Citizens Committee, in turn, has charged that Palestinians have harmed their groves. They have opened a website in which they have encouraged Jewish farmers and observers to post evidence of these attacks.
But the international community and Israeli nongovernmental organizations have focused their energy on the harm done to Palestinian trees, which they say is extensive.
They allege that settlers and extreme rightwing activists carried out the vandalism.
Robert Serry, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said on Sunday, “I am alarmed at recent reports that Israeli settlers in the West Bank have repeatedly attacked Palestinian farmers and destroyed hundreds of their olive trees at the height of the harvest season. These acts are reprehensible and I call on the government of Israel to bring those responsible to justice.
“Israel must live up to its commitments under international law to protect Palestinians and their property in the occupied territory so that the olive harvest – a crucial component of Palestinian livelihoods and the Palestinian economy – can proceed unhindered and in peace,” Serry said.
Four Israeli rights organizations — Rabbis for Human Rights, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Yesh Din – Volunteers for Civil Rights and B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories – on Sunday wrote a letter to the defense minister, the attorney-general and military and police commanders in the West Bank in which they complained that not enough had been done to protect the Arabs’ trees.
They said that Israeli law mandated that security forces protect the Israeli farmers.
“Israeli military and security forces currently focus on securing harvests at prearranged times and places. The disruptions and attacks, however, are taking place at other times, and in other areas.
“Past experience shows that the military and police can act to prevent these incidents, because most of the events occur in areas close to settlements known by the authorities to be extremist,” the NGOs said in their letter.
Police have said they are working around the clock to protect the Palestinian harvesters.
They have increased manpower in the area and have undercover officers in the field.
Yesh Din has also charged separately that not enough was being done to bring the vandals to justice.
It published a report on the olive harvest over the weekend that documented 162 cases of vandalism against Palestinian olive trees since 2005. It charged that only one indictment was filed out of the 162 police investigations into those incidents.
Another 147 files were closed, of which 124 were closed because the perpetrator was unknown, 16 for insufficient evidence, two for the absence of criminal culpability, and five for unknown reasons.
Eleven files are still under investigation, according to Yesh Din.
Two files were lost and in one case the prosecutor is reviewing the investigatory material, Yesh Din said.