Settlers attack Palestinian farmers in first week of olive harvest

Israeli settlers vandalized the mosque and torched cars in the occupied West Bank village of Burqa.

Issam Rimawi APA images

This week on The Electronic Intifada podcast:

Transcript: Patrick O. Strickland and Dylan Collins’ report on settler violence in Burqa

Near the city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, the village of Burqa is home to around 2,000 Palestinians. Surrounded on three sides by the Israeli military as well as settler areas, the village is left with one entrance and vulnerable to attacks and military closures.

On October 10th, Israeli settlers raided Burqa. In addition to vandalizing the village mosque, three cars were also set ablaze in front of their owners’ homes.

This attack and others appear to be in response to the recent killings of Israeli soldiers in the West Bank.

The group of settlers – calling themselves “The redemption of Zion” – spray-painted graffiti mosque wall. The message was ostensibly in revenge for the death of Tomar Hazan, an Israeli soldier killed in the West Bank city of Qalqiliya in late September of this year.

A mere 50 meters down the street from the mosque, the group set ablaze three cars belonging to Palestinian owners.

Abu Ali Nitham, a Palestinian shepherd who lives on the edge of Burqa, spoke with The Electronic Intifada two days after the attack. 

They came around 1 o’clock in the morning and wrote on the mosque. After the mosque they went to our neighbor’s house, Muhammad Taher. They set his car on fire and then they set the truck in our garage ablaze, which woke me up.

There were six of them and, of course, the whole group was armed. I couldn’t approach them because they all had weapons and I was by myself.

We expect this kind of thing to happen because for 10 days or two weeks they had been making more problems every day. A few days before they came and burned the cars, they had shot at us from the hilltop.

They come on a daily basis – this isn’t the first time. We have olive trees on the top of the hill. They burn the trees, they tear them out, they don’t leave anything as it is – this is the neither the first time nor the last time. This is colonial abuse.

Although his family woke up from the noise, Nitham was unable to stop the settlers from burning both of his vehicles. He believes that the attackers came on foot from Givat Asaf, a settlement “outpost” situated on a neighboring hilltop and within plain sight of his home.

Givat Asaf, like all Israeli colonial outposts, have not been officially recognized by the Israeli government. International law, on the other hand, makes no distinction between Israeli settlements and outposts – they are equally illegal.

Although the settlers harass him almost every day while he farms his olive tree orchard, Nitham said that this latest attack was the first time they came this close to his home.

Sayel Kanan, the acting mayor of Burqa, also spoke to The Electronic Intifada. Kanan’s home was attacked by settlers in January 2012. He suspects it was the same group that committed the latest attack against the mosque and Abu Ali Nitham’s cars.  

What happens exactly is that at about 3 o’clock in the morning – this is about one year and a half ago – my car is parked in the yard of my house. But I have a barrier – they jumped from the outside barrier to the inside of my house. Then they attacked the first car. They are well-prepared, so they start in the first car. My mom, she lives next to me. She wakes up and she saw the fire coming up from the first car and she start screaming and yelling and we wake up and actually he didn’t escape. He stays until he start burning the second car. Soon she saw that there were two or three guys at that time burning the second car. She starts screaming more and more – we wake up and we start putting the fire down.

Yes, absolutely I went to the Israeli police station. I tried to get the helps of our Palestinian police, but our territory is declared as C, which is under Israeli occupation, so they said, Sorry, we can’t help you that much because we have to do a kind of coordination with the Israelis and they just cannot help us too much. I went to Sha’ar Binyamin police station in Route 60 and I put a claim there. And they bring the police here. They did some investigation, but unfortunately they don’t do much for me – they just turned their back on me. They make you feel that they’re trying to help, but you know, exactly, they don’t do any help for any Palestinian citizens.

Givat Asaf – It’s the one in the north of village… this is actually, they harm us a lot. They put a lot of pressure on the citizens and even they divide the land. They say this is the border here, which is like half the land. They said this is for Ya’coub – Ya’coub means related to them. And the other half is for you. So any citizens who go to his farm or anything on that side, they start attacking him right away and they kick him out.

I’m very sure they [the police] know them. They know these guys – because he said, we know there are about five or six persons from the settlers who are making troubles. They know them very well. But they will not put them in prison or do any punishment for them. It’s the same kids, they’re going around.

But they are not kids, believe me – they are very well organized people. They are ‘majmoa’a Sahoyonen Ma’arofa’, they are very well educated, they are very well strong build, honestly. Because when they came to my house, they wrote even a statement, a Zionist statement. They said “Death to Arabs.”

As the Palestinian olive harvest season gets underway this month, Israeli settler attacks and the confiscation of land continues to plague Palestinians without pause.

According to a United Nations report published by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in October 2012, the olive oil industry makes up nearly 14 percent of the total agricultural income for the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Nearly 80,000 families depend on olive harvesting for their livelihoods.

The report also added that over 7,500 olive trees belonging to Palestinians were damaged or destroyed by Israeli settlers between January and mid-October of 2012 – meanwhile, in the besieged Gaza Strip, over 7,000 dunams – or more than 1,700 acres – of land traditionally used for harvesting olives have been destroyed by Israeli military incursions and attacks.

Burqa has been no exception.

In August this year, Najeh Thalajeh, a 47-year-old farmer also from the neighboring village of Mukhmas, was attacked by six settlers. As a result of being beaten with metal rods and knives, Thalajeh received over 75 stitches on his chest and on his head.

Earlier this year in April, Sayel Mohammad Jaraba, was also attacked by a group of eight Israeli settlers. Despite having received permission from the Israeli military to access his farm land in Burqa, the masked settlers attacked him with metal pipes as he worked.

Jaraba had to receive 50 stitches on his head, and he was left with a fractured skull and a hairline fracture on his vertebrae.

As Burqa’s villagers began preparing for the olive harvest early last week, Sayel Kanan told The Electronic Intifada that the village had intended to try to reach olive trees orchards that have become dangerous areas of Israeli settler and military attacks in recent years.

Now we’re doing the olive tree harvest – yeah, so what we’re having is now we’re aware. So we invited all the people in the village to go on a certain date that’s going to be the second day of our holiday, which will be the 16th of October. So all the citizens will go in the same direction, so it’s case – we are certainly … we know that they are going to attack the farmers. So we will put like a plan.

On Monday night, Kanan spoke to The Electronic Intifada by telephone and described the first week of the olive harvest in Burqa.  

According to Kanan, the harvesters were attacked last Wednesday October the 16th by both the Israeli military and settlers, This happened despite the fact that Kanan had previously coordinated with the military’s district coordination office.

A group of armed settlers, accompanied by six Israeli soldiers, reportedly attacked Kanan’s 85-year-old uncle and other members of his extended family as they picked olives on Wednesday. Only after Kanan contacted the commander at the Israeli district coordination office did the attacking settlers and soldiers retreat.

The following four days, Burqa’s villagers were accompanied by international activists from the International Solidarity Movement group.

In July, Yesh Din – an Israeli human rights organization – published a startling report. It concluded that more than 90 percent of the investigations opened into settler violence between 2005 and 2013 “were closed without an indictment being served against suspects.”

In an environment of legal impunity for Israeli settlers and soldiers alike, Palestinians living under the constant threat of dispossession and violence have little hope that they will see justice.

Kanan, for one, only expects the situation to get worse:

I feel that our war is gonna not be between us and the Israeli soldiers – it’s going to be between us and the settlers. The settlers these days they feel very strong, they feel very protected, so they do, and they armed, so they don’t care.

For more on this story, read Strickland and Collins’ recent written report on Burqa.

Mechanisms of control

Transcript of Laleh Khalili interview

Laleh Khalili: The idea that the wall could be used as a military mechanism for control of movement of guerillas across the landscape goes back to the British. It is a system that has been used on a number of different occasions, but in the case of Palestine specifically, it took a very familiar form, in the sense that it wasn’t just simply sand berms, which are little hills of sand that are built, but rather in this instance, barbed wire walls — which up until that moment had only really been used to pen in cattle. And used also in South Africa, of course, in the Boer war.

The Electronic Intifada: And in the concentration camps …

LK: And in the concentration camps, but also as a way of arresting the movement of commandos, the Boer guerillas, in the Boer war. Arrest their movement because they rode horses across the landscape.

But in the case of Palestine, what specifically was done wasn’t just tactical construction of bits of barbed wire fence, it was actually to create borders through the use of fences, create a wall through the use of fences, in order to arrest the movement of people who were coming from more hilly areas in what is today Syria, near to the settlements. And the person who actually came up with this idea is a guy by the name of Charles Tegart, whose Tegart force today persists — they actually while the barbed wire fences go on, the Tegart forces, in forts in many instances have become police forts today.

EI: And they’re used by Israeli troops today.

LK: Yes, they are. They’re used as fortification.

EI: Are any of those used by the Palestinian Authority?

LK: As far as I know, no. Many of the ones that were used were particularly in the Galilee, so a lot of those Tegart forts continue to be incorporated as part of the security apparatus today. Sometimes, they’re just police stations, sometimes they’re garrisons, essentially. Inside, there are other Tegart forts on the border.

So the wall’s function is that — of course the barbed wire wall was a signal failure, because as I mentioned in my talk, one of the things that officials constantly complained about was that all the Palestinians had to do was to drag the wall away given that it was barbed wire with their camels …

EI: It was coils of barbed wire?

LK: Coils of barbed wire, and the camels apparently would ram into it and drag it away.

But the wall was there, and it was of course a tactic that was then used by the British in other colonial instances, and then borrowed back by the Israelis starting in the 1970s, but specifically really intensively in the start of the wall that we today recognize with the big huge cement blocks, and coils in certain places. That started in 2002, but it has a pre-history even in the Israeli times, with walls that were built not as border lines but as ways of penning in refugee camps in Gaza and the West Bank, because refugee camps were often the most intransigent places in the occupied territories.

[Ariel] Sharon was the first one to build a wall around refugee camps in Gaza, he was in charge of the southern command at that time. And that was replicated. So you can still see the signs of the turnstyles — the walls themselves have gone from outside of a lot of the refugee camps, particularly in the West Bank — but you can still see a lot of the turnstyles. They’ve kept the turnstyles there.

EI: One of the main things you were talking about was proxy forces in terms of the military. And you gave a really interesting quote which was from Lawrence of Arabia, so-called. “Don’t try to do much with your own hands,” and you mentioned the link with [David] Petraeus. Is that something that Petraeus has quoted back?

LK: Yes. Petraeus has quoted this. T.E. Lawrence is a great hero of American counterinsurgence. David Kilcullen, who’s an Australian advisor to Petraeus and an architect of the counterinsurgency plan in Iraq in particular, has written an article that was modeled after one of T.E. Lawrence’s. T.E. Lawrence’s article was called “27 articles” and it was about how to mobilize guerilla forces, in this instance, Arab forces, to fight against the Ottomans, Kilcullen’s is called “28 articles” — it’s got one extra.

David Petraeus himself has a very interesting article about training indigenous forces to do the work of security maintenance in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it’s in that article where he quotes T.E. Lawrence, approving the “don’t do too much violence by one’s own hands.”

EI: That’s really interesting. So again we see the continuity back to the British times with things like the peace bands.

LK: The peace bands. Yes. I love the fact that they’re called “peace bands” — the degradation of the word “peace” as something horrible, as we know in the “peace process.” The peace bands were groups of indigenous Arab forces, Palestinian forces, that were paid for by the British mandatory powers in the 1930s, and they were mobilized to roam around the countryside and attack the guerilla forces, the anti-British guerilla forces. During the Arab Revolt.

And these peace bands, some of their grievances came from familial reasons — some of their families had been collaborators and had been killed by the guerillas — in other instances, they did it because the economic conditions were such so that the payments were necessary. Interestingly, there’s of course a parallel to that today where a lot of the members of the security forces who work for the Palestinian Authority in enforcing order essentially for Israel, do so because that that is really the only source of income there. So it’s important to recognize that in many of these instances it’s not so much ideology that drives them to collaboration, but economic need — necessity in some senses.

EI: You mentioned something that I found interesting which I didn’t know — about the Palestinian soldiers or police force in Dayton’s forces, who all have their weapons numbers registered.

LK: No, not Dayton’s forces — the Palestinian Presidential Guard, the PA Presidential Guard, is trained by the Israelis. Not Dayton, but by the Israelis themselves. And all of their weapons come from Israel, and all of their weapon numbers are registered by the Israelis, and that way they can do forensic analysis should that weapon be used against the Israelis.

So it is quite interesting in that instance, in that it’s a direct relationship between the Israeli security forces and the Presidential Guard, guarding the Palestinian Authority …

EI: It’s a direct collaboration with the Israeli forces rather than through a mediator …

LK: … Rather than through a mediator. And do you know when it happened? When it started? When the split between Hamas and Fatah happened.

So when Hamas in 2007 took over the Gaza Strip, the Israelis felt that they needed to protect the Palestinian Authority.

EI: That’s really interesting timing. Another thing you talked about was how you said in the Q & A that “proxies don’t always act like puppets.” So it’s kind of that tension there. And I do see that in the Israeli media sometimes — the attitude toward the Palestinian Authority forces of, “well, you know, we work with them, but we don’t really trust these Arabs” sort of thing.

LK: A very good example to give is Salam Fayyad, who has absolutely no popular base among Palestinians themselves, who was chosen as a technocratic manager of the Palestinian Authority, and with the express approval of the Israelis but by essentially outside forces to manage that. And what’s really interesting about Salam Fayyad is that of course, as a good technocrat, what his intent was — to make PA operational, so as to forestall the possibility of dissent, intransigence, revolt.

In essence, acting as a kind of a safety valve. And of course, what Salam Fayyad found, even though he was, essentially, an economic proxy in this instance, of the Israeli state, nevertheless he had his own set of interests — which was the smooth operation of the Palestinian Authority as a technocratic operation, which of course the Israelis were never going to allow. And so in that sense, what you end up finding is that the person you’ve chosen is not given enough rope.

There are other instances, of course. The Palestinian Authority is a creation of the US and other European forces, and of course Israel, as a means of providing an indigenous control mechanism. But of course there are many within the apparatus of the Palestinian Authority who have different ideas. And so it is again, in that instance, it’s quite interesting to see that sometimes, self-enrichment has been an interest of these forces. In other instances, having their own little fiefdoms, having their own little small bases of support. And in order for them to have their own fiefdoms or small bases of support they would have to appeal to the anti-colonial sentiments of Palestinians.

So you end up having clients that are bought and paid for by the Israelis who have to engage in kind of an anti-colonial discourse, an anti-Zionist discourse, in order to garner a base of support among Palestinians.

You find these complex relations in these instances.

EI: You mentioned the more direct collaboration of the Palestinian Presidential Guards with the Israelis. Is there precedence of that going back to the British era?

LK: Of course. The Palestine police, which was the colonial force that kept order in Palestine, had a Jewish contingent, an Arab Palestinian contingent, and of course British contingents. Interestingly, in the case of Palestinians, after the Arab Revolt, the training was kind of scaled back of Palestinian Arabs because they were felt to be unreliable. But the exact opposite happened with the Jewish contingent that were in the Palestine police, they got special treatment.

In addition to that — so this is the Palestine police force, which was a constabulary force. In addition to the constabulary force, of course the British had military installations and bases in Palestine as well. And within the military, there were also officers who did specific training of Jewish Israelis. Not of Palestinian Arabs, but of Jewish Israelis. So it’s interesting to see for example that Moshe Dayan and Yigal Alon were both trained by Orde Wingate, who was a Major in the British military. Churchill was a big fan of him as well.

So you had this. And those, in fact Orde Wingate’s special night squads, is seen to be the kernel out of which Palmach, the special operations force of the nascent Israeli military, rose.

So you had that kind of training but Palestinians were not the ones who were being trained in those kinds of military operations.

EI: Can you say anything about the prospects for the Palestinian Authority security forces, because people are always predicting the PA will collapse, and there will be an intifada against the PA, and this kind of thing.

LK: As a social scientist, I know that predictions are always famous last words. A lot of very well-respected social scientists were predicting the long-term stability of the Iranian regime just before the revolution in 1978-79. And a lot of very well-respected scholars of Egypt were talking about the ways that the Mubarak regime was going to reproduce itself just before it fell.

So I don’t want to predict, I’m not in the work of prediction. But historical experience tells us that revolutions often come in very unexpected ways. And very unexpected times. And if we do have a true revolutionary movement, of course the first thing that you have to do is to sweep aside the local sub-contractors of Israeli security, in order to actually mobilize in ways that will allow it to be coherent, not fragmented, not fissured in the way in which we see.

So I can’t predict, but should there be a revolution of course, I don’t think the Palestinian Authority will survive as anything but a vestigal organization, a residue of what it is today.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).