Palestinians bring in olive harvest in face of settler attacks

A Palestinian man sifts through olives during harvest season at a farm south of Gaza City, 16 October.

Atia Darwish APA images

Israeli settlers stole tons of Palestinian olives and damaged hundreds of trees across the occupied West Bank in mid-October, the height of the annual olive harvest, the UN reported.

Palestinian farmers from Deir al-Hatab village near Nablus, who were allowed to enter their land for the first time in months this year, found their trees and crops contaminated by sewage from the nearby Israeli settlement of Elon Moreh, according to the group Rabbis for Human Rights.

Israeli forces restrict the access of many farmers to their land by denying them army-issued permits.

Farmers are also separated from their land by at least 84 gates in Israel’s West Bank wall, which Israeli forces open rarely.

Thefts and attacks

Rabbis for Human Rights documented a number of incidents of settlers stealing Palestinian crops during October.

On 29 October, settlers attacked farmers in the South Hebron Hills area of the West Bank.

Anti-settlement activist Rateb al-Jabour told the Palestinian news agency WAFA that settlers from Maon settlement, built on the lands of the village of Yatta, physically attacked farmers harvesting their olives, causing cuts and bruises to several, including a woman.

Videos emerged from multiple witnesses showing settlers in the act. In some cases, settlers attack Palestinian landowners trying to defend their crops.

Palestinian media reported widespread crop thefts and attacks throughout the month in different parts of the West Bank.

Vital industry

Settler attacks have become a predictable part of the olive harvest season, and a serious threat to Palestinian lives and livelihoods.

In addition to the invaluable place of the olive tree in Palestinian culture, the crop plays an important economic role.

The olive oil industry accounts for 25 percent of the agricultural income in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, according to a UN estimate from 2014.

The industry can bring in almost $200 million for Palestinians in a good year.

Olive and olive oil production are concentrated in the northern part of the occupied West Bank, where many settler attacks take place.

Olives are also one of Gaza’s main crops, but the amount produced has dropped significantly due to decades of Israeli bombardment and siege.

The UN estimates that between 80,000 and 100,000 Palestinian families rely on olives and olive oil for primary or secondary sources of income. The industry employs large numbers of unskilled laborers and ap­proximately 15 percent of working women, according to the UN.

Settler violence

From 2006 to 2014, the UN recorded more than 2,300 settler attacks resulting in injuries to Palestinians or damage to their property in the occupied West Bank, including Jerusalem.

And between 2009 and 2014, nearly 50,000 Palestinian trees, mainly olives, were damaged in such incidents.

In August, the UN stated that there has been a near doubling of attacks by Israeli settlers since last year which have “undermined the physical security and agricultural livelihoods of tens of thousands of Palestinians.”

Violence targeting olive farmers and their land is part of a broader pattern of ongoing settler attacks that did not abate in October.

Early in the month, Israeli settlers attacked three Palestinians driving back from a wedding near the settlement of Shilo in the northern West Bank.

Settlers threw stones at their car, causing serious head injuries to one of the occupants, 29-year-old Muhammad Jararah, the human rights group B’Tselem reported.

Israeli impunity

Although a complaint was filed, B’Tselem said that Israeli police did not take statements from the victims.

“This conduct is consistent with experience, which shows that it is extremely unlikely that the police will investigate attacks on Palestinians by settlers,” B’Tselem said. “As a result, such attacks will continue undisturbed.”

And in Hebron in late October, a group of Israeli settlers attacked a Palestinian home with rocks and stun grenades while under protection of the army.

Settlers and soldiers enjoy near total impunity for attacks on Palestinians.

Haaretz reported that four settlers suspected of olive harvest theft in October were arrested by Israeli police but quickly released.

Israeli legal advocacy group Yesh Din has documented that 96 percent of Israeli police investigations of crimes against Palestinian trees are closed due to police failures.

According to the group, “a police complaint filed by a Palestinian in the West Bank has a mere 1.9 percent chance of being effectively investigated, and a suspect identified, prosecuted and convicted.”

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.