Masked settlers filmed hurling rocks, stealing olives of Palestinian farmers

Rights group says 3 residents of Burin in West Bank hurt by Israeli youth from Givat Ronen outpost in week’s 2nd reported incident of settler violence surrounding harvest

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Masked Israeli settlers were filmed hurling stones at Palestinian farmers and stealing their olives on Saturday in footage provided by the Yesh Din rights group.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said three farmers from the northern West Bank town of Burin were hospitalized after they were beaten with clubs by Israeli youth. They were released later Saturday afternoon.

After chasing the farmers from their plot, the over two dozen Israeli youth who reached Burin from the neighboring Givat Ronen outpost stole a sheet used for collecting olives, a large bag of olives, and personal belongings, a Yesh Din field worker reported.

After a group of Palestinian youth returned to the scene, clashes broke out between them and the settlers, with both sides hurling stones at one another.

Two Border Police jeeps subsequently arrived at the scene and used riot dispersal measures to disperse the Palestinians.

A Border Police spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

A spokeswoman for the Samaria Regional Council said the Yesh Din account was “nonsense,” but did not provide additional information.

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers stand by as masked Israeli settlers throw stones at Palestinian protesters (unseen) gathering during a demonstration against construction on an Israeli outpost near the Palestinian village of Turmusaya and the settlement of Shilo, north of Ramallah in the West Bank, on October 17, 2019. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Later Saturday evening, the IDF and Israel Police confirmed the accusations of settler violence. The army said that eight Israelis hurled stones at Palestinians, injuring one of them before fleeing the scene. A police spokeswoman said that the clashes had ended by the time officers had arrived and therefore they were unable to conduct arrests.

A similar reported incident of violence by Israeli youth in the West Bank had occurred three days earlier.

Then, Israeli rights groups reported that a gang of masked settlers armed with crowbars brutally assaulted a group of activists, among them an 80-year-old rabbi who were assisting Palestinian farmers in the northern West Bank with their harvest.

Rabbis for Human Rights activist Moshe Yehudai, who the NGO says was assaulted by a group of masked settlers in the northern West Bank on October 16, 2019. (Rabbis for Human Rights)

Of the five volunteers who were injured, four were visiting from the US, UK and other European countries, said a Yesh Din field worker. Rabbi Moshe Yehudai, an Israeli activist from the Rabbis for Human Rights organization, was the fifth person targeted, suffering blows to the arm and head. He was evacuated to the Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba with a broken arm.

Rabbis for Human Rights recruits volunteers to accompany Palestinians, who say they face regular intimidation and violence while tending to crops located near settlements throughout the West Bank.

A statement from a spokesperson for the Yitzhar settlement blamed Wednesday’s incident on “provocations caused by extreme-left activists,” who together with Palestinians approached the settlement, which the statement said created “a security hazard.”

The recent incidents of violence came as the annual olive harvest was just beginning. More than 100,000 Palestinian families rely to some extent on the income they generate from their olives and some 18 percent of Palestinian agricultural production comes from olives, according to statistics from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The harvest is a frequent site of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli settlers that the Israel Defense Forces says it seeks to prevent.

A Yesh Din volunteer with wounds sustained during an altercation with settlers int he West Bank on October 16, 2019. (Courtesy Yesh Din/Lexie Botzum)

Palestinian media and rights groups have reported multiple cases of Israelis interfering with the annual harvest, attacking Palestinians, stealing olives and uprooting trees.

In many places, farmers say they face intimidation and violence from nearby extremist settlers and call in help from both foreign and Israeli supporters, including rabbis, to protect them and their crops.

Some of the incidents are seen as attempts at revenge following Palestinian attacks on Israelis, even if the farmers targeted were not involved.

In other cases, rights groups say, there is little motivation other than just to destroy Palestinian property.

Israeli settlers charge that their crops have also been damaged by Palestinians, including one incident in May 2018 when around 1,000 grapevines were destroyed.

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