Palestinian family harvesting olives say they were beaten up by settlers

Israelis from nearby settlement seen arguing with father and 3 sons in West Bank before alleged assault, as Palestinians decry annual instances of brutality during harvest season

Palestinian farmers picking olives after clashes between farmers, activists and Israeli settlers in the West Bank village of Tawanah, near the west bank city of Hebron, October 22, 2022.  (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Palestinian farmers picking olives after clashes between farmers, activists and Israeli settlers in the West Bank village of Tawanah, near the west bank city of Hebron, October 22, 2022. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

A Palestinian father and three of his sons said they were badly beaten by Israeli settlers while harvesting olives in the southern West Bank on Thursday, the latest in a series of such incidents during the annual picking season.

Ayad Hamid Halayka, 60, and his sons Muhammad, Hamid and Omar were taken to Hebron Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, the Red Crescent said, following the alleged attack outside the village of ash-Shuyukh, northeast of Hebron.

Footage from B’Tselem, a left-wing Israeli NGO that documents human rights abuses against Palestinians, appeared to show several settlers, including one person carrying a baton, approaching the Palestinian olive harvesters.

The group is seen facing off with Halayka with one asking in Hebrew “Why are you coming here to make trouble?” as Halayka tells them he only speaks Arabic and an argument ensues.

As the man pushes Halayka, he grabs the settler’s arm and a scuffle appears to break out before the footage cuts out.

According to B’Tselem, the group also sicced dogs on the Palestinians. It said injuries included a broken arm, head wounds requiring stitches, and an eye injury.

Police did not respond to a request for comment.

According to the Palestinian news outlet Ma’an, the settlers came from Metzad, a settlement that sits across a valley from ash-Shuyukh and abuts fields belonging to residents of the town.

Friction is often heightened in October and November, when Palestinians go out into family-owned agricultural plots to pluck ripened olives, including on land near where Israelis have established settlements.

During the harvest there “are many more clashes between Jewish settlers and Arabs” in comparison to other times of the year, said Michael Milshtein, an expert on Palestinian affairs at Tel Aviv University.

“Many of these lands are very close to the settlements, so there are all kinds of disagreements, even court cases, regarding [ownership of] the lands,” he said.

Illustrative: Palestinian farmers harvest olives next to the Israeli separation barrier after the Israeli army allowed them to cross from the West Bank village of Beit Awwa to their land near the Israeli community of Shekef, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022. (AP/Oded Balilty)

Olive production accounts for 4.8 percent of Palestinian GDP in the West Bank, according to the World Bank. It provides a livelihood for an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Palestinian families, according to the Palestine Trade Center.

Abbas Milhem, the executive director of the Palestinian Farmers’ Union, told The Times of Israel that the proximity of Palestinians’ olive groves to Israeli settlements presents “a major challenge for Palestinian families.”

“Settlers intensely confront Palestinian families with ferocious attacks, including uprooting olive trees, spraying them with bullets and destroying them,” he said.

The last several weeks have seen dozens of other attacks on Palestinian olive harvesters as well as on Israeli activists who occasionally join harvests to help protect families or document abuses.

Palestinian farmers inspect damage to their olive trees that were cut down by attackers in the West Bank village of al-Lubban al-Sharqiah, near Nablus, March 30, 2022. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Dror Sadot, a spokesperson for B’Tselem, expressed concern that the far-right’s strong showing on Tuesday’s election will embolden settlers to ramp up violence against Palestinians.

“The settlements always enjoyed permission, assistance, and funding from the government,” Sadot said. “But of course with a far-right government that’s also controlled by settlers, we won’t be surprised to see a rise in attacks by settlers, who will feel freer to act violently.”

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