Palestinian olive groves vandalized amid spate of settler hate crimes

Rights group says nearly 100 trees on privately owned farms in northern West Bank chopped into pieces, causing severe damage during annual harvest

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A tree in the Palestinian village of Burin, in the northern West Bank, that was badly damaged in an alleged settler hate crime. (courtesy Yesh Din)
A tree in the Palestinian village of Burin, in the northern West Bank, that was badly damaged in an alleged settler hate crime. (courtesy Yesh Din)

Two Palestinian-owned olive groves were severely damaged over the weekend in the latest hate crime carried out by Israeli settlers in the West Bank, according to an Israeli human rights group.

The Yesh Din organization said that 56 trees on a private farm in the village of Yasuf in the northern West Bank were discovered destroyed on Saturday by local residents.

Field researchers from the organization said most of the trees that were chopped into pieces were over 70 years old, and the damage was so extensive the farmer will unlikely be able to harvest any crops from his land for several years.

On Sunday, Yesh Din field researchers reported that 42 olive trees in the nearby Palestinian village of Yasuf were severely damaged in a similar way.

Police were investigating the incident in Yasuf, the Haaretz daily reported.

According to data released by Yesh Din, extremist settlers have vandalized Palestinian olive groves at least 19 times in the month of October, including seven recorded attacks in Burin and one in Yasuf.

Both villages are adjacent to Yitzhar, a settlement seen by the Israeli defense establishment as an epicenter of settler violence whose residents are often linked to attacks on Palestinians and their property.

Illustrative photo of members of the Palestinian al-Sweity family harvest olive trees near West Bank village of Deir Samet near Hebron on October 11, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/HAZEM BADER)

The vandalism comes amid the annual olive harvest. 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.

Palestinian media and rights groups have reported multiple cases of Israelis interfering with the harvest this year, 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 Jewish rabbis, to protect them and their crops.

Last month, a 80-year-old Israeli rabbi was injured when a group of masked settler youth armed with crowbars assaulted him and a group of volunteers assisting Palestinian farmers in Burin and the adjacent village of Haware.

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)

Volunteers filed a report with police after Rabbi Moshe Yehudai was hospitalized, but a spokeswoman declined to say at the time weather the incident would be investigated.

Some of the attacks on Palestinian groves 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.

More than 7,000 Palestinian-owned trees have been vandalized so far this year, according to the United Nations.

Of 97 complaints about settler attacks against Palestinian trees, followed up by Yesh Din, none have so far led to an indictment of a suspect.

Illustrative photo: Masked Jewish settlers, background, and Palestinians, foreground, hurl stones during clashes in the West Bank, Friday, May 3, 2013. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Despite the dozens of hate crimes targeting Palestinians and their property in recent months and years, arrests of perpetrators have been exceedingly rare, with the last reported one having been in December.

The incidents, often referred to as price tag attacks, are usually limited to arson and graffiti, but have sometimes included physical assaults and even murder.

In December, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released a report that showed a 69% increase in settler attacks on Palestinians in 2018 compared to 2017.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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