Palestinians say settlers destroy dozens of olive trees, harass farmers

Palestinian landowner claims 116 olive trees destroyed on his land outside town of Turmus Ayya. Video footage shows settler youths harassing, taunting Palestinian farmers

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Settler youth seen confronting a Palestinian farmer in a Palestinian-owned olive grove in the West Bank, as farmers said they found dozens of trees cut down in Turmus Ayya, near Ramallah, November 7, 2022. (Video screenshot)
Settler youth seen confronting a Palestinian farmer in a Palestinian-owned olive grove in the West Bank, as farmers said they found dozens of trees cut down in Turmus Ayya, near Ramallah, November 7, 2022. (Video screenshot)

Palestinian landowners in a village near Ramallah said they found dozens of their olive trees destroyed on Monday morning and that they were harassed by settler youths while harvesting olives on their land the same day.

Video footage from Monday’s incident showed the settler youth disturbing Palestinian farmers, while Border Police and IDF soldiers appeared to try to impose order.

The incident is the latest in a series of events in recent weeks in which radical settler activists have sought to disrupt the annual olive harvest by Palestinians, including through violence.

Said Hussein, a resident of the Palestinian town of Turmus Ayya and a landowner in the area, said that he and other landowners found a total of 116 olive trees that had been cut down, when they went out to their olive groves on land east of the village on Monday morning.

“We went to our land with the coordination of the [IDF’s] District Coordination Office, and when we got there, we found a lot of trees cut down,” Hussein told The Times of Israel, alleging that settlers were responsible for the damage.

He said the trees in question were between 40 to 50 years old.

Hussein said that since 2003, he and other landowners from the town have only been able to access their land for a few days throughout the year — during the spring to tend to the trees and in the autumn for the olive harvest — because the area has been declared a closed military zone by the army, due to its proximity to nearby settlements.

For this reason, Hussein said he was unable to determine exactly when the trees had been cut down, but he estimated that it was within the last month or two.

During the course of harvesting work on Monday morning, Hussein said that settler youths entered the land and began verbally taunting the farmers and taking videos and pictures of them at work.

Hussein himself began filming the youths who began approaching him one by one, and one of whom shoved Hussein’s phone as he filmed them.

Border Police officers who arrived on the scene can be seen in the footage detaining one of the settler youths for having entered a closed military area, although four others are seen walking away.

Several of the youths were detained by the Border Police officers, one of whom was taken for further questioning.

According to the IDF, the settler youths had themselves been harvesting olives in the area in coordination with the IDF, but then began disturbing the Palestinian farmers.

“Security service personnel who were present in the area removed the settlers,” the IDF said.

Hussein said that every time the farmers are allowed onto the land by the army, they inevitably discover one problem or another.

During the olive harvest last year, Hussein said the locals found that many trees were already harvested by the time they were allowed onto the land. Another year, they found trees that had been drilled into and injected with some toxic substance to kill them.

Hussein attributed these incidents to settlers from the region, adding that residents of the illegal Adei Ad outpost near Turmus Ayya were especially problematic.

There have been several incidents of settler violence in recent weeks during the olive harvest.

Last Thursday, a Palestinian father and three of his sons said they were badly beaten by Israeli settlers while harvesting olives outside the village of ash-Shuyukh in the southern West Bank.

Ayad Hamid Halayka, 60, and his sons Muhammad, Hamid and Omar, were subsequently taken to Hebron Hospital with injuries that included a broken arm, head wounds requiring stitches, and an eye injury, according to the B’Tselem human rights group.

Video footage of the incident showed settler youths, some of them masked, approaching and then apparently assaulting Halayka.

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.

Jack Mukand contributed to this report.

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