Settlers accused of targeting Palestinian olive trees as harvest kicks off

In coordination with IDF, farmers from four different West Bank villages arrive at fields to find crops stolen or damaged

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Olive trees found maimed in the Palestinian village of Al-Mughayyir, on October 14, 2018. (Yesh Din)
Olive trees found maimed in the Palestinian village of Al-Mughayyir, on October 14, 2018. (Yesh Din)

Palestinian farmers from four different villages across the West Bank arrived at their fields Sunday to find dozens of olive trees damaged and stolen.

The Yesh Din rights group said that the targeted farms’ proximity to Israeli outposts, whose residents have been prone to confrontation with Palestinians, suggests that the incidents could be anti-Arab hate crimes.

The left-wing NGO, whose field workers documented the property damage, criticized Israeli law enforcement for not doing more to prevent such vandalism.

“Like each year during the olive harvest, the army and the police are failing in their roles to prevent tree sabotage and theft. All the incidents occurred in areas prone to trouble, and security forces are well aware of this,” Yesh Din said.

One of the 15 olive trees chopped down in the northern West Bank village of Urif in an apparent hate crime on April 28, 2018. (Urif Municipality)

While the farmers discovered the vandalism on Sunday, they are not given permission from the IDF to access their lands on a regular basis and, therefore, after examining the trees, said it was possible their property had been damaged several days earlier

Abdullah Na’asan from the northern West Bank village of al-Mughayyir found all 90 of his olive trees chopped down when he arrived at his field, adjacent to the Adei Ad outpost, on Sunday morning.

Residents in the northern West Bank village Fara’ata found 60 trees chopped down and 30 others stolen. Farmers of the town adjacent to the Havat Gilad outpost had been given special permission from the IDF to cultivate the olives as part of the annual harvest when they discovered the damages.

In the neighboring village of Tell, residents found 30 mangled trees and 20 more were stolen.

In the central West Bank village of Turmusaya, residents found some 60 trees chopped down. This was the third such incident this month that the town, adjacent to the Adei Ad outpost, has been targeted.

An Israel Police spokeswoman said authorities were looking into the incidents.

The property damages come at a particularly tense period in the West Bank.

Last Sunday, two Israelis were killed by a Palestinian coworker in a terror shooting at the Barkan Industrial Park and on Thursday an IDF reservist was moderately hurt in a stabbing attack outside an army base.

The Barkan shooter has yet to be apprehended.

Following the deadly stabbing, more than a dozen settler youths were filmed hurling stones at Palestinian cars stopped at an IDF checkpoint that was erected after the attack.

Aisha Muhammad Talal Rabi (Courtesy)

On Saturday, a Aisha Muhammad Talal Rabi was killed after being hit in the head by a large rock while driving in the northern West Bank. Her husband, who was in the car with her at the time told Reuters that he heard the perpetrators speaking Hebrew before they fled the scene.

A spokesman for the Shin Bet confirmed that the security agency opened a probe into the incident, suggesting that it was indeed suspected of being an act of terror carried out by area settlers. The nationalistic crime unit of the police’s Judea and Samaria (West Bank) District is also probing the death, which has been placed under a gag order, although authorities have not ruled out the possibility that a group of Palestinians stone-throwers mistook the Palestinian vehicle for an Israeli one.

Just hours after the burial of Rabi on Saturday afternoon, a Yesh Din field worker filmed a half a dozen of Israelis hurling stones at a pair of Palestinians working their fields in between the northern West Bank villages of Burin and Hawara. Dressed in traditional white Sabbath garb, the settlers could be seen gathering the olives that the farmers were in the middle of cultivating before they fled to safety, the activist group said.

Last Wednesday, Hebrew graffiti was found sprayed on the walls of a mosque in the northern West Bank village of Krayot, near the Israeli settlement of Shiloh, in an attack that also saw the tires of seven vehicles slashed. In two other incidents that day, settlers reportedly attacked a village in the central West Bank and a Palestinian farmer discovered some of his olive trees had been vandalized.

Residents of the village of Urif reported to the Yesh Din rights group that at around 9:30 a.m. a group of Israelis from the settlement of Yitzhar entered their village and began throwing stones at a school on the eastern side of Urif.

Residents told Yesh Din that IDF troops witnessed the incident, but did not intervene, other than to use riot dispersal means to distance the Palestinians who began to congregate at the site.

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