Thousands of olive trees have been damaged and destroyed in attacks by illegal Jewish settlers across the occupied West Bank in 2013. The damning statistics have been revealed by Al-Tadamun Foundation for Human Rights.
"Settlers' attacks include uprooting, burning and cutting down olive trees," said the human rights group. "Olive groves were also flooded by wastewater from the settlements." By the end of December 2013, it added, an estimated 8,000 trees, some of them hundreds of years old, had been damaged and destroyed altogether. "We have been unable to count the hundreds of trees damaged in groves close to settlements due to Israeli security measures," Al-Tadamun pointed out.
The group's annual report shows an increase in the frequency of such attacks by Jewish settlers as well as their use of more sophisticated equipment, including chemicals used to burn the trees. According to villagers south of Nablus, settlers from Yitzhar and Bracha settlements used chemicals several times, notably to burn 1,500 trees in early June. More than 49 acres of prime agricultural land were destroyed in the resultant blaze, with losses reaching $1 million.
In Nablus itself, Al-Tadamun documented 24 incidents of settler-vandalism; almost 5,300 olive trees were destroyed. In other parts of the West Bank, more than 1,100 trees were destroyed in Bethlehem; 600 trees in Qalqilya; 468 in Hebron; 350 in occupied Jerusalem; and 150 in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority.
According to Al-Tadamun, settler attacks were concentrated in the countryside south of Nablus, specifically in the villages of Awarta, Qasra, Urif, Burin, Asira El-Qebliah and Hawara. All are exposed by the Israeli army's security guarantees for settlers.
The human rights body added that settlers usually launch their attacks on trees before or during the harvest season, or once farmers have completed the harvest. This year the total number of trees targeted during the harvest season as 2,000; they were chopped down at night by settlers using chainsaws.
Not only have the settlers attacked mature trees, but they also uprooted around 1,400 seedlings that had been planted just days earlier. Most of the key attacks on seedlings took place in Jerusalem, where the fields were flooded with wastewater.
Research and observations suggest that attacks by settlers on olive trees are usually part of a pattern aimed at driving the farmers from their land. The settler movement has a wider agenda of ever more settlement expansion on occupied Palestinian land, in breach of international law. Attacks and vandalism accompany construction projects intended to restrict farmers' access to their land. Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are subject to military law by the Israelis and need permission from the army to move around. They are also banned from cultivating their own land adjacent to settlements and military bases, which are dotted all over the West Bank.
Al-Tadamun called on official and human rights organisations to take legal action against the settlers in the hope that lawsuits will act as a deterrent and prevent future attacks. The foundation also called on the Palestinian Authority to pay more attention to the agricultural sector and allocate larger budgets for the Ministry of Agriculture so that it can support farmers and compensate them for the damages caused as a result of settler-vandalism.
Source: Al Aqsa Voice