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Sharp uptick in Israel settler violence during Palestinian olive harvest

December 18, 2017 at 11:44 am

A Palestinian man picks olives during harvest season at a farm on 16 October 2017 [Atia Darwish/Apaimages]

This year’s Palestinian olive harvest season saw a sharp increase in Israeli settler violence, according to a new report by UN OCHA.

During the critical period from mid-September to mid-November, the UN agency reports, the number of Palestinian-owned olive trees vandalised by Israeli settlers more than doubled: 5,582 trees were damaged compared with 1,652 during the 2016 season.

The majority of incidents were reported in the Bethlehem governorate (around 2,200 trees), followed by Nablus district.

Settler-related violence also “rose in 2017”, reported UN OCHA, with 156 incidents that resulted in Palestinian casualties or damage to Palestinian property by the end of November compared with 107 in all of 2016.

According to UN OCHA, “the prevalence of Israeli settler violence, particularly the vandalism of olive trees, is closely linked to inadequate law enforcement by the Israeli authorities.”

“During the 2013-2015 olive harvests, the Israeli organisation Yesh Din documented a total of 53 harvest-related offenses: ten of crop theft, 25 vandalism of trees and 18 of harvest disruption. Of these, 26 complaints were filed with the Israeli police but only one resulted in an indictment.”

Read: 1,070 Palestinian trees vandalised since start of olive harvest season

In total, the report states, “of 289 cases of ideologically motivated offenses tracked by Yesh Din between 2013 and 2016, only 20 led to the indictment of offenders.”

According to UN OCHA, “approximately 90 Palestinian communities own land within or in the vicinity of 56 Israeli settlements and settlement outposts”, and “farmers can only access their land by means of ‘prior coordination’ with the Israeli authorities.”

During the olive harvest, “many Palestinian farmers complained that the period of time allocated was insufficient, or that the Israeli army did not arrive at the designated time, leaving farmers insecure and vulnerable to attacks by settlers,” UN OCHA stated.

In addition, “Palestinian farmers also require special permits or prior coordination to access farming land designated as ‘closed’ between the [Separation] Barrier and the Green Line. If granted approval, farmers have to cross designated Barrier gates or checkpoints to reach the closed area.”

Read: Israeli settlers burn hundreds of olive trees in Nablus

During this year’s olive harvest, 76 gates were designated for agricultural access, down from 84 last year. Of these, “54 only open during the few weeks of the olive harvest, and only for a limited period of time on those days, and are closed for the remainder of the year.”

“Data collected by OCHA over the last four years in the northern West Bank show that the yield of olive trees in the area between the Barrier and the Green Line has reduced by approximately 55-65 per cent in comparison with equivalent trees in areas which can be accessed all year round”.