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Settlers blamed for fire near Nablus

Nov. 17, 2010 11:17 A.M. (Updated: Nov. 18, 2010 10:26 A.M.)
NABLUS (Ma’an) -- Israeli settlers set fire to Palestinian farmland between the West Bank cities of Nablus and Qalqiliya on Tuesday, officials said.

Ghassan Dughlus, the Palestinian Authority official monitoring settler activity in the northern West Bank, said Israelis from the settlement of Givat Gilad set fires in the village of Jit.

He said about 100 trees were burned in the blaze.

Mayor Nasser As-Sida told Ma'an that Israeli soldiers bared villagers from going to the land in order to put out the fire.

David Ha'ivri, an Israeli settler leader, dismissed the suggestion that Israelis started the fire.

"Leadership of the community of Havat Gilad accuse Arab residents of Jit of causing the fire that burnt fields and endangered homes in Havat Gilad. Jewish residents who tried to put out the fire reported that they were assaulted by Arabs who threw rocks at them. The IDF detained one Arab who threw stones and later released him," Ha'ivri said in a statement.

"The fire was apparently caused by local Arab farmers who burned tree cuttings and bush. Recently activist groups released their own video footage of that type of work. The weather is very hot and windy and fires can easily get out of control," he added. "Were the fires not so dangerous, the repeated attempts to blame the Jews for fires caused by the Arab farmers would be laughable."

The alleged torching of the field by settlers comes after a series of documented cases of settler vandalism targeting Palestinian olive groves during the recent olive harvesting season.

At the end of October, four human rights organizations released a report on a project documenting settler vandalism during the 2010 olive harvest, reporting a total of 35 incidents of tree vandalism during the six-week season.

The organizations, all based in Israel, included The Association of Civil Rights in Israel, B'Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights and Yesh Din. Following the documentation effort the group sent an urgent letter to senior Israeli military commanders, calling on the commanders to take all necessary steps to ensure that Palestinians and their properties were protected from violence and damage during the remainder of the season.

While one settler leader denied the claims made by the report, he focused blame on the rights organizations, saying the organizations "derive their existence from continued conflict. If the conflict were to end, they would lose their raison d'etre. Therefore, if there is no conflict to report on or save 'oppressed' peoples from, it must be artificially created."

A second report from the PLO office in Jericho said it had tracked a sharp increase in assaults on Palestinians and vandalism of property during the month of October.

According to the report, Palestinians in the West Bank reported a total of 277 cases of settler violence from August through October 2010, with a sharp increase in incidents in the last weeks of October.
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