BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli settlers have cost Palestinian farmers over $500,000 this year by destroying olive trees in the West Bank, Oxfam and local organizations warned Thursday.
Oxfam, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees estimated that olives collected this year would produce half the oil of the 2010 harvest, a statement from Oxfam said.
"Burning an olive tree is like burning a farmer’s bank account," said Oxfam director Jeremy Hobbs.
"Over 100,000 Palestinian families depend on the money they earn during harvest season. Especially because this is a bad harvest, every olive counts."
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs reports that over 2,500 olive trees were destroyed in September, and 7,500 this year.
Since 1967, 800,000 olive trees have been uprooted resulting in a loss of around $55 million to the Palestinian economy, according to a report by the Palestinian Authority Ministry of National Economy and the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem.
In 97 incidents of tree destruction documented between 2005 and 2010, no court cases have yet been brought against culprits, according to research by Israeli NGO Yesh Din, the release said.
Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees advocacy director Munjed Abu Jaish urged Israeli authorities to "stop protecting and supporting the settlers over Palestinians.
"Israeli settlers must understand that they are not above the law."
Aside from settler attacks, tens of thousands of olive trees have been uprooted to make way for Israel's wall, and nearly one million more are caught between the illegal wall and the Green Line separating Israel from the West Bank. Thousands more trees are off limits to farmers because they are close to illegal settlements in the West Bank, Oxfam notes.
Union of Agricultural Work Committees official Omar Tabakhna says farmers don't want to be dependent on aid handouts.
"They want to work on their land and earn money from a product they are proud of. In order for them to do this, we must ensure that their rights are upheld."
(This version clarifies Oxfam's sources for the number of olive trees destroyed this year and since 1967, and the estimate of economic losses.)