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Rights groups raise alarm over settler attacks on olive trees

Oct. 12, 2012 2:05 A.M. (Updated: Oct. 14, 2012 10:31 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- As the West Bank olive harvest season begins, two Israeli rights groups released reports this week criticizing Israeli authorities for failing to protect Palestinians from settler violence, or investigate attacks.

Over the past week, Palestinian farmers have reported almost daily attacks on harvesters and olive groves in the West Bank.

Israeli rights group B'Tselem said on Thursday it had documented five of the attacks since Sunday.

That day, the Abu Fahaida family found 25 ancient olive trees destroyed in al-Janiya, west of Ramallah.

B'Tselem said Israeli forces had been called to the same olive grove the day before after a group of settlers confronted the family, noting that the army's presence did not prevent the vandalism.

Also Sunday, farmers from nearby Beitillu village going to harvest were attacked with stones by ten masked settlers, who are also suspected of setting fire to the field.

B'Tselem said Israeli soldiers faced difficulties controlling the settler group and removed the Palestinian harvesters while firing in the air.

Footage of Beitillu attack, B'Tselem volunteer

On Tuesday, Palestinian farmers from Nablus villages Farata and Amatin found thieves had already harvested olives from around 220 trees on their land near the illegal Havat Gilad outpost.

In nearby Qaryut village the same day, farmers found more than 80 of their olive trees had been severely damaged.

On Wednesday, Israeli authorities notified Ratib Naasan, from Ramallah village al-Mughayir, that his olive trees had been damaged. Naasan found around 140 olive trees stripped and vandalized.

B'Tselem noted that the farmer had olive trees vandalized in 2008, 2009 and 2010, but charges were only brought in one case, when the rights group provided video documentation.

It called on the army and police to investigate each incident and complaints that soldiers did not intervene to prevent attacks.

Meanwhile, rights group Yesh Din said on Thursday that of 162 attacks on Palestinian trees since 2005, only one case had led to charges.

The group said 124 files were closed on grounds of "perpetrator unknown," 16 because of "insufficient evidence" and two on ground of "absence of criminal culpability." Others are still under investigation, or information was not provided, while case files were lost for two incidents.

The failure of Israeli police to investigate the attacks is "only one aspect of its continuous and broad failure to enforce the law against ideological crimes by Israeli citizens against Palestinians in the occupied territories," the group said.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs reported that over 2,500 olive trees were destroyed in September 2011, and 7,500 throughout 2011. The attacks cost Palestinian farmers over $500,000 that year, according to an estimate by Oxfam and local agricultural organizations.
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