Settler violence against olive groves: “What remains of our village?”

Status: 11/13/2021 5:37 a.m.

October and November are harvest seasons in the Palestinian Territories. But some olive growers in the occupied West Bank are facing increasing attacks from radical Jewish settlers. They fear for their existence.

By Sophie von der Tann, ARD-Studio Tel Aviv

The earth is burned black. All that remains of Jamal Kadus’ olive trees are charred, gnarled branches. “I can hardly describe the feeling. Our trees are like family members, we love them like sons and daughters,” says the 56-year-old. Kadus lives with his family on the outskirts of Burin near Nablus in the West Bank. From his field, up on the hill, only a few hundred meters away, you can see a few houses and containers – Givat Ronin, an outpost of the Israeli settlement of Yitzhar, which itself is illegal under Israeli law.

Sophie von der Tann
ARD-Studio Tel Aviv

Soldier does not stop the attackers

From there, violent settlers keep coming to Kadus’ field. For example on October 16th. A video from the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din shows the men throwing stones and setting fire to bushes. About a third of Kadus’ olive grove catches fire. A little later an Israeli soldier appears and speaks to the attacking men, but does not stop them. Instead, the military threw stun grenades, reports Kadus. And the soldiers prevented the farmers from putting out the fire.

A spokesman for the Israeli army said when asked that the military had been used to disperse Israeli and Palestinian groups. More soldiers were sent to support. Because of the violence on the ground and because Palestinians had thrown stones, measures were taken to dissolve the riot.

Burning olive trees in the West Bank – this is a threat to the livelihood of the farmers.

Build: Yesh Din

The attacks increase in the olive harvest

Such violent scenes occur more often during the olive harvest. Especially in the Burin area, where Palestinians and radical settler groups live so close together. The most recent incident happened last weekend. 50 olive trees were damaged and masked men attacked Palestinian farmers.

The Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din documents violence and vandalism by radical settlers against Palestinians. Local staff collect video material, conduct interviews, and represent Palestinian farmers who want to report charges to the police.

“Israeli authorities are complicit”

In most cases, however, the police do not investigate, explains Lior Amihai, director of Yesh Din. His accusation: “Israeli law enforcement agencies enable and encourage this violence and are therefore complicit.”

The Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz issued an order in October that “the Israeli military, together with the domestic intelligence service and the police, should systematically, aggressively and uncompromisingly take action against all forms of violence against Palestinians, Jews and security forces.” Yesh Din criticizes, however, that the military often does not take consistent action against violent settlers.

NGO documents dozens of attacks

Since the beginning of October, the human rights organization has registered 38 incidents related to the olive harvest, including attacks on Palestinian farmers, damaged and lit olive trees, stolen harvests. “There have always been problems in this area,” explains Munir Kadus, who is documenting incidents in the Burin region for Yesh Din. “But in the past few years there have been more organized attacks.”

The videos show that there are often groups of male adolescents. That also makes law enforcement difficult. Many farmers who live near settlements are only allowed to enter their olive groves for harvest on a few days a year. A measure taken by the Israeli army to prevent violent clashes. This causes frustration among the Palestinian farmers. “And if the attacks continue like this, what will remain of our village?” Asks Jawdad Zaben, a resident of Burin. “If we have no land for our agriculture, why should we still live here?”

Israel has been occupying the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the Six Day War in 1967. There are currently around 600,000 Israeli settlers living there in more than 200 settlements that the United Nations consider to be contrary to international law. Several thousand settlers live in so-called outposts like Givat Ronin. These settlement expansions are also considered illegal under Israeli law. The radical religiously motivated groups represent a minority that is also controversial among settlers. However, the illegal outposts are also protected by the Israeli army.

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