The current olive harvest has been the most violent of the last several years, an internal defense establishment document reveals.
Two weeks ago, Palestinians and Jews throughout the West Bank began the harvest. Due to several violent incidents in previous years, plus court rulings requiring the army to protect the harvesters, the Israel Defense Forces, the police and the Civil Administration all prepared extensively to safeguard this year's harvest.
But despite these preparations, numerous incidents over the last two weeks have ended with trees on both sides being cut down, poisoned or torched. Thus far, some 500 Palestinian trees and 100 Jewish trees have been vandalized. In addition, a Palestinian horse was stabbed.
In previous years, most of the friction took place while harvesters were working in groves near settlements. But this year, most of the violence has taken place at night, when soldiers and police are not around to provide protection.
Yesterday, for instance, a group of olive trees in Luban al-Sharkiya was torched near the fence separating Luban from the settlement of Eli. Luban residents say the vandals were settlers. Settlers say it was a pruning fire that got out of control in the unusually hot, dry weather.
Near Har Bracha, a verbal confrontation erupted yesterday between Jewish farmer Erez Ben Sa'adon and Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the head of Rabbis for Human Rights. Ascherman claimed Ben Sa'adon was harvesting olives that belonged to Palestinians from nearby Karyut. Ben Sa'adon, whose nearby vineyard had been destroyed by unidentified parties the previous night, said he had leased that plot for the past 12 years and the olives were his.
Civil Administration officials were called to resolve the dispute, and they summoned the mayor of Karyut - who admitted that the trees belonged to Ben Sa'adon.
In response to this year's new pattern of violence, the security services decided over the weekend to alter their activity: Instead of protecting Palestinian harvesters on site, they plan to conduct patrols and ambushes to try to catch the vandals. Yesterday, one such patrol nabbed a teenage Jewish girl stoning Arab cars on Route 60.
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