The Israel Defense Forces is demanding that Palestinian farmers not allow Israeli and foreign sympathizers to escort them during the olive harvest to places where military protection is needed against abusive settlers, Palestinian sources in the Nablus region told Haaretz.

An Israeli security source confirmed the report, saying that IDF officers have been influenced by statements of settlers, who say they are enraged during the harvest by the presence of Israeli leftists who act as provocateurs. A 2005 memo to soldiers from the Civil Administration regarding the olive-picking season states: "Involvement of various entities, Israeli and foreign, is expected, as an 'aid' to the Palestinians in the harvest and as a motive for creating provocations."

On the other hand, the 2006 Olive Harvest Order issued by the Samaria Regional Brigade stated, under "Key lessons from the previous year": "Working axis vis-a-vis leftist organizations: During the harvest season the left appeared largely as a coordinating force and for the most part offered no provocations. The best and most effective axis for maintaining communication is between the implementers [i.e., the olive-pickers - A.H.] and the organizations."

The contradictory policy was evident as the harvest season began last week in the Nablus region. In the village of Burin, for example, Israeli escorts were prohibited, but they were permitted later in the week. In the village of Klil the army allowed women from an international solidarity group to be present during the picking. Last Tuesday, however, soldiers barred farmers from entering their property, necessitating the intercession by phone of activists from Rabbis for Human Rights.

Rabbi Arik W. Ascherman of RHR has for years organized groups of Israeli peace activists to escort farmers in some 30 West Bank villages, as protection against settler attacks.

The IDF Spokesman stated that the GOC Central Command had recently signed several orders requiring advance coordination to enter limited areas during the harvest period, but that most West Bank harvest areas are freely accessible to farmers and Israeli civilians. Regarding the incident last Tuesday, the IDF said that the Klil farmers left the area of their own volition after soldiers asked to check their ID because they had not coordinated their arrival in advance.