Amos Biderman | amosb@haaretz.co.il
Photo by Amos Biderman | amosb@haaretz.co.il
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The start of the annual olive harvest has been the signal for an onslaught of violence against Palestinian farmers by groups of settler thugs in recent years. Over the last few days, human rights activists - who, as they do every year, have mobilized to protect the harvesters and deter the criminals - have reported countless incidents: torched groves, chopped-down trees, stolen olives, vandalized tools and even physical attacks on farmers. These incidents join a long list of crimes, including torched mosques and vandalized gravestones, euphemistically known as "price tag operations." There have also been a few reports of settlers' groves being vandalized.

Four years ago, the High Court of Justice noted that the military commander of the territories and his agents - Israel Defense Forces soldiers, border policemen and regular policemen - are obligated to ensure the safety of Palestinian farmers both en route to their fields and while they are working there. Specifically, the justices said, the military commander must allocate forces to protect the farmers' property. The court rejected the army's tactic of declaring certain areas closed military zones in order to protect the Palestinians from settler violence. Nevertheless, the IDF restricts the harvesters to certain hours, saying it lacks sufficient forces to offer full-time protection.

The police have also proven impotent in enforcing the law against Jewish hoodlums. Statistics compiled by the Yesh Din organization show that more than 90 percent of investigations opened by the police's Shai (West Bank ) unit into crimes by Jews against Palestinians have been closed on pretexts such as "insufficient evidence" or "perpetrator unknown." The lesson for the criminals is that they can continue running wild without let or hindrance, and with no fear of the law.

The ongoing damage to the olive groves and disruption of the harvesters' work harm the livelihood of thousands of Palestinian families. A state that respects the rule of law cannot abandon them to extremists whose goal is to dispossess their neighbors of their lands.

The government, starting from the very top, must make it clear to the security forces that as long as Israel controls the West Bank, it is responsible for the welfare of all the area's inhabitants - and that there must be only one law, for Palestinian and Jewish terrorists alike.