Settlers killed one Palestinian and wounded two others yesterday during an attack on olive harvesters near Nablus, the latest in a series of such attacks, Palestinian residents said.
Speaking off the record, Israel Defense Forces officers confirmed that a group of young settlers in the area has been deliberately attacking Palestinian olive harvesters, and that the army has taken no real measures to prevent it.
But the police complain that the Palestinians refuse to cooperate with investigators and only rarely provide information about their assailants, making it very difficult for the police to catch them.
According to the Palestinians, yesterday's incident took place at about 9 A.M., when 10 armed settlers from nearby Gidonim and Itamar arrived at an olive orchard located 1.5 kilometers from Itamar and three kilometers from the Palestinian village of Akrabeh. Residents of Akrabeh said the settlers fired first in the air and then directly at the harvesters. Fadi Beni Jabar, 22, was hit in the hand by a bullet and another worker was also lightly wounded.
Upon hearing the shots, other residents of Akrabeh rushed to the site to help. It was apparently at this stage that Hani Beni Maniyeh, 24, was hit in the femoral artery by a bullet.
Residents tried to evacuate him to a nearby clinic, but he was bleeding heavily and died shortly after he arrived.
The Palestinians said an ambulance then tried to transfer the body to the hospital in Nablus, but Israeli police stopped the ambulance at a roadblock south of the city and transferred the body to the Institute of Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir instead.
Police detained several settlers for questioning and are examining their claim that they fired in self-defense. They have also collected bullet casings and other evidence from the site.
According to Akrabeh residents, settlers from Itamar and Gidonim have conducted numerous attacks on harvesters since the olive harvest began last Wednesday.
On Saturday, they said, four residents of the village were hospitalized after settlers beat them with rifle butts and stones; one of the four lost an eye in the attack.
"The settlers watch us from observation posts in the settlements, and as soon as the harvest starts, the attacks begin - with stones, blows and sometimes bullets," said Akrabeh Mayor Ghaleb Miadamah.
"They fire wildly, so in practice everybody in the orchard is in danger, even if [the settlers] have not spotted him. I estimate that the residents are unable to get to 70 percent of their lands because of these attacks."
Miadamah said he had asked the Israeli Civil Administration and the Israel Police to try to stop the attacks, but neither responded to calls in a timely fashion.
Similar assaults have been reported in other parts of the Nablus region.
Last Wednesday, a group of harvesters from Yassuf was attacked, apparently by settlers from Tapuah, and on Saturday, olive harvesters from Inabus and Burin were assaulted, apparently by settlers from nearby Yitzhar.
B'Tselem, the human rights organization yesterday demanded that the IDF take steps to protect the olive harvesters and take action against violent settlers. "Hani Beni Maniyeh's death is a result of the law enforcement agencies' ineffectiveness," the organization charged in a letter to GOC Central Command Major General Moshe Kaplinski.
Meanwhile, a 16-year-old Palestinian was arrested near Hebron yesterday on suspicion of planning to murder a settler. The girl, a resident of Dura, had a kitchen knife in her possession and confessed to the police that she had planned to stab a settler. Police discovered that her sister once did jail time for stabbing a Jew.
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