Hundreds of Trees Destroyed in West Bank Palestinian Villages, Israeli Rights Groups Report

The trees were in plots Palestinians can only access under army supervision due to proximity to settlements and outposts where Israelis have attacked Palestinian farmers in the past

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Olive trees uprooted in the village of Mreir, October 14, 2018.
Olive trees uprooted in the village of Mreir, October 14, 2018.Credit: Abdullah Na'asan
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Hundreds of olive trees and vines were found destroyed Sunday on land belonging to five different villages in the West Bank, Palestinian sources and Israeli human rights groups B’Tselem and Yesh Din reported.

In at least four of these cases, the trees were in plots Palestinians can only harvest under army supervision due to the plots’ proximity to settlements or outposts from which Israelis have attacked Palestinian farmers.

Plots only accessable after coordination with the Israeli army include those in the village of Mreir, where 100 uprooted trees were discovered, in Deir Nidham, where 25 trees were damaged, and Tal, where 59 trees were destroyed.

Sixty trees were damaged on land belonging to the village of Far’ata. In the village of Al-Khader, south of Bethlehem, 370 vines and 30 olive trees were uprooted, according to the Palestinian news agency Ma’an. The police told Haaretz they were aware only of the damage in Mreir.

In the last two months, ahead of the olive harvest, there has been an increase in the number of trees deliberately damaged. In Brukhin (in the Salfit area) dozens of trees were found uprooted on October 9. In Turmous Ayya (near Mreir, close to outposts such as Esh Kodesh and Adei Ad) other destroyed trees were discovered on Saturday, in addition to earlier incidents which occurred on October 3 and 7.

Two Jews were seen stealing olives in the village of Burin, south of Nablus, on October 4. On September 15, olives were stolen from Yasuf, east of Nablus and in Arabeh, in the northern West Bank, uprooted trees were discovered on August 17. This is only a partial list.

An olive tree uprooted in the village of Mreir, October 14, 2018.Credit: Abdullah Na'asan

The human rights group Yesh Din, which monitors the way the police treat complaints by Palestinians about harassment by settlers, reported on Saturday that “just like every year, this olive harvest season is characterized by the police and army abusing their mission, not preparing for the prevention of destruction of trees and theft of olives. All these incidents occurred in areas that are notorious for this conduct, where security services are aware of the delicate situation.”

Yesh Din has found that the highest rate of failure to investigate politically-motivated crimes against Palestinians relates to damaging trees, usually olive trees. Of the 260 cases documented by the group between 2005 and August 2015, as of early 2016, 236 files were closed on the pretext of “unknown violators” (212 cases) or “insufficient evidence” (24 cases). Two files were lost and a third was closed due to “lack of public interest.” This amounts to a closure of 95.6 percent of all the files that were opened.

Yesh Din notes that the methods used for destroying trees are diverse, including chopping down with a saw; poisoning by drilling holes in the trunk; and burning or breakage of fruit-bearing branches. The sawing and chopping down of mature trees require logistical planning and mechanical equipment such as chain saws, which are very noisy. Very old trees require many hours of sawing by several people.

The military spokesman responded to Haaretz queries, saying that “the IDF views with gravity politically motivated criminal acts such as the destruction of olive trees during and before harvest time. Measures are taken in order to allow the harvest to take place while maintaining the area’s security. The IDF will do all it can to help the police prevent these acts or handle them after they occur.”

The police said that received complaints are examined, addressed and thoroughly and professionally investigated so as to establish the truth.

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