Israeli authorities have documented five violent assaults against Palestinians and the destruction of 62 olive trees during the first week of the olive harvest, according to data obtained by Haaretz.
The Yesh Din human rights organization reported 25 incidents linked to the annual harvest since it began earlier this October, including assaults, the destruction of trees, and thefts.
One of the Palestinian victims, Khalil Abedel Haq Amira, 72, from Ni’lin, was attacked while harvesting his trees near the West Bank settlement of Hashmonaim. Six masked people, presumably settlers, accosted him and his cousin Abed, telling them they'd better go home. They then hurled stones and pepper sprayed them, Amira told Haaretz from his hospital bed in Ramallah.
Amira said that when it appeared as though the assailants were leaving, they suddenly returned and assaulted them from behind, throwing stones. Amira was hit in the head and fell to the ground. He said Israeli soldiers came and gave him first aid, then the Red Crescent took him to a Ramallah hospital where he was treated for a skull fracture.
“They took us by surprise,” Abed told Haaretz, “We were picking olives as we do every year... We know some of the people who live in Hashmonaim near our land plots and our relations with them are good, but these weren’t the same people.” In the past, a spring in the area was vandalized and turned into a swimming pool but they had never been physically assaulted before, Abed and Amira said.
The Hashmonaim settlement sits on the Israeli side of the separation barrier and Na’alin on the West Bank side. Amira must go through one of the gates that are open to Palestinian farmers on specific days and hours to work his land. Amira’s family says they were allotted just four days for harvesting their olive trees this year.
Abed filed a complaint with the police on the day of the incident. He said he gave the police the identity card of one of the assailants that he had found after they ran away. “We are asking for protection when we come to harvest our olives,” Abed said.
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Police said in response that three suspects were arrested for stone-throwing that caused bodily harm last Wednesday. Yesh Din statistics show that since 2018, the police closed some 77 percent of 85 cases involving assaults by Israeli civilians against Palestinians. Most cases were closed with “unidentified perpetrator” as the reason cited.
The Palestinian group Faza'a tries to prevent such incidents by accompanying farmers during the harvest. Mohammed Khatib, one of the group’s organizers, told Haaretz that this year there has been a rise in the numbers of violent incidents and the aggressiveness of the settlers.
“It seems that as a result of the lockdowns the settlers are simply bored. They come in large numbers to the groves and attack farmers and damage the trees. This year in the shadow of coronavirus, the olive pickers have become the main breadwinners for their families, and every drop of olive oil is important to them, therefore it’s not just another issue of property damage but a blow to the ability to earn a living," said Khatib.
Ghassan Daglas, who follows the settler activity in the northern part of the West Bank on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, said it appears that the acts of violence are planned out.
“This year we are seeing larger groups, sometimes dozens at a time, entering the groves, causing damage and attacking while the army looks on. From year to year they only reduce the territory where Palestinians are allowed to harvest, and at the same time the settlements grow larger and during harvest time this leads to violent confrontations," he said. "It’s intolerable, we don’t have the tools to handle this. If you’re looking for a key sign of what occupation is about, it's what’s happening in the olive groves.”
Two violent incidents took place last week near the village of Burqa in the Ramallah area and the Oz Zion outpost. On Monday. Palestinian farmers escorted by Faza'a had stones thrown at them, the Palestinians said. Israeli sources said a mutual stone-throwing incident took place, three Palestinians were slightly injured and two cars were damaged.
Another confrontation ensued the following day, documented by Channel 12 journalist Ohad Hemo, who was also attacked by the settlers. In another documented incident, Palestinians are seen being chased by masked people, and Palestinians reported that three people were wounded. The Israeli police said they were investigating.
On Wednesday, there was a report of trees damaged near the village of Jab’a. Yesh Din said 300 trees were damaged, and the Israeli police said they were investigating. In another incident, police identified settlers destroying olive trees near the Bat Ayin settlement, and said 11 suspects were arrested and released with restrictions, and that they were continuing to investigate.