Israel Police detained four settlers over the past week on suspicion of involvement in stealing olives from Palestinian farmers' groves in the northern West Bank, but all of them were released. An NGO provided documentation that shows settlers in the act and throwing rocks, and Palestinian farmers claimed that settlers stole from and vandalized hundreds of trees.
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According to the Palestinians, the thefts and vandalism occurred mainly on Palestinian land near settlements that the Palestinian can only reach by coordinating ahead of time with the the Israeli military.
Activists from Rabbis for Human Rights, a non-denominational group that says it seeks to "inform the Israeli public about human rights violations," claimed that they have documented four cases in three different locations in the past week in which settlers were caught red-handed vandalizing Palestinian olive trees
Ibrahim Salah, a resident of a village to the southwest of Nablus, said that, upon arriving at his grove next to the Havat Gilad outpost, which has a thousand olive trees, he discovered that about 450 trees had been harvested of their olives, severely damaged or cut down.
"They don't let us go there every day, and everything requires coordination, and when we come here we discover this damage," Salah said. "Why are we forbidden from accessing our groves? For us, the olive trees are the main source of income, and there's nobody to deter the settlers from doing such damage."
In one case of theft on land belonging to the Palestinian village of Burin near the Israeli Har Bracha outpost, Rabbis for Human Rights said that a settler who routinely sabotages Palestinian olive trees and sells to Israeli security forces was caught but not removed from the area.
Zacharia Asada, who is affiliated with the organization, said that Rabbis for Human Rights contacted the District Coordination and Liaison office of Israel's Civil Administration, which is responsible for coordinating Palestinians' access to their lands with the IDF, last year. Asada said that they warned the DCL of the recurring thefts in areas prone to such occurrences, which are the locations that require military coordination for the Palestinian farmers to access.
"We asked the army to secure these places and to move up the harvest," Asada said. "The administration did indeed respond to the request to move up the harvest in the Havat Gilad area, but unfortunately the place was not properly secured, so the settlers managed to steal the crop."
A military source familiar with the details said that the problem is familiar to the army. He added that in recent days, security forces had gone to places where the settlers allegedly had stolen olives, and the crop was returned a few days later to some of the owners.
Last week, police arrested a settler from the Shilo area on suspicion of involvement in stealing olives from Palestinian groves. He was released the day after the court rejected the police request to extend his detention. At the beginning of the week, three young settlers were detained in the Har Bracha area under similar circumstances, but were released within a few hours.
The Israel Police refused to comment and referred journalists to the IDF Spokesperson's Unit, which commented, "The security forces will make every effort to maintain law and order and to allow the harvest to be carried out as scheduled."