Police: We Can't End Harvest Incidents

The Judea and Samaria District Police has amassed a long list of what they call "Harvest Incidents 2005." In recent months these have included physical attacks on Palestinian harvesters, who have been pelted with stones; the theft of harvested olives; and trespassing.

However, the number of incidents declined this year: According to the Judea and Samaria District Police, there were 17 "harvest incidents" in 2005, compared with 35 incidents the previous year.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz reported that 2,400 trees were uprooted over the past three years. This includes 773 olive trees uprooted this year, allegedly by settlers living near the damaged orchards. Of these, 720 were from orchards in the northern West Bank.

In recent months police have arrested 21 individuals for damaging trees, and have opened files against 17 of them. Police said that between January and November 2005, 299 files were opened against Israelis for attacking Palestinians or damaging property other than trees. Of these, 178 were in the Hebron area and 94 in the northern West Bank. A total of 64 indictments were issued in those cases.

Police did not make data for 2004 available.

Villagers say they are afraid to cultivate their land out of fear of attack by settlers.

Last month, four young Israeli women were indicted for attacking Palestinian harvesters in the village of Sinjil, north of Ramallah. According to the indictment, the four, who were with four other young women that the complainant could not identify, "began to shove the farmers, hit them with sticks and threw stones at them."

A soldier, Amichai Tauber, who was on duty protecting the harvesters, tried to intervene, at which point "the accused attacked him and beat him with their fists."

The women are also accused of pulling the headscarves off the women harvesters, punching one in the face, and taking a walking stick away from an elderly harvester and pushing him.

Four of the nine prosecution witnesses are soldiers, two are police officers, and three are local Arabs.

Hampering the police is the almost complete lack of intelligence information and cooperation by grove owners and settlers. In addition, many of the incidents take place in Area B (Palestinian civil control and Israeli security control), where police can only act under the aegis of the army.

The division of authority between the police, the Israel Defense Forces, the Civil Administration and the Shin Bet security service in fighting crime and maintaining security in the territories has also been problematic.

"Without intelligence and cooperation, there is practically no way of knowing ahead of time what place is going to be hit next and who is behind the attacks," police said yesterday.

In recent years, police have stationed hundreds of officers to prevent friction between Palestinian harvesters and Israeli settlers. Dozens of ambushes were set up in the past year at settler-harvester flash points to try to catch and deter perpetrators. Police also increased their visibility around the groves, and prepared teams to block outsider access to areas where harvesters had been attacked.

However, the police and the Public Security Ministry are reportedly aware of their failure to eradicate the phenomenon.

Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra called a meeting Sunday of police and Shin Bet personnel to seek ways to solve the problem.

They decided, among other measures, to focus on settlements known to be problematic, and to share more intelligence between the police and the Shin Bet. They also decided to increase police presence by transferring personnel from the immigration police.

Ezra called on the IDF to assist the police in enforcing the law, and also asked the head of the Police Investigations Division to augment Judea and Samaria police intelligence with additional officers.

A number of left-wing organizations have assisted Palestinians whose groves were destroyed. Among them is the Kibbutz Movement tasks department, headed by Yoel Marshak, who five months ago organized 10,000 volunteers to help the farmers of Gush Katif move their hothouses to the Negev.

"There are two kinds of leftists," Marshak said. "Those who come to help prevent hunger among the Palestinians, and those who come for political reasons. I belong to the first group."

This weekend, Marshak will be working in the South Hebron Hills. There, olive branches broken by hooligans must be sawed off carefully and covered with ointment to prevent damage by insects and parasites, he said.