Once Again the Olive Orchards Will Become Closed Military Zones

The state now acknowledges it prevents Palestinian villagers from harvesting their crops.

Yesterday marked seven months since the cabinet decision approving the report prepared by attorney Talia Sasson on illegal outposts. In the decision, a black line was drawn beneath the words, "Six outposts can today be evacuated immediately," after all legal proceedings were exhausted. To this day, not a single outpost has been dismantled.

According to that same cabinet decision of March 10, 2005, Israel is committed to the road map peace plan, which stipulates that Israel must dismantle unauthorized outposts built since March 2001. The Sasson report lists the names of 24 illegal outposts set up since the cutoff date.

Seven months ago, the cabinet also decided to ask a ministerial committee headed by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to formulate, within 90 days, detailed proposals relating to Sasson's recommendations for amending the law to close loopholes used by the land thieves. Livni requested and received a two-month extension, and promises that after the holidays, she will present her proposals to the ministerial committee and the cabinet.

President Bush, who put forward the road map, is in no hurry. The government has time and the Labor Party has primaries to deal with.

It's only the Palestinians' olives that insist on ripening every year in the same season, right around now. They have now patience to wait until Ariel Sharon instructs the IDF to evacuate - with determination and sensitivity - the outpost dwellers, the ones who transform the olive harvest from a traditional celebration into something approaching a national trauma.

Sasson dryly wrote, "The IDF's guarding of the unauthorized outposts drags it into the position, against its will, of giving approval, by its mere presence, to the establishment of the unauthorized outposts."

In its response to a petition submitted to the High Court of Justice by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel on behalf of grove owners from five Palestinian villages ahead of the upcoming olive harvest, the state officially acknowledges that in the territories, there is a situation wherein the wicked prosper. Criminals take over a hill, without checking whether it is state or private land. The soldiers usually observe from the side, sometimes accepting the situation. Since the outpost are illegal, it is impossible to build fences around them. Even when the army nevertheless decides to build a fence around the place, the thugs push them away. Palestinians don't scare them. But they sure do scare the Palestinians.

A document submitted to the court lists eight serious cases of assault, shooting, theft and threats against Palestinian farmers in the Nablus district alone during the past year. In 2002, there were 13 incidents, including a murder. In 2003, in addition to dozens of incidents of violence, thieves from the Itamar area chopped down 600 trees in an olive orchard in the village of Inbus. In a document submitted this past June, the police list 14 indictments issued against Jews who assaulted Palestinians. One ended in a suspended sentence. Four of the accused, all minors, were ordered to sign guarantees that they would refrain from similar crimes. As if without signing, it would be okay to assault a neighbor.

In order to protect the armed Jewish trespassers from "hostile terrorist elements," who according to intelligence reports want to use the harvest season as a "platform for going out to perpetrate terrorist attacks," the IDF declares a half-kilometer radius around the illegal outpost as an "area of friction." These areas abut thousands of dunams of olive orchards, throughout the West Bank. In order to enter their land, landowners must coordinate with the military so that they will send forces to protect them. Due to a manpower shortage, this curious practice is only in effect during the olive harvest, and even then only partially. The Palestinian villagers, who often have nothing more than a handful of olive trees to their name, find their land dry and with a meager crop.

In a statement submitted to the High Court on behalf of the Council for Peace and Security, a group of retired major generals wrote, "There is intelligence information regarding the intentions of hostile terrorists to exploit the distress of Palestinian villagers and their humiliation as a `platform for enlisting terrorists and support for terrorist actions.'" The officers made note of all the intelligence warnings related to Jewish communities that had been in the news because of attacks on Palestinians, such as Itamar and Yitzhar. "Open and blatant injustice, helplessness in providing a person the opportunity to till his land at any time, dispossession and humiliation using the unconvincing excuse of security," summarized the officers, "all provide a strong headwind for terrorism."

Five years later, still discrimination

There are some - Dr. Danny Gra, for example - who think that the scandal of the police inquiry over the events of October 2000 actually serves the government. Gra, manager of the Arsad Company for Economic Development in the Arab Sector and an adviser to the Knesset Interior Committee on implementing the Or Commission recommendations, thinks that the argument over whether to indict the policemen distracts attention from the criticism in the Or Report of discrimination against Israeli Arabs by Israeli governments.

"Officials in the authorities were aware of these feelings of discrimination in the sector," the committee wrote. "The Arab sector's claims of discrimination and the unrest this subject creates also came up in Shin Bet security service discussions and documents from the period prior to the events of October 2000. In an intelligence assessment prepared ahead of the year 2000, this sector's deep sense that `... the ruling authority and its various institutions continues to alienate the Arab sector and is not doing enough to address the sector's demands for full civil equality.,"

The Or Commission reported a discussion in the Shin Bet in mid-2000 during which the head of the Northern District noted, "Despite efforts to achieve equal rights and opportunities for this sector matching those of the rest of the citizens of the State of Israel, and an attempt to allocate resources to this sector, it still sees itself as deprived, stuck in a situation of extremely unequal opportunities and resources, civil inequality and inequality as a national minority within the state."

A document prepared by a research arm of the Shin Bet found that the October 2000 events were among other things, a result of the ripening of long-term processes, first of all "The continuing frustration in the Arab sector over economic distress - alongside claims of discrimination, neglect and marginalization by the authorities, which are not doing enough, in their opinion, to resolve the basic problems of the Arab sector. This situation created alienation from the state to the point of its delegitimization in certain circles in the Arab sector."

The Or Commission adopted these statements and determined that discrimination was "a critical factor" in the events of October 2000.

The data that Gra collated for the Knesset Interior Committee indicate that between October 2000 and October 2005, hardly a thing has changed. Israeli Arabs, who represent almost 20 percent of the population, receive only 5 percent of development budgets; 23 out of the 25 localities with the highest unemployment rates are Arab communities; 85 percent of Arabs live in places on the bottom 30 percent of the socio-economic scale; 50 percent of Arab families live below the poverty line (despite the fact that natural population growth in the Arab sector has dropped in recent years to 3 percent). Despite the cabinet decision to use affirmative action to hire Arabs in government ministries, they comprise no more than 8 percent of civil servants. If service jobs in government hospitals are excluded, the rate reaches less than 4 percent.

Gra suggests being skeptical of politicians' declarations of grandiose plans to reduce the discrimination against Israeli Arabs. "Whoever tosses out numbers like $40 billion doesn't intend to do a thing," he says. "Instead of talking about food, the Prime Minister's Office issues declarations about high-tech development for Arabs. I would make do with six or seven billion over ten years, with an integrated plan in the fields of employment, housing, education and roads. And they shouldn't say there's no money; you can always find a budget for important things."