Rights Group Keeps Palestinians Farming, and the Settlers at Bay

Settlers yesterday tried to prevent Palestinian farmers from plowing three plots of land in the West Bank village of Tulat east of Qalqilyah. Only after human rights group Yesh Din intervened and alerted security forces to the area were the farmers able to resume work, the Israeli nonprofit organization reported.

The villagers claim that on Saturday four Israelis, apparently from one of the adjacent settlements, beat two shepherds from the village. The shepherds intend to file a complaint with the police today.

The settlement adjacent to the village is Ma'aleh Shomron. An illegal outpost, Elmatan, has been built nearby recently.

On December 14, the Tulat residents saw armed settlers plowing their three plots of land with a tractor. With the aid of Yesh Din activists, the villagers filed a complaint with the police, who subsequently recommended that they return and re-plow the land.

Yesterday morning when they came back, however, the farmers noticed settlers gathering with dogs on a hill overlooking their fields, where Elmatan in located. The Palestinians stopped working and immediately called Yesh Din. Soldiers who arrived at the scene intervened, distancing the settlers and the farmers.

According to a Yesh Din representative, the settlers claimed that the plots were state land, but a Civil Administration official who arrived on the scene rejected that claim, saying it was the villagers' private property. The farmers resumed work three hours later.

Since March 2005, Tulat residents, with the assistance of Yesh Din, have filed seven complaints against settlers from the area - three of them last month. The Palestinians allege that the settlers assaulted them and trespassed on their property.