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IDF forces in village of Burin (archive)
Photo: AFP
Season ended sooner than expected
Photo: Rina Nagila
Settlers, Palestinians clash over olive harvest
Palestinians discover olive trees stripped of fruit in several areas in West Bank, complain of settlers' sabotage. Police confirm reports of theft, launch inquiry. Meanwhile, settlers claim trees inside their own territory or in no man's land

Mohai Nasser's olive harvest season ended before it began. Nasser, a carpenter from the village of Jit, took a day off on Sunday to pick olives from his 30 olive trees which provide him with oil for the entire season. He was shocked to discover a pianful sight when he reached his plot. "I saw that all my trees had been shaved," he said. "There's not one fruit left on any of the trees."

 

Nasser has no doubts as to who is behind the act. "The Havat Gilat settlers emptied them (the trees) completely."

 

Nasser is not alone. Farmers of the neighboring villages also found there was nothing left of their crop of hundreds of thousands of olives. Hundreds of trees have been stripped of their fruit.

 

Shai District Police confirmed having received complaints of olive theft from hundreds of trees belonging to Palestinian farmers and said an investigation has been launched. Police are still trying to ascertain the thieves' identity.


Mohai Nasser with the few olives he has left (Photo: Ali Waked)

 

Residents of Havat Gilad, however paint a different picture, claiming that Palestinians had in fact picked settlers' olives.

 

Itay Zar, chairman of the Havat Gilad secretariat said, "Despite the Arabs' cynical use of the olive harvest to nationalistically attack the farm's property and uproot trees, we join forces with the Shomron Brigade in an effort to hold a peaceful harvest. I hope that the Civil Administration and the IDF draw lessons from the events that took place and work towards preventing Arab terroristic elements from exploiting the harvest towards provocations in other Samaria communities. "

 

'Land belongs to no one'

In a separate event Sunday, a tractor owned by Palestinians was burned in the village of Burin near Nablus. Police are investigating whether it was a case of arson. The tractor's owner Bajes Uda, 70, a resident of Hawara, claimed he and his family had been attacked by residents of Givat Ronen (a neighborhood in the settlement of Har Bracha) on their way to picking olives.

 

"My son saw that the settlers were planning to torch the tractor and ran towards them to prevent them from lighting the fire. A confrontation broke out, they started throwing rocks at us and we tried to prevent them from blocking the road," Uda said. He claimed to have been hit by a large rock hurled at him. Police and the IDF arrived at the scene to collect his statement.

 

Another incident was recorded near Elon Moreh in which settlers picked olives from Palestinian trees. After police arrived the settlers left the area leaving behind buckets of olives and work tools.

 

Police confirmed the plots belong to Palestinians, however the settlers claim the area is no man's land where Palestinians and settlers have been picking olives for years. "The area is within the community's territory," a source in Elon Moreh said. "No on owns the trees, and that's why it's no man's land."

 

The Shomron Regional Council backed this claim and stated that over the years no one has managed to prove ownership of the land.


'Security forces neglecting their duties' (Archive photo: AFP)

 

Responding to the various reports of olive theft, the Shomron Settlers Committee issued the following statement: "We have grown tired of the false charges put forward by Arabs and their allies from the far Left who each year turn the olive harvest season into a season of incitement against the Jews in the spirit of anti-Semitism. We have grown tired of obsequiousness at the face of the Arabs' crocodile tears who ruin, uproot and burn the Jews' orchards."

 

Meanwhile, the Palestinians are saying that the recent harvest is turning out to be one of the toughest they've known in recent years. They claim that the IDF's forgiving attitude towards the settlers has caused the harvest season to end sooner than expected.

 

Rabbi Eric Sherman of the Rabbis for Human Rights group said in response that the security forces' conduct throughout the season mocks the High Court of Justice.

 

"In 2006 the High Court demanded the State provide security for the harvest season, to protect the trees and allow farmers to access their plots. The incident in Havat Gilad tonight proves the security forces are neglecting to adhere to the court's orders." He noted the group intends on addressing the High Court once again for enforcement of its rulings.

 

Last year, security forces managed to significantly reduce the number of sabotage incidents. This is not the case this year.

 

Yair Altman contributed to this report

 

 

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