Four Israeli human rights groups – The Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), B'Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights and Yesh Din - Volunteers for Human Rights – sent an urgent letter today to senior Israeli military commanders, in which they called on the commanders to take all necessary steps to ensure that Palestinians and their properties are protected from violence and damage during the current olive harvest season.
The letter, signed by Attorney Maskit Bendel of ACRI, Attorney Michael Sfard of Yesh Din, Jessica Montell of B'Tselem and Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights, was sent to Central Command Chief, General Avi Mizrahi, and to the commander of Israeli military forces in the West Bank Brigadier Nitzan Alon. The letter contains a list of 35 incidents in which damage was caused to Palestinian olive trees or property. The incidents occurred between early September and mid-October – at the start of the olive harvest season. In most of the reported cases, a complaint has been filed with the authorities.
Seven out of the 29 incidents took place in the villages of Burin and Hawara, which border with the settlement of Yitzhar; there were also attacks on olive trees have reported in the villages of Far'ata, Til, Imatin and Yanoun, adjacent to the outpost of Havat Gilad. The worst incident so far has been reported in these four villages - the arson of hundreds of olive trees on October 15th.
The organizations' letter states that according to eyewitnesses, the aforementioned arson attack occurred in the presence of Israeli soldiers, who did nothing to prevent it. Moreover, eyewitnesses claimed that some soldiers even barred Palestinians from accessing the scene and extinguish the fire.
According to human rights organizations, this is not the first year that Israeli citizens damage Palestinian olive trees in the West Bank – in fact, this is a recurring phenomenon which peaks every year around the beginning of the olive harvest. The organizations have called on the Israeli authorities many times before to take all necessary steps to "fulfill duties and obligations and protect the rights of residents who live in the occupied region". Nevertheless, the letter states, "the regrettable outcome of the incidents described herein proves once and again that the steps taken by the defense forces are insufficient, and the result is a blow to the livelihood of many Palestinian residents".