Over the course of three days, from 24 to 26 October 2011, B'Tselem documented four cases of attacks on farmers from Beitillu, a Palestinian village near Ramallah, and their property. In three of the cases, the perpetrators, apparently settlers, damaged olive trees on privately-owned Palestinian land adjacent to the settlements Nahli’el and Talmon. In one case, settlers assaulted farmers who had come to their land to pick olives. The documented cases are the following:
1) On 24 October, Faiz Abu Ziyada, a resident of Beitillu, noticed that signs had been posted on trees in his olive grove that lie about a hundred meters from the gate of the Nahli’el settlement. The signs said, in Arabic, “This tree is now Jewish property. It is forbidden to go close to it.” Abu Ziyada filed a complaint with the police.
2) The same day, Hassan Tabal, a resident of Beitillu, noticed that some 30 of his olive trees had been burned, 20 of them completely. Tabal filed a complaint with the police.
3) On 25 October, members of the Abu Ziyada family (see case #1)went to pick olives in their grove. According to testimonies that family members gave to B'Tselem, while waiting next to the Nahli'el settlement for soldiers who were supposed to accompany them, a group of settlers arrived and began throwing stones at them. Two soldiers who were already present at the site did not detain the assailants; rather, they made the Palestinians leave. The family had no choice but to watch from a distance as the settlers hurled stones at their car, shattering the windows, while the two soldiers did nothing but call out to the settlers, asking them to stop.
The soldiers summoned the police, who came to the site and opened an investigation. While they were questioning members of the family, the owner of the land, Sa'il Abu Ziyada, noticed that branches of his olive trees had been broken. He reported that the day before, when he had visited the spot with soldiers to coordinate the harvest, the trees had been unharmed.
4) On 26 October, around 8:00 A.M., farmers from the Bazar family from Beitillu went to their land, which lies adjacent to the Nahli’el settlement. They noticed that the branches of some 10 trees had been broken. Later, when a jeep belonging to the al-Jazeera broadcasting company came to the site to document the damage to the trees, settlers stoned the jeep. A B'Tselem volunteer who accompanied the al-Jazeera crew was lightly wounded in the neck from a stone that struck him.
In last year’s olive harvest (2010), B'Tselem documented six incidents in which settlers harmed Palestinians and their property in the area of the Talmon, Dolev, and Nahli’el settlements. The settler’s actions included assault, threats, damage to trees, and theft of olives. The farmers filed complaints with the police. As far as B'Tselem knows, of the six files that were opened by the police, four were closed (three on grounds of “offender unknown,” the other for a reason unknown to B'Tselem). In one file, the investigation has ended and further legal proceedings have not yet been decided, and in one file, the investigation has not yet ended.
The Supreme Court held in 2006 (HCJ 9593/04) that, “protection of the safety and property of the local residents is one of the most fundamental obligations imposed on the military commander in the field.” The court held that, therefore, four principles must be maintained: ensuring the safety of Palestinian farmers during the olive harvest, giving clear directives so that landowners are able to access their land, allotting forces to protect the Palestinian farmers’ property, and thoroughly investigating complaints filed by Palestinians.
The army prevents residents of Beitillu free access to the land they own, and requires them to coordinate the timing of the olive harvest. The army contends that the coordination is done with the objective of protecting the residents from settler attacks. The cases described above show that, contrary to the army’s contention, and despite the army’s obligations, the soldiers did not provide proper protection to the Palestinian farmers. In addition, B'Tselem's phone call to the Binyamin brigade on 25 Oct. regarding the first three cases was answered with the response that the cases were known and were being handled, and that the army was preparing to prevent future incidents of the kind. The next day, B'Tselem received a similar response regarding the fourth case.
The soldiers who were present during the assault on the Abu Ziyada family (case #3) also breached military commands requiring them to detain the assailants until the police arrive.
B'Tselem calls on the Israel Police to investigate the four incidents and prosecute the perpetrators. Regarding investigation of the case involving assault, the investigators must question the soldiers who were present and witnessed the assault.