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From the field

2020 olive harvest – another year of severe, state-backed settler violence

This year, the olive harvest season lasted from early October through the end of November. During that time, B’Tselem documented 39 incidents in which settlers attacked Palestinian harvesters, blocked their access to their own olive groves, stole crops, and damaged trees and farming equipment. The incidents occurred in villages throughout the West Bank – in the districts of Hebron, Ramallah, Nablus, Salfi, and Qalqiliyah.

In eight of the documented incidents, settlers physically assaulted farmers, and in some cases also damaged their vehicles. Six harvesters required treatment in hospital as a result. In 14 cases, settlers mutilated more than 500 olive trees altogether. In 12 cases, they stole a total of about 20,000 kilos of olives off more than 400 trees – resulting in losses of about 270,000 shekels (~83,150 USD) to the Palestinian owner. In three cases, settlers vandalized or stole tools and farming equipment. In two other cases, settlement security guards blocked farmers’ access to their land; in one of them, the guard summoned the military and a soldier attacked a harvester.

These incidents could not have taken place without the sweeping support provided by the state – not only during the harvest season, but throughout the entire year – for such acts of violence. The vast majority of such cases are never investigated, and no one is held accountable for the harm caused to Palestinians. When investigations are launched, they invariably end with no action taken against the perpetrators. In the rare event an indictment is filed – the charges do not match the severity of the acts and the defendants are given ludicrous sentences.

The acts of violence are backed not only after the fact, but in real-time. Israeli security forces are often present when settlers attack Palestinians, yet instead of protecting the victims they provide the assailants with backup and protection, and in some cases even assault the farmers themselves. Frequently, when Palestinians try to protect their property, soldiers disperse them with tear gas canisters and stun grenades, and sometimes open fire at them with rubber-coated metal bullets or even live bullets. This happens all year round, including during the olive harvest.

32 of the incidents appear on this map (some texts refer to more than one). In 7 other cases, the farmers asked not to appear.




All this has long since become routine for Palestinians in the West Bank. Yet during the harvest season, the Israeli authorities – who are well aware of this reality – claim to provide farmers with special protection: the military coordinates “harvest days” for farmers whose land lies near settlements, and promises that soldiers will protect them against settlers. The main flaw in this mechanism lies is that it openly accepts settler violence as immutable. Based on this distorted logic, the military imposes restrictions on Palestinians, while marauding settlers are free to go wherever they please.

Yet even this absurd mechanism does not help the farmers, as it is not only based on flawed logic but badly implemented. The occasional workdays allotted to Palestinians are not enough to complete the harvest. When farmers do manage to reach their land on the set date, the military does not always provide them protection – contrary to the state’s commitment. In some cases, the soldiers do not arrive on the set date, leaving the farmers vulnerable. In other cases, the soldiers do show up – but as soon as settlers appear, they rush to drive the Palestinians out of their land and do not hesitate to use force and weapons to do so.

This year’s harvest was not unusual. The acts of violence B’Tselem documented recur year after year without interruption, and not only during the harvest season. All the state authorities are well aware of this, including the law enforcement agencies. Several official commissions of inquiry have referred to the problem; human rights organizations have described it in dozens of reports; and the Knesset has held several debates on the matter over the years. Yet nothing has changed. As long as this reality continues to serve Israel’s long-term goals in the West Bank – primarily, using violence to dispossess Palestinians of their land so the state can take it over – it will continue. Only when Israel is made to pay for implementing this criminal policy, can change come about.


  • Settler assaults on harvesters
  • Damage to trees and equipment
  • Olive theft
  • Military prevention of harvest