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Damage to trees and farmland
'Ein Samia, 15 June 2020: Fighting a fire started by settlers. Photo: Iyad Hadad, B'Tselem
'Ein Samia, 15 June 2020: Fighting a fire started by settlers. Photo: Iyad Hadad, B'Tselem

‘Ein Samia, Ramallah District: Settlers torch fields, Israeli security forces and firefighters stand by and let dozens of fields burn down

Why did Israeli security forces and firefighters stand by and leave the Palestinian victims to put out the fires alone? Why did they prevent Palestinian firefighters from helping? That is what state-backed settler violence looks like.

The incident took place on 15 June 2020. Six farmers from the village of Kafr Malik were working their land near the ‘Ein Samia junction when they noticed a jeep drive along the road and stop several times. Every time, one or two settlers got out and set fire to Palestinian fields. The farmers shouted at them and the settlers quickly fled towards Kochav Hashachar (a settlement established about three kilometers from ‘Ein Samia’s land in 1977).

The farmers called residents from the village and from the neighboring village of ‘Ein Samia, and dozens came to help put out the fires.   

Israeli soldiers, Border Police and police officers arrived about ten minutes after the villagers. Instead of helping put out the fast-spreading flames, they stood by and watched from afar. Two Israeli firefighter crews summoned from nearby settlements did not intervene, either, despite repeated requests by the Palestinians.

A few minutes later, a Palestinian Civil Defence firetruck arrived. As the farmland lies in Area C, the Palestinian firefighters could not enter the area without Israeli permission. Yet as the Palestinian Authority has stopped its security coordination with Israel, they could not request permission. They hoped the soldiers would let them through, but the security forces stopped the firetruck and after a two-hour wait, the crew gave up and left.

The residents had to fight the fire alone with small containers of water, wet blankets and tree leaves. It took them until 6:30 P.M. to quench the flames. By then, the fire had decimated some 100 dunams of land [1 dunam = 1,000 sq. meters], about half of them cultivated fields and land used for pasture, barley crops and vicia (cattle fodder). The fire caused substantial damage to local farmers and shepherds, who now have to buy fodder for their livestock.

Diaa’ Rustum (33), a married father of three and a farmer from Kafr Malik, told B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad about the arson:

On the day of the incident, I was working as a hired hand at a za'atar (hyssop) plot. We started working at about 4:00 P.M., when I saw a white jeep with Israeli license plates stop at the ‘Ein Samia junction about 300 meters away. A man got out and crouched next to a dry field by the roadside. Just then, a Palestinian car drove out of a nearby dirt road and scared the man. He got back into the jeep and drove towards the settlement of Kochav Hashachar.

Settlers often set fire to our fields during the harvest season, but after that attempt we went back to work and kept on plowing the soil. At about 4:15 P.M., we saw a white car that looked like the same jeep driving slowly towards us, and I noticed a fire raging in the fields by the roadside behind it. We started shouting, ran over there and called the fire department. Suddenly, the jeep stopped again, about half a kilometer from the fire, and the settler got out and lit some dry weeds by the road.

He saw us shouting for help and within seconds, jumped back into the car and headed south. He stopped about half a kilometer away and lit another field, and then drove off towards the settlement. We couldn’t run after him or even film him because we were too busy putting out the fire. It spread quickly. We used everything we could lay our hands on: bits of rubber, branches and thorns.

Meanwhile, a call went out from the loudspeakers of the mosque in Kafr Malik for people to come and help put out the fire, and dozens of people showed up.  

Khaled Ghneimat (42), a married father of six and farmer from Kafr Malik, spoke with B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad and described the security forces’ conduct and the damage the arson caused his family:

The military and the Israeli police showed up early on, but they didn’t do a thing. Israeli firetrucks also arrived, but their crews didn’t help at all. They were only on standby in case the fire spread towards the settlements. A Palestinian Civil Defense firetruck from the village of a-Taybeh also came, but its crew couldn’t enter the area because they couldn’t get permission. They waited a long time and finally gave up and left.

According to estimates, more than 100 dunams of land burnt down at the three sites of the torching. Most of it was wild plants we used to graze flocks. This will force us to buy large amounts of fodder for thousands of shekels.

Fence destructed by settlers in Fadel 'Aydah's plot. Beit 'Einun, 22 May 2020. Photo: Fadel 'Aydah
Fence destructed by settlers in Fadel 'Aydah's plot. Beit 'Einun, 22 May 2020. Photo: Fadel 'Aydah

Beit ‘Einun, Hebron District: Settlers uproot 130 olive seedlings and damage fence around plot in attempt to take it over

Fadel ‘Aydah (46), a resident of Hebron, learned of the damage the settlers had caused him on Friday, 22 May 2020. An area resident called him to say four settlers were on his land, uprooting the olive seedlings he had planted a year ago as part of a Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture project. ‘Aydah was at work and could only get to the land the next day. When he got there, the sight he found was unbelievable: Settlers had uprooted all 130 of his olive seedlings. Six days later, 'Aydah filed a complaint at the police station in the settlement of Kiryat Arba. He has not heard a thing about his case since.

The perpetrators quickly tried to leverage their vandalism to take over ‘Aydah's land. They returned with a bulldozer and demolished a substantial part of the fence that 'Aydah and his brother recently put up around the plot. That took place on 5 June 2020, and again the same resident spotted them and called ‘Aydah to report that one of the settlers who uprooted the seedlings was now destroying the fence. When ‘Aydah reached the scene, he found much of the fence in ruins.

‘Aydah’s land lies east of Beit ‘Einun. In the 1980s, the neighborhood of Giv’at Harsina in Kiryat Arba, was established about three kilometers from it.

Slashed pipes in Khirbet Jib'it, 1 June 2020. Photo: courtesy of the family
Slashed pipes in Khirbet Jib'it, 1 June 2020. Photo: courtesy of the family

Khirbet Jab’it, Ramallah District: Settlers vandalize water pipes, forcing community to dismantle them every evening for protection

On Monday night, 1 June 2020, settlers cut the pipes that carry water from the community’s cisterns to its homes. The residents use the water for drinking, cleaning and watering flocks. It was the second time in a week that settlers vandalized the essential pipes.

Robbed of the precious resource, the residents had to buy water and transport it from the neighboring village of al-Mughayir. They also had to buy new pipes. They now dismantle the pipes every night and assemble them again at dawn, for fear the settlers will damage them again.

Last February, some ten settlers invaded the community’s homes on the pretext they were looking for sheep that had been stolen from them. Throughout the violent incursion, settlers attacked three shepherds, one of whom was hit in the head and rushed to a hospital. Two other residents were injured and treated on the spot.

Uprooted trees in the Sultan family's plot. Haris, 25 June 2020. Photo: courtesy of the family
Uprooted trees in the Sultan family's plot. Haris, 25 June 2020. Photo: courtesy of the family

Haris, Salfit District: Settlers uproot almost 150 olive trees and bury them in the ground. Amjad Sultan: “We’re exhausted from the effort to hold on to our land”

The damage was discovered on Monday. Two residents of Haris, brothers Ihab (40) and Amjad (46) Sultan, went to their farmland in the Khallet Abu al-'Ula area and found that almost 150 of their olive trees had vanished.

The brothers’ olive grove stretches across 42 dunams [1 dunam = 1,000 sq. meters]. Apart from the 10-year-old trees that disappeared, they have another 300 trees that are 40 years old. The plot lies on the western side of the town, just by the main road (Route 505).

In a testimony he gave B’Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i, Amjad Sultan described the incident:

My brother informed me there were trees missing, and I rushed to our land. I couldn’t understand how 150  olive trees that had been there for 10 years could suddenly disappear! Our grove has about 300 olive trees that my father, God rest his soul, planted in 1980. Ten years ago, we planted another 150. We go there almost every day to tend to the trees.

We looked for the trees and found them buried in the ground.

I called the Israel Police and officers arrived after half an hour. They said the grove was visibly damaged. A Civil Administration official who came with police officers and soldiers told me to contact the Palestinian DCO. It was clear that they didn’t want to handle the case.

We're exhausted from the effort to hold on to our land and work it – because we’ve been struggling for 10 years. In the first three years after you plant the trees, you need to water them a lot. We would bring the water with us by car. We worked hard so the grove would flourish.

Every time, the settlement guard from Revava would arrive and demand our permit to be on our land. We ignored him, but sometimes the settlers would come and steal the barrels protecting the trees. When we demanded that they give them back, they sometimes did. We never imagined they would go this far, uprooting our trees and burying them.

Burin, Nablus District: Settlers torched trees and threw stones at house under construction. Soldiers fired tear gas and "rubber" bullets and impeded efforts to extinguish the fire

On Thursday afternoon, 18 June 2020, Palestinian youths set fire to a field of thorns that lies between the eastern neighborhood of the village of Burin and the settlement outpost of Sneh Ya’akov (Giv’at Ronen). The settlers arrived to extinguish the fire and an argument ensued between them and the youths. The outpost was established about a kilometer from Burin in 1999.

Later that day, at about 4:00 P.M., some ten masked settlers arrived at the northeastern neighborhood of the village. They began to throw stones at a house under construction, broke its water pipes and set fire to olive and almond groves nearby. Residents came out to defend their houses and land, and a confrontation ensued. Shortly after, about ten soldiers arrived and began firing tear-gas canisters and rubber-coated metal bullets at the residents. They also prevented some residents from going to their land to put out the fire. A Palestinian Civil Defense fire truck could not reach the groves due to the clashes.

At dusk, after the incident was over, the firefighters reached the farmland and helped the residents put out the fire.

Village resident Bashir Zein (64), who owns one of the torched groves, heard about the arson from his son. In a testimony he gave the day after the incident to B’Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i, he related:

Our family has 25 dunams in the area, five of which I inherited from my grandfather. There are 40 olive and almond trees on our plot, which is fenced in by sabra bushes in every direction. When they told me my trees were on fire, I came right away. But the soldiers wouldn’t let me near and keep telling me “Go back! Go back!”. I tried to explain that I only wanted to put out the fire, but they insisted and wouldn’t let me near.

I saw about ten settlers go over to a house under construction right next to my plot, and start breaking the brick walls. The soldiers let them do it and didn’t intervene. Every time residents of the neighborhood approached the settlers, the soldiers fired rubber bullets at them. This went on until sundown, and then the settlers headed towards the outpost of Giv’at Ronen.

Out of about 40 trees on my plot, there are only 16 left. In my father’s plot, about 50 almond and olive trees burned down and only one remains. My son Khaled and I tried to put out the fire that was still burning in the branches of some trees. 

Ancient olive tree cut down in Burin, 4 June 2020. Photo: Naser Qadus
Ancient olive tree cut down in Burin, 4 June 2020. Photo: Naser Qadus

Burin, Nablus District: Settlers cut down 80 ancient olive trees

Naser Qadus (52) learned over the phone that most of the trees on his plot had been cut down. It was around 5:00 P.M. on Thursday afternoon, 4 June 2020, when he got the terrible news.

Qadus' land lies in the southern part of the village, about two kilometers from where the settlement of Yitzhar was established. As the military forbids him from entering his own land without prior coordination with the Israeli DCO, he could not check on the trees straightaway. Two days later, in the early morning hours, Qadus finally got to his land and discovered that 80 ancient olive trees had been cut down.  

In a testimony he gave to B’Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i, Qadus recounted:

I took advantage of the fact that the settlers don’t usually leave home early on Saturdays and went to my plot at about 7:00 A.M. I found they hadn't left a single tree intact. It looked like the trees had been cut down four or five days earlier, because the branches were starting to dry out. When I saw the trees lying on the ground, I choked up and quickly left. I couldn’t stay there and see that horrible sight.  

I managed to get home without running into the settlers or the military jeeps that patrol around Yitzhar. I feel completely helpless.

Mutilated trees in Yatma, 16 May 2020
Mutilated trees in Yatma, 16 May 2020

Yatma, Nablus District: Settlers cut down 29 olive trees

On 16 May 2020, around 5:00 P.M., Muhammad Najar and members of his family went from the village of Yatma to their olive grove, which lies north of the village. Upon arrival, they encountered a harsh sight: 29 olive trees, which were four years old, cut down by settlers and lying on the ground.

The family's farmland stretches over 18 dunams [1 dunam = 1,000 sq. meters], with an olive grove containing some 300 trees. In past incidents, settlers damaged trees in the grove and contaminated a well on the plot.  

In a testimony he gave to B’Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i, Najar described the terror the settlers inflict on the area:

The only settlement nearby is Tapuach, but settlers pass through here all the time on their way to the area of Jabal al-'Orma area (Tel Aroma). It belongs to the village of Beita and they’re trying to take it over. Since nobody is stopping them, I’m afraid these attacks will continue.

 

Mutilated trees in a-Sawiyah, 24 April 2020
Mutilated trees in a-Sawiyah, 24 April 2020

A-Sawiyah, Nablus District: Settlers cut down 35 olive trees Hamdi Jazi’s plot, grown for over 40 years

“The Israeli DCO is looking for the offenders at the end of the world,” Hamdi Jazi (56) said helplessly, “while they’re before their very eyes!”. This time, he refused to meet with the DCO official who came to his land to examine the damage and the trees the settlers chopped down; he has given up hope the offenders will be caught and punished.

On Friday morning, 24 April 2020, Jazi received a phone message from a village resident informing him of harsh sights in his olive grove. He rushed there with his sons and discovered that settlers had cut down 35 of his trees, which were at least 40 years old, and left only five intact.

This January, settlers cut down 80 olive saplings he had planted in 2013.

Jazi owns two dunams of land [1 dunam = 1,000 sq. meters] near Route 60, about a kilometer northwest of a-Sawiyah.  

The settlement of Rehelim was founded in 1991 about 600 meters away, on village land.

In a testimony he gave on 25 April 2020 to B’Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i, Jazi described his feelings:

I was shocked when I saw 35 olive trees lying on the ground. They’d cut them off at the stem, apparently just that night, because the trees were still green. I felt like I’d just witnessed an execution! They murdered those trees. I couldn’t bear the sight and left.”

Crimes against farmers take place every day in the West Bank, and it’s evident from the settlers’ actions that they’ve marked the area and are deliberately destroying it. They damaged my trees and those of landowners from nearby plots. They overlook nothing and destroy everything. What did the trees do wrong?!

I don’t have any trees left, and I’m afraid to come to the grove because of the settlers’ aggression. 
 

A vandalized fence in Turmusaya, 14 April 2020
A vandalized fence in Turmusaya, 14 April 2020

Turmusaya, Ramallah District: Settlers vandalize fences meant to protect groves from their incursions

On Saturday, 25 April 2020, Riyad Jabara (45) and Mahmoud ‘Ali (80), residents of Turmusaya, discovered that settlers had vandalized the protective fences around their plots and the gates they had installed in them. The farmland in question is located in the area of a-Dhahrat, about three kilometers east of the village.

The perpetrators destroyed gates and protective fences surrounding both plots, stretching 20 meters long in Ali’s land and 50 meters long in Jabara’s. The latter had erected the fence around an area he’d prepared for planting olive trees.

About six years ago, Jabara planted olive trees on his land. Last year, settlers vandalized some of them. In late March 2020, they destroyed the 40 trees that had survived the previous attack.

The settlement outpost of Adei-ad was founded in 1998 about 500 meters from both plots.

The farmers of Turmusaya have been suffering from constant harassment by settlers for years. In April 2020 alone, B’Tselem documented four more cases of destruction of trees, and another case of vandalizing a fence. The fences were erected by the International Red Cross in 2018, as part of an initiative to protect farmland in the area.  

Farmers are not only hard put to protect their crops from the invaders, but also face another significant obstacle: the Israeli military prohibits local landowners from visiting their land daily and only grants them access several days a year, during the harvest and plowing seasons. 

Mutilated olive trees in Ras Karkar, 24 April 2020
Mutilated olive trees in Ras Karkar, 24 April 2020

Ras Karkar, Ramallah District: 50 olives trees uprooted and broken, futile complaint filed

On 24 April 2020, Radi Abu Fkheidah, a 65-year-old farmer, went to plow his land. He discovered that in his absence, settlers had damaged 50 olive trees he had planted a decade ago. Some of the trees were uprooted and others had broken branches. Abu Fkheidah reported the damage to the Palestinian DCO. 

The settlement of Nerya was established about 200 meters from the plot.  

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