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IDF keeps secret record of Palestinian olive groves attacks

IDF keeps secret record of Palestinian olive groves attacks
Palestinian olive groves are routinely attacked in territories under Israeli control, according to an IDF confidential document. Human rights groups slam the army for failure to prevent the incidents, which are seriously damaging the Palestinian economy.

The document obtained by Haaretz is a list of 16 attacks carried out between September 11 and October 20 this year. The vandalized and destroyed Palestinian olive groves are situated near Israeli settlements and are officially under IDF guard.

The most serious incident is highlighted first in the list and concerns burning down 500 trees in the village of Deir al-Khatab.

The latest attack, on September 20, was not actually on the trees, but on the farmers harvesting olives. This has the most detailed description, because two of the four injured in the attack were volunteers from Rabbis for Human Rights, an Israeli watchdog, which keeps a record of olive grove vandalization and sends its members to hotspots of violence to help prevent it.  

The Rabbis for Human Right volunteers injured in the attack are aged 71 and 18. The attackers were reportedly Jewish Israelis from a settlement nearby, who used metal bars and stones against the farmers.
The president of Rabbis for Human Rights, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, believes the attack could have been prevented.

What is surprising to us is that masked men succeeded in coming the not insignificant distance from Yitzhar to attack, when the IDF knew that the olive harvest was taking place, knew that the area is notorious for violence, and that farmers and our volunteers were attacked at the same place last week,” Ascherman said, as cited by the group’s official website.  

According to the watchdog, some 1,650 trees have been vandalized in the past two months in the West Bank with most of the damage occurring in October. 

An Israeli soldier walks past Palestinians harvesting their olive groves, as the Israel army stands guard to protect the farmers from attacks by Jewish settlers from the nearby Israeli settlement of Tal Rumeda on October 12, 2013, near the West Bank city of Hebron. (AFP Photo / Hazem Bader)

The attacks on the olive groves are a significant blow to the Palestinians who are dependent on the olive industry, which provides income and employment to some 100,000 households, as estimated by another Israeli human rights group, Yesh Din. The watchdog issued a report on October 21, suggesting Israeli police failed to investigate incidents involving damage and destruction of olive trees.

Yesh Din gathered its data from 2005 through to June 2013 in the Samaria and Judea District. Out of the 211 investigative files opened by the local police, only four ended in indictments, according to the group’s findings.

183 files were closed in circumstances testifying to investigative failure – no less than 94.7 percent,” the report reads.

The survey suggests that it’s part of a general trend of police failure to investigate offenses by Israelis against Palestinians and their property.  For the Samaria and Judea District Police, the figure stands at 84 percent.

As the statistics show… the areas of friction are well known,” says Noah Cohen of Yesh Din’s Research Department, according to the group’s official website. “Nevertheless the IDF leaves the Palestinian residents in these areas exposed to repeated violent attacks. The implication of the ongoing failure of the S&J District Police to investigate and prosecute persons who vandalize trees is equally apparent: The complete abnegation of responsibility and the abandonment of these areas to the control of violent and extremist elements.”

Both the watchdogs – Rabbis for Human Rights and Yesh Din – sent a letter to the commanders of the IDF brigades in the West Bank, listing the incidents of olive trees vandalization and accusing the army of failing to protect the Palestinian farmers and their property.

Israeli settlements in the territories the country captured in the 1967 Middle East war have long been hotbeds of clashes between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as a major obstacle for peace talks between the two sides.

Although most countries view the Israeli settlement activity as illegal, the country is far from ready to give them up. Just this Wednesday, Israel's Interior Ministry announced 1,500 housing units would be built in East Jerusalem.

The move comes a day after Israel released 26 Palestinian prisoners as part of a deal brokered by the US to put the peace process back on track. The new settlements program puts it at risk once again.