Notes and Stories from the Olive Harvest: Palestinian farmers tell stories of intimidation, vandalism and violence from settler neighbors, as they attempt to harvest their olives.
By Moriel Rothman
Israeli settler violence against Palestinian farmers during the olive season is not an exception. It is the norm. It is the norm encouraged by the settler leadership, which, in turn is supported by the government. This violence ranges from the blows delivered from masked, rod-wielding youth accompanied by an armed guard in Jalud last week, to the violent mob outside of Anatot last month, to scores of instances of tree burning or uprooting. For Palestinian farmers, settler violence against them or their property is a practically a daily occurrence.
And yet, much of Israeli society is either unaware of the extent of the violence, or unwilling to call it anything other than “the random actions of a few fanatics.”
But it is much deeper and more disturbing than simply “the random actions of a few fanatics.”
It is policy.
Yes, the acts of violence themselves are generally carried out by a “few fanatics.” But the actions of these few fanatics correspond directly to settler policy, which, while not explicitly declared, is certainly normatively inscribed. Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira’s Torat HaMelekh was not an aberration. It was simply a codification of the “religiously” framed devaluation of all non-Jewish life that is rampant throughout the settlements. Moreover, Rabbi Shapira’s Yeshiva in the settlement of Yitzhar has received substantial government funding.
Just as the actions of the “few fanatics” correspond to settler policy aimed at terrorizing Palestinians and stealing more of their land, so settler policy corresponds to the policy of the current Greater-Israel government, whose long-term goal appears to be the annexation of as much of the West Bank as possible, while granting limited rights to the Palestinians.
Yes, this olive season the army has made a moderate effort to prevent the “few fanatics” from executing their violence, the army itself having been the target of a handful of attacks. But prevention is not the same as active opposition, and the fact that the army has been somewhat willing to fulfill its legal obligation – established explicitly following a 2006 Supreme Court ruling - to protect Palestinian farmers during the olive season speaks more to successful pressure from media and civil society than it does to any change in policy. According to a report recently published by the Israeli legal organization Yesh Din, out of the 127 cases Yesh Din has followed since 2005 against settlers guilty of destroying of Palestinian trees, only one has led to an indictment.
The government’s lack of interest in prosecuting “price tag” attacks in the West Bank is not surprising. Indeed, the government seems to be in the midst of planning what Ir Amim’s Sarah Kreimer writes might be its own sort of “price tag” against the Palestinian people: Givat HaMatos, a new settlement in East Jerusalem, which will permanently seal off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.
Over the past two and half weeks, I have helped Rabbis for Human Rights organize and lead groups of Israeli and international volunteers to help Palestinian farmers with the harvest, and to stand in solidarity with the farmers in the face of settler intimidation.
The stories we have heard and the damage we have seen are heart-wrenching, especially when coupled with the knowledge that virtually all perpetrators have acted and continue to act with the complete confidence of those who know they will not face any serious punishment for their crimes.
Here are the stories of three of the farmers. While these stories are only a few examples, virtually every Palestinian farmer we have spoken to has had a similar story to tell.
The first story is that of Jamal from Awarta. Jamal shows his neighbor’s trees burning, and tells of being attacked by a group of around 15 settlers from Itamar while working in his field with his son.
The third is the story of Abu Makram from Kufr Kadum. According to Abu Makram, settlers from Kedumim recently sprayed his olive trees with a poison that dried and damaged the trees and their olives.
The third story is that of man who goes by “Bruce Lee” from Burin. A few months ago, Bruce Lee was shot in the arm, hip and foot by a group of settlers from the settlement of Givat Ronen.
None of these farmers expect to receive compensation or justice. They understand that this is just policy.
Moriel Rothman is an American-Israeli activist and writer. He is currently active with Rabbis for Human Rights, where he is helping organize groups to assist with the olive harvest in the occupied West Bank. Contact him here.