Olive tree sabotage plagues Palestinian farmers

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More than 7,000 Palestinian-owned trees have been vandalized so far this year, according to the United Nations. (AFP)
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Palestinian farmer Mahmoud Abu Shinar stands next to destroyed olive trees, near the West Bank village of Turmus Aya, north of Ramallah. (AFP)
Updated 09 November 2018
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Olive tree sabotage plagues Palestinian farmers

  • Olives are perhaps the most well-known and abundant Palestinian product
  • More than 7,000 Palestinian-owned trees have been vandalized so far this year, according to the United Nations

NABLUS, Palestinian Territories: Palestinian farmer Mahmud Abu Shinar surveys two rows of severed olive trees — something he says has become a sadly familiar sight.
He didn’t see who took a chainsaw to them at night, but he blames residents of an Israeli settlement a few hundred meters (yards) away.
“We came on Sunday and were shocked that all these trees were cut down,” Abu Shinar said.
“I called the landowner. They came and the (Israeli) army and security forces came too. But of course, it was useless.”
Olives are perhaps the most well-known and abundant Palestinian product, with trees lining valleys and terraced hillsides throughout the occupied West Bank.
The first rains after the hot summer months are the signal for farmers to begin harvesting their crop, but it can come with risks.
In many places, farmers say they face intimidation and violence from nearby settlers and call in support from foreign and Israeli supporters, including Jewish rabbis, to protect them and their crops.
Some of the incidents are seen as attempts at revenge following Palestinian attacks on Israelis, even if the farmers targeted were not involved.
In other cases, say rights groups, there is little motivation other than just to destroy Palestinian property.
Some rights groups have distributed video footage of such incidents in a bid to pressure Israeli authorities to act.
Israeli settlers charge that their crops have also been damaged by Palestinians, including an incident in May when around 1,000 grapevines were allegedly destroyed.
More than 7,000 Palestinian-owned trees have been vandalized so far this year, according to the United Nations.
In the whole of 2017, it was less than 6,000, the year before only 1,600.
Abu Shinar said that in recent weeks around 200 trees had been destroyed in fields he works on near Ramallah in the central West Bank, costing thousands of dollars in lost earnings.
“They want the land,” he said, of the settlers. “Who else would come and commit a crime like this?”
The body that represents West Bank settlements said there was also an increase in attacks on Israeli-owned farms, labelling it “agricultural terror.”
Israeli police said they were “investigating a number of incidents when damage was caused to olive trees.”
“There have also been a number of complaints made by Jewish owners of fields of damage caused to olive trees.”
Patrols have been stepped up, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
But rights groups charge that Palestinian crops have long been vandalized by settlers without any serious effort by the authorities to stop it.
Around 400,000 Israelis live in settlements that dot the West Bank and range in size from large towns to tiny hamlets.
The international community considers them illegal.
A few dozen kilometers north of Abu Shinar’s trees near the city of Nablus, a small group huddles under a tree, picking through the leaves for olives.
Just 10 meters away stands an abandoned house daubed with Hebrew graffiti, while the Israeli settlement of Har Brakha is over a hill.
Israeli forces patrol the area, with one soldier telling the Palestinians they are “there to help.”
But the farmers said that two days earlier settlers had run down and damaged trees. They claimed the army is often slow to react and sides with settlers.
They invite international and Israeli supporters to attend the picking season to help protect themselves.
Retired British woman Caroline, who declined to give her full name, said she had been coming each year for a decade to work with Palestinian communities close to “particularly difficult settlements.”
This year, she said, she went with a female farmer to her land near a settlement, but the army blocked their path.
“When she eventually got into the groves, 100 of her trees had been chainsawed down by settlers. There weren’t even any olives for us to pick,” she said.
Rabbi Gil Nativ makes sure to wear his kippa cap as he picks olives to show Palestinians not all Jews support Israeli settlement expansion.
“Some (Israelis) consider us as traitors,” said Nativ, who volunteers for the Rabbis for Human Rights organization.
“For me the main principle of the Jewish faith is all men are created in the image of God and all human beings are descendants of the same Adam and Eve.”
Yigal Dilmoni, CEO of the Yesha Council which represents Israeli settlements, said in a statement to AFP that they “deplore all acts of vandalism and purposeful destruction of property.”
He highlighted a series of Palestinian attacks on Israeli settlements.


Palestine, Egypt offer air support as Israel battles wildfires

A firefighting aircraft flies over a forest near Kibbutz Harel, which was damaged by wildfires during a record heatwave, in Israel May 24, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 May 2019
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Palestine, Egypt offer air support as Israel battles wildfires

  • Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes on Thursday as fires raged
  • The fires were fueled by high temperatures and dry condition

JERUSALEM: Egypt and four European countries sent aircraft to help Israel battle wildfires that have forced the evacuation of some small towns, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday, as a record heatwave looked set to worsen conditions.
At an emergency briefing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had appealed for international help to combat the fires, and that firefighting planes were coming in from Greece, Croatia, Italy and Cyprus.
Egypt, on the orders of President Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi, had also sent two helicopters to assist Israel, Netanyahu told reporters.
The Palestinian Authority and Russia had also offered help, Netanyahu said.
Israel braced for wildfires on Friday amid a major heat wave that shows no signs of abating.
Israel “really appreciates” the help, Netanyahu said, singling out El-Sisi for sending aid.
“I am deeply thankful for the readiness of neighbors to help us in a time of crisis, just as we help them,” Netanyahu said.
Israel’s Fire and Rescue Service said blazes in a key corridor between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were mostly under control but difficult weather remained a conflagration risk.
“As of this moment, this (containment) is being done in the best possible way, but the challenge is yet ahead of us given the weather conditions, the winds and the extreme heat,” Netanyahu said.
Some 3,500 residents of small towns in the path of the fires were evacuated on Thursday, officials said. Dozens of homes have burned down.

Evacuations
Thousands of people were evacuated from towns and dozens of homes were burned on Thursday as fires raged, fueled by high temperatures and dry conditions. Over 500 acres of woodland have burned, said Nitai Zecharya, an Israeli official from the Jewish National Fund, known for planting forests in the country.
Zecharya said that while firefighters had brought most of the blaze under control, officials remained “very stressed” about strong winds fanning flames and “spreading fires to other fronts.”
The cause of the fires remains unclear, but they erupted following the Jewish festival of Lag Ba’Omer, which observers mark with bonfires.
A sweltering heat wave is pushing temperatures in parts of the country up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, or 43 Celsius.