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

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.


Nile dam dispute spills onto social media

Updated 10 July 2020

Nile dam dispute spills onto social media

CAIRO: As Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan struggle to resolve a long-running dispute over Addis Ababa’s dam megaproject on the Nile, some of their citizens are sparring online over their rights to the mighty waterway.
For nearly a decade, multiple rounds of talks between Cairo, Addis Ababa and Khartoum have failed to produce a deal over the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
Anxiety has mounted in downstream Sudan and Egypt, which fear for their vital water supplies after upstream Ethiopia declared plans to start filling Africa’s largest dam reservoir in July.
As tensions have run high in the political arena, they have also amped up online.
In one widely viewed video originally shared on TikTok, an Ethiopian woman pours water from a pitcher into two cups representing Egypt and Sudan.
She fills Sudan’s cup to the brim but only pours a trickle of water into Egypt’s, before emptying the water back into the pitcher.
“This is my water. When I give you water, it’s my call, not yours,” she says.
In response, an Egyptian woman created a compilation of the video and one of her own in which she knocks down a dam-shaped block structure with the Ethiopian flag superimposed on it before triumphantly downing a cup of water.
The video had been viewed more than 55,000 times on Instagram by Wednesday.
Social media “platforms are powerful,” said Wubalem Fekade, communications head at the intergovernmental ENTRO-Nile Basin Initiative.
“People on the social media platforms aren’t accountable, so it’s easy to disseminate unverified, incorrect, false, even conspiracy theories,” he said.
But, he added hopefully, “when used creatively and judiciously, they can help defuse tensions.”
The online row over the dam has been particularly heated between Egyptian and Ethiopian social media users.
Egypt has long enjoyed the lion’s share of the Nile water under decades-old agreements that were largely viewed by other Nile basin countries as unfair.
On Twitter, Egyptians echoed authorities’ fears that Ethiopia’s dam would severely cut their country’s supply of water from the Nile, which provides 97 percent of the arid nation’s water needs.
“We will never allow any country to starve us” of water, Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris wrote on Twitter.
“If Ethiopia doesn’t come to reason, we, the Egyptian people will be the first to call for war,” he threatened.
Egyptian cartoonist Ahmed Diab has weighed in with a drawing of an outsized Egyptian soldier, rifle slung over his shoulder, facing a diminutive Ethiopian man with the dam in the background.
“You idiot, try to understand that I care for you ... ever heard about the Bar Lev Line?” the soldier tells the Ethiopian, alluding to Egypt’s military strength in referring to the Egyptian destruction of an Israeli defense line along the Suez canal in 1973.
Diab called the cartoon part of a “psychological war.”
“Besides a show of military might and strong media discourse, arts can boost people’s morale,” he said.
For their part, Ethiopians have rallied behind their country’s mega project, set to become Africa’s largest hydroelectric installation.
On social media, they have rejected any conditions of reaching a deal before filling the dam.
Filling the dam should not be held “hostage” to an agreement with Cairo, Ethiopian activist Jawar Mohamed wrote on Twitter.
“If agreement is reached before the filling begins in the coming days, it’s great. If not, the filling should begin and the negotiation shall continue,” he said.
Ethiopia, one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, insists the dam will not affect the onward flow of water and sees the project as indispensible for its national development and electrification.
Khartoum hopes the dam will help regulate flooding, but in June it warned that millions of lives will be at “great risk” if Ethiopia unilaterally fills the dam.
In a letter to the UN Security Council, Sudan raised concerns that water discharged from the GERD could “compromise the safety” of its own Roseires Dam by overwhelming it and causing flooding.
Omar Dafallah, a Sudanese artist, depicted Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed overseeing the water flowing from the dam through a faucet to fill a jug held by Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
The drawing also shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi with a large water container, waiting in line.
Last month, Egypt also appealed to the UNSC to intervene in the crisis — a move El-Sisi said underlined his country’s committment to a political solution.
Egyptian lawmaker Mohamed Fouad views the online debate as a way to “break the stalemate” in the diplomatic talks, “so long as they remain within the boundaries of healthy discussions.”