Saturday 25 October 2003, 13:19 Makka Time, 10:19 GMT
Palestinians agonise over olive crops destroyed by Jewish settlers
For tens of thousands of Palestinian olive farmers throughout the West Bank, there is more to worry about than just harvesting their crops before the advent of winter.
Ever since the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation more than three years ago, messianic Jewish settlers have been systematically terrorising Palestinian farmers, killing them, stealing their crops and burning or destroying their orchards.
This year, farmers such Idris Abd al-Hamid of the village of Burin in the northern West Bank, are appealing to peace activists from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and Israeli peace groups such as "Gush Shalom" and "Peace Now" to accompany them to their orchards.
Their company is vital ... it could be a lifesaver for the most vulnerable farmers, especially those whose orchards are located near the Jewish settlements.
"They (the settlers) can do anything. They are immoral savages who would kill in cold blood for no reason," says the 75-year-old farmer.
His bitterness is not without reason.
Last year in October, settler-immigrants from North America from the nearby settlement of Bracha killed his son Adnan in cold blood as the family was peaceably harvesting their olive crops.
"We were harvesting our olives when five settlers armed with automatic rifles arrived suddenly and started vandalising and burning our trees. When my son tried to tell them to stop it, they shot and killed him."
Adnan was not the settlers' only victim.
Also last year, other settlers killed a youth from the nearby village of Akraba in similar circumstances.
Several other defenceless farmers were also injured by settlers' bullets, prompting some farmers to declare that "our olive oil this year is mixed with blood".
In most cases, settler attacks on Palestinian farmers and their orchards are primarily motivated by religious convictions.
Indeed, most of the settlers who carry out these attacks happen to be religious Jews affiliated with such national religious movements as Gush Emunim, which mixes Judaism with Zionism.
In 2002, Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, Israel's former chief rabbi, issued a religious edict allowing Jewish settlers to steal Palestinian olive crops in their respective areas.
The ruling stated: Jews may lawfully "restore" their "stolen" property which is now in the possession of goyim (derogatory for non-Jews).
Following the edict, which the official religious establishment refused to condemn, bands of armed Jewish settlers descended on Palestinian olive orchards near their settlements to "restore the stolen property from the Goyem."
At the end of the day, sacks filled with olive crops were trucked to the settlements, all with the knowledge (and protection) of the Israeli army.
This was repeated - and continues to be repeated - throughout the West Bank while the Israeli army looks the other way, pretending it does not exist.
In mid-October, a group of United States peace activists from the Christian Peace-Making Team, an ecumenical initiative, reported fresh settler thievery of Palestinian olive crops in the village of Yatta, south of Hebron.
"When we arrived at the orchards, we found few olives. Israeli settlers had stolen most of them. They had picked the olives from 55 trees.
"The farmers were crestfallen. We went from tree to tree and picked what the settlers had missed, but there was not much there," a team spokesman said.
Normally, the Israeli occupation army treats settlers involved in stealing Palestinian olive crops or assaulting Palestinian farmers with extreme leniency.
In fact, in many cases, Israeli soldiers themselves join settlers in bulldozing and destroying Palestinian orchards.
A few months ago, Israeli soldiers and settlers worked hand in hand with settlers to destroy several large olive orchards in the village of al-Mughayer, north of Ram Allah.
Moreover, very often, their actions go beyond the mere destruction of olive orchards.
Nearly two years ago, two settlers from the settlement of Itamar near Nablus, shot dead 28-year-old Farid Nasasrah in full view of his children and wife, as they were picking olives at the family orchard at the nearby village of Beit Furik near Nablus.
The two settlers, identified as Yaron Degani, 40, and Gad Tena, 48, confessed to having killed Nasasrah, claiming they did so in "self-defence".
Despite their confession, the Israeli police set them free seven days after the killing, citing "insufficient evidence proving that a murder had taken place".
"Our olive oil this year is mixed with blood"
"Shots were fired," said Israeli police commander of the Nablus area Rafi Peled saying, "There is no objective proof of a body. As it stands, all we have are rumours. We only know of the victim's death from television."
To this, Palestinian police chief in Nablus Col Yusuf Firas retorted, "This is a brazen lie, I personally handed the Israeli police all the details surrounding the murder of Nasasrah, including the forensic reports and eyewitness testimonies."
"They know quite well what happened, they only want to find some excuses to free their murderers," he said.
Palestinian farmers are now facing a new devastating danger, namely the apartheid wall Israel is building deep into the West Bank.
The wall is not only destroying innumerable orchards, but also cutting farmers from their remaining olive fields on the other side of the barrier.
Last week, dozens of Palestinian farmers from the village of Jayyous and neighbouring villagers were forced to sleep in the wilderness for two consecutive nights because the gates were closed as the Jews observed a religious holiday.
In Jayyous, located more than six km inside the West Bank, the wall drastically limits the villagers' daily access to thousands of acres of land, including 15,000 olive trees, 50,000 citrus trees, 120 greenhouses, six groundwater wells and livestock pasture.
Upon completion of the wall, it is estimated that up to 90% of the families of Jayyous will lose the source of their livelihood.
"Cages are for animals, not for human beings," cried Allam Salim, one of the villagers. "Olive trees are the source of our livelihood. This is killing us. Are we living in a jungle where the strong can devour the weak?"