The connection to the land is an inseparable part of both the personal and collective identity of Palestinian farmers in the West Bank. Among the various types of agricultural cultivation, olive growing is particularly meaningful, so much so that the olive tree, the fruit it bears, its foliage, and its branches have become a true national symbol. Over the years of Israeli occupation and settlement in the Gaza Strip, this tradition has come under increasing attack, whether as a result of direct violence perpetrated by soldiers or settlers, or as an outcome of the Israeli imposed coordination mechanism in the West Bank. The current reality in Palestinian olive groves is one of theft and destruction. This report provides information about offenses committed against Palestinian farmers and their property during the 2019 olive harvest.
Before harvest season began, Yesh Din’s legal team wrote to the law enforcement agencies in charge of the West Bank. These precursory letters represented the requests of farmers from several Palestinian villages, asking for more suitable harvest coordination and for protection from offending settlers. The specific regions and villages were chosen based on criminal events and land access problems documented in previous harvest seasons.
During the harvest itself Yesh Din closely monitored as events unfolded in these villages and in other areas of the West Bank. Our field researchers collected testimonies regarding 28 separate incidents of settler violence, which were divided into five categories:
- 7 cases of settler violence.
- 20 cases of damage to property, including 16 cases of olive theft and 4 cases of tree vandalism.
- One case of agricultural invasion.
Complaints were filed with the police in 6 of these cases. Palestinian victims preferred not to file a complaint with respect to 21 other incidents, in most cases because of lost trust in the West Bank law enforcement system (for more details read the “Avoiding complaining to police” data sheet at Yesh Din’s website). In addition, following a series of incidents involving access denial to Qaryut village’s agricultural lands by Israeli soldiers, Yesh Din filed an urgent petition to the High Court of Justice.
Our analysis of these events show that the law enforcement agencies in charge of the West Bank have failed to prevent many incidents of violence, theft and destruction. Furthermore, soldiers were directly involved in serial and unjustified access denial, in an absolute contradiction to directives published by the army itself. Yesh Din calls to the state’s authorities to ensure an orderly olive harvest each year and to keep the Palestinian farmers safe from harm.