The olive harvest is a cultural, social and above all economic event that is a significant source of livelihood for many of the Palestinians in the West Bank. Every year during the harvest season, Israeli citizens violently attack Palestinian harvesters, steal olive crops and cut down trees. Since 2005 Yesh Din has been documenting crimes committed by settlers and other Israelis against Palestinians during the harvest.
Acts of settler violence and damage to Palestinian property in the West Bank occur not only during the harvest season, but all year round. This violence makes the Palestinian landowners afraid to freely and regularly access the agricultural plots they own. In addition, the Palestinian landowners’ access to some of the lands is limited by a military “coordination mechanism”, which prohibits entry to private Palestinian lands adjacent to settlements and outposts without permission and prior coordination. The violence and access restrictions to agricultural land has caused many Palestinian farmers to give up other agricultural crops and focus on growing olive trees, which require relatively minimal maintenance. Thus, beyond being a Palestinian national symbol, the economic importance of olives overall, and the olive harvest in particular, in the West Bank has increased.
B. The ‘coordination mechanism’
Following the many violent attacks by settlers against Palestinians, the army decided to create a “coordination mechanism”. As part of this mechanism, the army prevents Palestinian farmers from reaching their private lands adjacent to Israeli settlements and outposts, allowing them access only twice a year – for plowing the land in the spring and for harvesting the trees in the fall. The farmers are obliged to submit a request in advance to enter their lands and the army is supposed to coordinate days when soldiers will accompany them and guard them while carrying out the agricultural work. It should be noted that the army determines the coordination dates without considering the needs of the farmers and allows access for only a few days which usually is not adequate to complete the agricultural processing.
Although the harvest season usually begins in mid-September, in 2022 the army only allowed Palestinians access to their lands starting October 22. Absurdly, apparently the main reason for the late start-date were the Jewish holidays that ended that week.
The late start-date created a window of time during which Israeli citizens were able to commit crimes on Palestinian lands in the West Bank. Indeed, in many locations, Palestinian harvesters who were forced to wait and harvest beginning on the agreed date arrived at their lands and discovered that most of the trees had already been harvested or that they had suffered extensive damage.
The “coordination mechanism” is supposed to prevent violence and damage to the Palestinians and their property during harvest, but in practice in most cases this mechanism works against the Palestinian farmers.
C. An attack backed by the army
In addition to the fact that the “coordination mechanism” limits Palestinian farmers’ access to their land for most days of the year, the reality on the ground reveals that the army misuses its supposed role of protecting the Palestinians even during a coordinated harvest. Oftentimes, there is no presence of any military force on the ground while crimes are being committed by Israeli citizens against Palestinians, and when there are soldiers, they usually refrain from intervening and in some cases even assist the violent settlers and join in the attacks on the Palestinians, sometimes using stun grenades and tear gas.
A. is a retiree from the village of Burin, who privately owns land that does not require military coordination and where olive trees are planted. On Friday, 10/22/2022, A. went with his family to harvest the olives. They worked for several hours and then were attacked by about seven settlers who came from the direction of the illegal outpost ‘Ronen Farm’. The settlers threw stones at A., his wife, and his children who fled the scene towards their car. The settlers went down to the harvested trees and stole the crop. The family remained on their land, but after about an hour, several dozen settlers, some of them armed, also arrived from the direction of the Yitzhar settlement and with them were people wearing uniforms who came in a military vehicle. A. described: “The army comes and throws gas grenades and firearms at the Palestinians. Never in the direction of the settlers. The same is true this time. I saw a soldier give a settler a tear gas grenade and the settler threw the grenade at us. Another settler fired a gun in our direction while soldiers were standing next to him. My wife was hit by a stone in the chest, my son almost suffocated from tear gas that was thrown at us in large quantities.”
After a few days, A. returned to his land, “I was afraid to go outside before now.” But this time again A. described how, “the army came, drove us out and threw tear gas grenades at us. I told one of the soldiers that this is Area B and no coordination is needed to go out into the area. The soldier replied that I shouldn’t be here. I asked why. The soldier replied: “That’s it, get out of here!”. We returned home. Since then, I haven’t gone back to harvest the olives trees.” A. chose not to file a complaint with the Israeli police regarding this incident because of his lack of faith in Israeli law enforcement authorities, based on personal experience: “I have complained several times in the past about burning trees, about physical assault, breaking my leg, but nothing happened as a result of the complaint. Filing a complaint about settlers means that they won’t grant me an entry permit to Israel. In the past I filed a complaint about settlers and then they took my entry permit to Israel.” (Yesh Din case L15125/22)
D. Summary of the harvest season 2022
The data presented below includes offenses committed by Israeli civilians against Palestinian farmers and their property during the 2022 harvest season, between October 7, 2022 and November 30, 2022. In some of the incidents, complaints were filed with the Israeli police and Yesh Din’s legal team is monitoring the law enforcement authorities’ handling of the investigations. As for the rest, further developments related to the events are unknown.
It should be emphasized that Yesh Din did not personally document all the incidents that took place during the harvest season, therefore this document refers only to the incidents that were reported to Yesh Din. In addition, the data only concerns events that have a direct connection to the harvest. During this period, additional incidents occurred in the West Bank in which Israeli civilians harmed Palestinians and their property, some of which were documented by Yesh Din, but they are not included in this data as they do not pertain to the harvest.
38 separate incidents of settler violence were reported to Yesh Din’s field researchers (Yesh Din directly documented 15 of these incidents and handles five of them at the legal level):
- 17 cases of violence and prevention of harvesting, in which Israeli civilians physically attacked Palestinian farmers with clubs and iron rods, beatings, throwing stones, pepper spray and threats with firearms. In these cases, the attacks caused the banishment of the Palestinians from their lands and the cessation of the harvest that day. In at least 5 of the incidents the settlers injured Palestinians to the extent that they required hospital treatment.
- 8 cases of crop theft, in which Israeli civilians preceded the Palestinian harvesters, cut down the trees and stole the olive crop.
- 9 cases of vandalism of olive trees, in which settlers poisoned, burned or cut down trees; At least 540 olive trees were vandalized.
- 2 cases of denying access to plots or taking over privately owned Palestinian land.
- 2 cases of damage to property that is not related to agricultural crops or agricultural equipment, for example damage to Palestinian harvesters’ parked cars.
M.is a 64-year-old farmer from the village of A-Shuiukh who was attacked with his family by settlers on his private land on November 3, 2022:
“I went out with my family – my wife, three sons, a daughter and my seven-year-old grandson – at six in the morning to the field for the olive harvest. […] We worked without interruption until eight. Suddenly I saw an All-terrain Vehicle (ATV) approaching us from the direction of the settler farm [close to the Asfar settlement]. The ATV drove around in the field to find out what we were doing and then returned to the farm. After about 15 minutes we saw 20-25 settlers coming out of the farm on their way to us. Some of them were masked. They were holding iron rods in their hands. As far as I could tell they were not armed with firearms, but they had dogs. They entered my plot and one of them called their leader “to come and manage things”. The leader of the group approached me and screamed: “You are making a mess!” He demanded that I leave the territory. I answered him: “I am in my land and I am picking my olives”. While I was talking, he grabbed my neck, kicked me and beat me. At the same time, the other settlers threw stones at us. A rock hit me in the head, I bled, fainted and fell to the ground. Even in this situation, the beatings did not stop all over my body, especially on my limbs. When I regained consciousness, I saw that my wife and the other family members who were in the field were also being attacked. I felt that the settlers wanted to kill us. With all of our remaining strength we ran away from the place. My family entered the car under a heavy shower of stones. We had to leave the tractor in the field. The agricultural equipment was also left behind. All we wanted was to run away from the place and save our lives. I called the Red Crescent and within 15 minutes an ambulance arrived at the entrance to the village. My wife, who was hit in the chest by the stones, was immediately taken in for a heart exam. I have a skull fracture and the wound was stitched with 20 stitches. I have bruises all over my body. My son, who was injured on the side of the eye, will have to continue long-term medical treatments. The other son has a wound in his ear that was stitched up and bruises on his body. A settler’s dog bit my third son, resulting in a wound that required stitches. He also has one broken leg. Two days ago, he underwent emergency surgery at the hospital. My daughter broke her right arm. The little seven-year-old grandson is traumatized, since then he suffers from sleep and concentration disorders and needs mental health care.
[…] On the day of the attack, my relatives went to the area to check what happened to the tractor and the equipment and saw soldiers in the area. The tractor is broken, its electrical cables are disconnected and torn, the windows are smashed and the wheels are punctured. The tractor will have to be towed from the field. The repair will cost about 2,000 NIS. Our phones were stolen. The event was shocking – I looked death in the eyes. We survived by a miracle. It will take time for us to recover from this trauma. I hope that the police will do what is assigned to them and that the violent settlers will be punished with an appropriate punishment.” M.filed a complaint with the Etzion Police in Beitar Ilit settlement on November 6, 2022. Yesh Din is representing him and following the developments in the case. (Yesh Din case L15124/22)
The events documented above show that the State of Israel and its authorities (the army and law enforcement agencies) are not fulfilling their duty according to international humanitarian law, which imposes on the occupying power an active duty to protect the Palestinians in the West Bank and their property.
Ahead of the harvest season in 2022, Yesh Din send correspondence to the army and the police in order to reduce the difficulties facing the Palestinian harvesters. The appeals, made on behalf of Palestinian farmers in areas suffering from settler violence, requested longer and earlier access to the agricultural lands and protection from attacks by Israeli civilians. In the correspondence, specific areas were noted where there has been a record of many violent attacks or damage to olive trees in previous years. However, again this year, the army and the police did not prevent the violence of the settlers, and these areas were once again the target of attacks by Israeli civilians against Palestinians, similar to the previous harvest seasons.
The summary of events during the harvest season shows that despite warnings based on past experience, again in 2022 the Israeli authorities responsible for law enforcement in the West Bank failed to prevent many cases of violence, theft and destruction committed by Israeli civilians against Palestinians in the West Bank. On top of that, in a serial manner and in complete contradiction to the policies established by the army itself, soldiers were directly involved in denying Palestinian farmers access to their lands and refrained from providing them with protection against settler violence.