Israeli Forces Attack Olive Harvests By West Bank
ISM Digest 10-14-2008: Israeli forces attack olive harvests around West Bank, Settlers engaged in 'price-tag' campaign, Ni'lin continues it's struggle, Settlers murder 18 year old boy in Aqraba, Amnesty International on Tom Hurndall
5. Amnesty International
UK: Hurnall case - Israeli military forces still kill
civilians with ‘near-total impunity’
6. Farmers from Salim village discover theft and damage to their olive groves
7. Olive Harvest Campaign 2008: Israeli forces prevent residents of Tell from harvesting their olives
8. Israeli forces attack fire brigade and ambulance crew during demonstration in Ni’lin
9. Settlers engaged in “price-tag” campaign
10. The ever-changing Israeli police reports
11. Settlers murder 18 year old boy from the village of Aqraba, Nablus
12. Israel’s ‘lenient’ Ramadan checkpoint policy in action
Wednesday afternoon the shepherds from the Qawawis area were out grazing their sheep. Around 4 o’clock two shots were fired from the Susiya settlement at the Palestinians. Luckily nobody was hurt. The police and army were contacted, but it took them more than half an hour to show up even though the army base is 5 minutes away. When they finally arrived, their main focus was the legality of the international’s presence, not the actual shooting incident and no investigation was made at the settlement.
There have been many settler assaults against the Palestinians in Susiya. It is next to road 317, close to settler greenhouses and in front of the Susiya settlement. The land is divided into three military zones, the upper part of the hill is classified as a Closed Military Zone , supposedly applying to all civilians, with the more flat part of the area that borders to the road is military zone A and B where only Palestinians are allowed to enter. There is a part in between the A and B zone, which the settler Moshe Dutch stole one year ago and where he grow grapes, and now the settlers are the only ones who are allowed to enter.
The 24th of September the High Court in Jerusalem discussed the situation of this particular land. Rabbis for Human Rights had brought the case to court because of the many violent settler attacks and because the army regularly orders the Palestinians to leave the land against their own declared military zone arrangement. The High Court decided that the next following 40 days the military and the police have to prove that they do allow the Palestinians to enter their land and that they protect them against settler attacks.
Since the Jerusalem Court decision the army has ordered the Palestinians to leave the land and the settlers have harassed the Palestinian and their sheep inside the land were only Palestinians are allowed.
On Friday morning 10th October, residents of Ni’lin village went out to harvest olives on their land, supported by about 100 Israelis and international activists, and also accompanied by media crews.
The proposed route of the wall cuts deeply into this land, and will cut villagers off from a whole valley full of olive trees belonging to the village of Ni’lin. Ten people were injured, two of them children, as the Israeli army violently tried to prevent the activists and farmers from reaching their land. Two Palestinian ambulances were also shot at with tear gas.
As people approached the planned route of the wall, soldiers appeared firing sound bombs and tear gas without warning, to prevent anyone from getting to the olive trees beyond this point. Sound bombs and tear gas were thrown very close to people who were standing peacefully and sitting down. Tear gas was then fired from a gun aimed directly at activists who had gone up to the front of the group, and also at farmers who had begun their harvest in an area further away. Three Israelis protesting peacefully were forcibly dragged away and detained. One Palestinian man, Omar Salfi, was injured when the tear gas caused him to fall out of a tree.
The the farmers and activists were pushed back, but after Israeli activists had negotiated for some time with the army, they were allowed access to the olive trees between the planned route of the wall and the Israeli settlement on the top of the next hill.
The village of Ni’lin has been badly affected by the attempt to construct part of the wall there, which would cut off many local farmers from their land if built. Peaceful demonstrations against the construction of the wall by residents and activists take place in Ni’lin regularly.
Israeli settlers attacked Palestinians farmers near Huwwara on Saturday 11th October.
More than 25 settlers from the illegal Israeli settlement of Yizhar descended upon Palestinian farmers while the farmers were undertaking their annual olive harvest. The settlers were armed with machine guns, and one fired a single shot in the air before they began to hurl rocks at the Palestinian farmers, injuring two. One of the injured, Mustafa Najah from Burin, was hit in the head and taken to Rafidia Hospital in Nablus. He is thought to have sustained eye injuries.
The attack continued for ten minutes before Israeli soldiers arrived on the scene. The soldiers, however, instead of removing the settlers from the land, started to fire into the air, insisting that the Palestinian farmers cease their harvesting and leave the lands. Farmers report that the soldiers and settlers then walked around the groves together, telling farmers to leave their own lands. The farmers were forced from their lands for over an hour, before eventually being allowed back to continue their harvest.
Settlers continued to maintain a menacing presence on the hilltop overlooking the olive groves throughout the afternoon, kept at bay only by the presence of the Israeli army, who, after their initial rampage, took on the protective duties by which they are legally bound. The farmers were also joined by Israeli and international activists, who will continue to maintain a presence with the farmers until their harvest is complete.
The farmers, however, expressed concern about the well-being of their olive trees overnight, after arriving at their lands to find more than 15 olive trees had been cut down by settlers in the preceding days. Lying in the shadow of Yizhar, the olive groves had been unattended by farmers since ploughing was done in May, as this area is considered extremely dangerous.
Settlers from Yizhar regularly terrorise the surrounding villages: burning lands; attacking houses; shooting at Palestinian villagers; and stealing livestock and farming equipment. They have destroyed more than fifty percent of the surrounding olive groves, and, according to the municipality of Huwwara, throw stones at Palestinian cars on a daily basis. “No stones, no trees, no people are safe from them.”
10th October 2008 - Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, Occupied East Jerusalem
At 11.30 am on the 10th October, the settler family occupying part of the Al-Kurd family home in East Jerusalem destroyed part of the protest tent established by the Al-Kurd family in defiance of their eviction order.
This move from the settlers was despite an agreement between the Al- Kurd family the settler family and the Israeli police that the settler family could build a temporary structure on the outside of the Al-Kurd home so as to pray in the aftermath of the Jewish festival of Yom Kippur, so long as the structure did not interfere with the front of the property. On the morning of the 10th October, five settler men came out and began to remove part of the Al-Kurd protest tent. As the Palestinian family refused, suggesting to the settlers that this was not what had been agreed and that they should build their structure towards the side of the house, the settlers started removing the tent by force. One of them took from his pocket a knife and cut the rope holding the material.
While arguing, more settlers and Palestinians arrived in the house with two border police followed by the Israeli police. The Israeli forces agreed with the settlers to build their prayer structure, thus removing half of the protest camp. By 1pm, the wooden structure was fixed to the house wall. The entrance to the Palestinian house has been turned into a two meter wide corridor, blocking freedom of movement and visibility through the window.
This settler family that have been illegally living at Al-Kurds’ home for the last two years, despite now receiving two separate eviction orders. They originally moved into the property while the Al-Kurd family were visiting a sick member of the family after having received the keys from the Israeli police.
International solidarity activists have maintained a constant presence for the last two months after the Al-Kurd family themselves received a final eviction order from the Israeli authorities.
Original article: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=17897
Ahead of a new television drama based on the controversial killing in 2004 in Gaza of British national Tom Hurndall (’The Shooting Of Thomas Hurndall’, Channel Four Television, Monday 13 October), Amnesty International has renewed its call for justice for Mr Hurndall’s family.
The human rights organisation has described a situation where Israeli military forces kill civilians in Gaza with ‘near-total impunity’ - and while Mr Hurndall’s death has led to the conviction of one Israeli soldier on manslaughter charges, Amnesty insists that this was almost solely due to the determination of his family rather than the Israeli military authorities’ own efforts to see justice done.
Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:
‘The shocking truth is that Israeli soldiers kill civilians in Gaza with near-total impunity, week in week out.
‘Tom Hurndall’s family have fought hard to achieve justice over his tragic death but the general position is one where independent investigations of civilian killings almost never happen and where the process itself lacks independence and impartiality.
‘Where, exceptionally, an individual Israeli soldier is held responsible for a civilian death or injury, typically no-one further up the command structure is ever held accountable.’
Amnesty remains extremely concerned that Israeli military personnel continue to operate unaccountably in Gaza. In April this year, for example, a Reuters cameraman - Fadel Shana - was killed by an Israeli tank shell in Gaza despite clearly displaying ‘TV-Press’ on his flak jacket and nearby vehicle.
Two Palestinian children - Ahmad Farajallah and Ghassan Khaled Abu ‘Ataiwi - were also killed in the attack that killed Shana and several other people were also injured. Shana and the two children were killed by a ‘flechette’ shell containing up to 5,000 5cm-long steel darts (or flechettes) that spread over an area as big as a football pitch when fired. These munitions are notoriously imprecise and should never be used in areas populated with civilians. In this case the Israeli army later wrote to Reuters saying it had investigated the incident saying the decision to attack the journalist was ’sound’.
So far this year more than 420 Palestinians (including some 80 children) have been killed by Israeli forces, and 30 Israelis killed by Palestinian groups. Most of these deaths (some 385) occurred in Gaza. Amnesty International remains concerned at a widespread failure to bring people to justice for unlawful killings.
Kate Allen added:
‘Amnesty condemns in the strongest terms all killings and other attacks by Palestinian armed groups against Israeli civilians.
‘However, while Palestinians who commit such attacks are tried by Israeli military courts and given heavy sentences (with many also being assassinated by Israeli forces), Israeli soldiers responsible for unlawful killings and other attacks against unarmed Palestinian civilians almost always act with impunity.’
On Monday 6 October approximately 15 families went to their lands near Elon More settlement only to discover many of the trees have yielded little harvest and the olives had been stolen by settlers.
The village had been given 3 days from the Israeli District Co- ordination Office (DCO) where protection for farmers would be provided in the area around the settlement which is a designated ‘Area C’ despite the land belonging to the village. The gate which marks the area was due to be opened at 7am, but farmers were not permitted to pass until 7:45.
International activists accompanying farmers to the fields were barred from passing and were informed by the army that the area was a “closed military zone for internationals”. The area had been deemed a closed military zone the previous night up until 31 December. Barring access for internationals accompanying farmers is a common tactic. The area that was actually deemed a ‘closed military zone’, however, was closer to the settlement and after 2 hours internationals were able to join farmers in the fields.
During this time many farmers had begun to return from their lands after discovering very few olives on the trees. Salim farmer, Abdul Hardi Jabur has 6 dunams of land near the settlement. He returned to the village after 1 hour with a total of approximately 100 olives. Last year he was able to harvest 16, 60kg sacks of olives from the same area. Several other farmers experienced similar problems. Abdul said “they have stolen (the settlers) our olives and brought in workers from outside the settlement to do it”.
This is not an isolated problem in the Nablus region or across the West Bank. During last years harvest both Tell and Sarra also experienced problems with settlers stealing the olive crop and many villages including Salim have suffered from settlers burning large areas of land containing olive trees. This year the problem has been exacerbated with many farmers not being permitted access to their lands to enable them to tend to trees throughout the year, which is vital to ensure a maximum crop yield during the harvest. Just 4 years ago the village planted 1,000 new trees, however, due to the limited access to the land just 100 have survived. There were also obvious signs of damage to a number of the trees where branches had been cut by electric chainsaws. The farmers believe that this year will see them harvest just 20% of the yield harvested in the previous year.
While the Israeli Government has publicly declared that settlement expansion has ceased, the tactic employed by settlers of damaging trees, land and theft of crops renders the farmland useless. This combined with the use, by the Israeli army, of the illegal ‘permit’ system denying access to Palestinians to their land, effectively annexes it to the settlements, a story repeated across the West Bank.
The villages of Qusin; Deir Sharaf; Burin; Kufr Qalil; and Awarta in the Nablus district were able to harvest their olives without incident on Monday 6th October; whilst a number of villages in the Salfit region experienced difficulties and harrassment from Israeli soldiers both trying to access their lands, and whilst harvesting.
Israeli forces marked the beginning of the olive harvest season by forcing Palestinian farmers from their lands in Tell.
After the recent rain in Palestine, the 2008 Olive Harvest Campaign was launched today, ten days earlier than planned. For more information on the campaign please click here
On Sunday 5th October, approximately twenty farmers attempted to harvest olives from their lands adjacent to the notoriously violent Israeli settlement of Harvat Gilad. Whilst the Palestinian olive harvest does not officially begin until 10th October, farmers from Tell, a village near Nablus, felt compelled to start harvesting their olives early, due to the fact that settlers stole all olives from nearby lands the previous year.
Farmers were able to harvest for only two hours, under the watchful eye of Gilad’s “hilltop youth”, before Israeli police arrived, questioning farmers and ordering them to cease their harvesting and leave their lands immediately. Aware of the illegality of this instruction, international activists accompanying the farmers called the Nablus District Co-ordination Office (DCO), to inform the office of the breach in law. After explaining the situation twice to the officer in the DCO, the officer refused to take any action by saying “I don’t understand and I don’t care”, before hanging up.
Israeli soldiers then arrived to the olive groves, and also ordered the farmers and internationals to leave, advising that they had implemented a “closed military zone” – a territorial closure of a specific area in response to a “threat of terror”. The use of a “closed military zone” in such a situation, where there was no apparent threat to the security of settlers or Israeli forces, constitutes a clear violation of the laws governing its implementation. To force farmers to abandon their harvest also violates the laws governing the use of a “closed military zone”, as the High Court ruling from 2006 obliges Israeli forces to allow Palestinian farmers the opportunity to complete all necessary agricultural work on their land “up to the last olive”.
The Israeli soldiers refused to show the maps that demarcated the “closed military zone” (a legal requirement of its implementation) until all farmers and activists had evacuated the area. Once on the nearby road, the unit commander produced a map with a red circle marked sloppily around the whole area – a further violation of the Israeli law that states that the area subject to closure must not exceed the minimal amount of territory that is necessary to provide effective protection to the Israeli residents.
A map of the “closed military zone” procured from the Nablus DCO by an Israeli human rights activist, however, showed the closure to be only a small area nearby to the settlement, although farmers and activists were evicted from lands more than 500 metres from Harvat Gilad. Throughout the eviction process, Israeli soldiers referred to dates that the DCO had issued in which to offer protection to the farmers as times in which the farmers would be “allowed” to harvest on their lands. This is a reflection of the increasing trend amongst the Israeli forces to transform their legal obligation to protect Palestinian farmers into a permit system – thereby creating a practice whereby Palestinians are systematically denied free access to their lands.
The non-violent resistance continues in Ni’lin, as the demonstrations are consistently taking place against the apartheid wall. On Friday, October 3rd, around 200 people participated in the weekly prayer demonstration that followed the Friday prayer in the fields of the village. After the prayer took place at noon; village residents, members of the village popular committee, ISM activists, members of IWPS, and Israeli activists began to slowly approach the road where Israel’s Apartheid Wall is being built.
The wall is meant to annex a large portion of Ni’lin’s remaining land to protect and expand nearby settlements. The Israeli soldiers that based themselves on the hills across the valley began to shoot tear gas at the demonstrators as they marched toward the construction area. At the same time around 50 Israeli settlers showed their support to the Apartheid wall by holding a rally on the other side of the valley.
Seeing this, the demonstrators began to move towards the settlers and after a short while they got attacked again with a heavier amount of tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets. At least seven people were injured by tear gas and rubber bullets. As the tear gas canisters were being constantly fired into dry bushes, the fire brigade needed to put out several fires. The soldiers did not distinguish between the demonstrators and the ambulance team or the fire team and fired directly at those trying to help the demonstrators.
After about two hours of resisting the rubber bullets and tear gas attacks by the Israeli soldiers and after one army jeep hunted demonstrators through their own olive gardens, the demonstrators spread out and went back to the village. One of the ISM activists was grabbed by the soldiers during their incursion into the fields. She was put next the military jeep and told not to move, but managed to walk away when they failed to provide evidence for an arrest.
There has been a noticeable surge in attacks by Israeli settlers throughout the West Bank over the past few months, with a large percentage of those attacks coming from the illegal settlements in the Nablus region. Residents of the Palestinian villages in this region have borne the brunt of the recent onslaught, with numerous assaults on people (including numerous murders); livestock; properties; and olive groves.
Burin, hedged on the south by Yitzhar settlement and on the north by Bracha, is under constant attack from settlers, who light fires; poison and shoot livestock; cut telephone and power lines; and attack houses. At least 50 percent of Burin’s olive trees have been destroyed by settler fires, which are happening with greater regularity. Ali Eid, mayor of Burin, echoes the confusion voiced by many Palestinians living in these villages. “Why they do this, we don’t know. This year women, girls, guys, they all make fire. Why? We don’t know.”
The answer, however, has become apparent. Israeli settler “activists” have recently confirmed that these attacks are not just random, but are indeed coordinated, as Palestinian villagers suspect. The attacks form the basis of the campaign known variously as “price-tag” or “mutual concern” - a coordinated effort to prevent any dismantling of illegal settlements and outposts by creating “days of chaos” so that Israeli police forces “can’t come, do the evacuation and then go,” says Itai Zer, a founder of the 20-family Havat Gilad outpost that was responsible for the fires in Sarra and Tell on 18th September – a response to the removal of the outpost Yad Yair, West of Ramallah.
Recommended methods reportedly include arson and road-blocking to force troops to abandon the evacuation and deal with the protesters’ actions, as well as demonstratively entering Palestinian villages - a tactic used repeatedly in the village of Asira al Qibliya. Activist Daniella Weiss and regional settler leader Yitzhak Shadmi in a media interview both drew the line at attacking Palestinians or their property, but said they wouldn’t dissuade others who advocate more extreme action.
These attacks are not just limited to the area where an evacuation is happening, but, like the response to the Yad Yair outpost, are encouraged to occur throughout the West Bank, so that any attempted evacuation, no matter how small, is responded to with widespread attacks on Palestinian villages.
Under international law, all Israeli settlements are illegal, but during Annapolis negotiations, Israel promised to remove just the outposts constructed since March 2001 and halt all settlement expansion. In reality, settlement expansion has continued apace, even in periods when the Israeli government publicly declared a complete halt to all settlement construction. While most settlements and outposts enjoy full support of the Israeli military, a handful of caravans and demountable buildings have been demolished in the past 10 months. This small number of demolitions, however, has sparked the campaign of reprisals primarily taking the form of attacks on Palestinians.
The campaign began in June 2008, and while attacks on Palestinians are widely under-reported, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) indicate that reported incidents increased by 46 percent from June to July 2008, with the Israeli police recording an 11 percent spike in rioting over the past months.
Please see: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10534883
Within 48 hours of Yahya Atta Rayahin Bani Minnah’s death, the official Israeli statement on the cause of death changed considerably. As documented in previous report, the Israeli army physician who was present at the scene of the murder told the mayor of Aqraba, Mr Jabr, directly that the wounds were caused by M16 bullets. This was confirmed in official statements from the Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld, who is reported as saying:
“The body of a Bedouin youth was found by one of his family members. (Israeli) police have opened an investigation after a forensic examination showed he had been shot,”
He then went on to say that:
“We are examining the bullets and type of gun, trying to find out who was behind (the shooting). Everything is open at the moment.”
On the morning of Monday 29 September, however, Israeli police issued a press release stating that the autopsy carried out by the Abu Kadir Institute – an institution whose reputation has been marred by allegations of organ sales and false reporting – claimed the wounds were the result of a “rifle grenade”explosion.
“The autopsy showed the shepherd was killed from shrapnel from an explosion and not from gunshots,” spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. “Investigations at the scene confirmed that the young man was killed by the explosion of a rifle grenade which he handled and that he either found there or was given to him,” he added.
This about-face in the Israeli police version of events followed a wave of media reports in the wake of the murder, regarding the “crisis” that the increase in settler violence in the West Bank is causing for the Government, with MKs fighting over the issue. This problem is conveniently resolved, however, by the “no-fault” finding that appeared seemingly miraculously.
Such changes in official Israeli police and military statements are extremely common in cases of settler and Israeli military attacks on Palestinians.
The villages of Asira al Qibliya, Burin and Madama to the south of Nablus have also seen rampages by settlers and extreme violence in recent weeks. Settlers have also been responsible for the burning of vital olive trees that are the economic lifeline for many villages in the West Bank. With the olive harvest due to start in the next few weeks in these areas, and the refusal by the Israeli army to adequately protect villagers, it is vitally important for an international presence.
Please see: http://tvnz.co.nz/view/page/536641/2111621
On Saturday 27 September settlers from the illegal outpost of Itamar settlement, to the east of Nablus city, executed 18 year old shepherd Yahya Atta Rayahin Bani Minnah from Aqraba village.
Yahya Minnah had left the village of Aqraba in the early morning along with a number of other shepherds to graze their sheep in the Alifjem area 10km from Aqraba village. This area had been stolen by Israel after 1967 and declared a closed military zone. The area covers over 80% of the fertile land for Aqraba and contains essential farmland with over 20,000 goats and sheep grazing in the area.
Shortly after Iftar (the breaking of the day-long fast during the Holy month of Ramadan) goats and sheep belonging to Yahya returned to the village of Aqraba without their shepherd. Relatives and local villagers immediately became concerned for his safety and went out to search the surrounding area. At approximately 22:00 that evening they made the shocking discovery, finding Yahya with multiple bullet wounds to his body.
The villagers called the Israeli army and police who attended the scene at approximately 23:30 where an Israeli army physician examined the body and told villagers the wounds were likely to have been inflicted by an M16 machine gun. This gun is the usual attire of settlers in the region.
Yahya had suffered between 3-4 bullet wounds to both the neck and chest with the remaining 6-8 bullet wounds inflicted upon his legs. It is believed that he was shot 20 metres from the site where his body was found which would be consistent with the blood seen by witnesses. Local shepherds in the area report seeing a white van containing two settlers driving to the area where Yahya was found dead at approximately 14:00 that day.
The Israeli DCO made contact with the local mayor of Aqraba, Jowdat Beni Jabr in order to ascertain if Yahya had any reason for dispute within Aqraba, however, witnesses to the settler presence have not as yet been contacted by the Israeli authorities. At 03:00 the next morning the army took the body of Yahya to the Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic Medicine in Israel for an autopsy, the body being returned to the village on Monday morning. Over a thousand villagers filled the streets of Aqraba for the funeral march to pay their respects to the young shepherd. Yahya was engaged and due to be married in the coming year.
In recent weeks settler attacks and violence in the villagers surrounding Nablus has increased. The murder of Yahya echoes the killing of a shepherd from Aqraba two years ago where settlers from the Itamar settlement attacked and killed in the same area. A settler is currently on trail in Israel for the murder, and villagers suspect that Yahya’s murder may have been an act of vengeance in connection with this trial.
Harassment of Palestinians at Asira al Shamalia checkpoint, Nablus
On Saturday 27 September International activists witnessed a number of Israeli soldiers and jeeps checking Palestinian vehicles at Asira al Shamalia checkpoint, creating large tailbacks at 17:30 in the run up to Ifta (the breaking of the day long fast during the Holy month of Ramadan).
Checkpoint Asira al Shamalia is the access point from Nablus city to the surrounding villages in the north and is normally an open checkpoint with a watch tower for the army to observe. Many Palestinians working in Nablus use this road to return to their villages in the North. The Israeli army has stated in public that they “are implementing a more lenient policy at checkpoints as part of the military’s effort to ease restrictions on the Palestinian population during the month of Ramadan”.
International activists passed through the checkpoint at 3pm and vehicles were passing through swiftly, however, when large queues in both directions were evident when they returned at 17:30. Witnesses report that after Ifta searches of cars and identifications ceased and vehicles were allowed to pass freely. This directly contradicts the Israeli army’s claim that checks around the West Bank have been eased during Ramadan. The use of checkpoints as a form of punishment and oppression is evident throughout the West Bank with unexplained flying checkpoints and closures common place.