Settler attacks on West Bank Olive Trees: A story from Qusra

Attacks on olive trees has become part of the modus operandi of the aggressive settler communities in the West Bank. In July alone (see this UNOCHA report for more information), the small town of Burin south of Nablus had their olive tree fields set alight by settlers on four separate occasions. The Yanoun EAPPI team was present on two of these occasions (a report on which can be seen here, and an interview with one of the affected farmers is here) and witnessed the impunity with which the settlers acted; with Israeli soldiers standing by without arresting them and then firing tear gas at Palestinians who were attempting to put out the fires and refused to leave when ordered. The attacks on the olive tree saplings of farmer Rabi Abu Bakr, a farmer in the village of Qusra, were done in a particularly cynical fashion. Ramadan has fallen in the hottest month this year. Trying to meet contacts involves getting there as early or as late as we can. The middle of the day is a time for midday prayers and/or some well-needed rest. In farming communities, such as the one I live in, people are getting up at 2am to eat, to pray and to start work. Everything this month has moved at a tired, slower pace. But, as they say, there is no rest for the wicked, and so the ongoing visits of settler groups to Palestinian villages to wreak damage on property and crops  continued irrespective. Taking advantage of the special Ramadan circumstances, the settlers came down from their hill outpost at midday on and set about uprooting and snapping the saplings planted this Spring undeterred. On the first day that they came, August 12th,  there was only five of them, some armed. Their destruction of the trees was spotted by a farmer, Abu Nasser, whose house lies beside the land. In an astonishing act of bravery he ran towards them and hurled a rock. They left at this point, but had already diminished the 100 saplings by 55. The following Friday they returned again at the same time, but this time there were as many as forty, and they were, again, armed. Once more Abu Nasser witnessed their arrival, and raised the alarm, and went to the fields with some other men. Again they hurled rocks and stones and the settlers left, this time they destroyed what trees had been left. They also ripped up the fence around neighbouring land. I spoke to Rabi on the Monday following the second attack. He was a deflated man. Everything he said on the matter came out as a sigh. Walking around the field he picked up the remains of his saplings scattered on the ground. When asked how he felt, he replied upset and angry, but what can I do? Who can I complain to? God?  He should be able to complain to the Israeli police, he should be able to rely on the Israeli army to protect him. According to article 43 of the Hague regulations, the occupying power must ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety. The lack of respect for International Law was made clear again the following week, Friday August 26th. The Yanoun EAPPI team were called to Qusra, this time arriving while the settlers and soldiers were still there. Immediately before they arrived a 21 year old Palestinian man from the village had been shot by the army and had been taken to hospital. While the team was there they saw the soldiers fire several rounds of tear gas at the villagers who were gathering on the land where the trees had been destroyed. The settlers who had perpetrated the destruction stood behind the soldiers on the hill, enjoying protection and impunity.When I spoke to Rabi on August 22nd, I asked what he would do next. He insisted that he would plant again in the Spring, he must continue to resist. As in every situation we meet here, it seems that giving up is never an option, to resist is to exist. The recent news stories in the international news that the Israeli army are training settlers and arming them with tear gas and stun grenades, in preparation for possible protests in the wake of the UN decision on Palestinian statehood, is a frightening new twist in a situation where the odds are already relentlessly stacked against these rural communities.

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