Since the olive harvest began in the occupied West Bank about two weeks ago, Yesh Din has documented more than 10 cases of bodily violence perpetrated against Palestinians in addition to the theft of olives and the destruction of trees.
A resident of the settlement Eli was detained after he was caught while allegedly stealing olives from trees on the lands of the village of Qaryut. The day before this incident, other landowners complained that the same person drove them off their land while they tried to harvest their olives. On the same day, police also detained two settlers caught harvesting olives on land belonging to the village of Burin, while two other Israeli civilians were detained near the outpost of Zayit Ra’anan after residents of al-Janiya noticed Israeli civilians taking olives from the trees on their land and called police. Settlers also attacked Palestinians who were harvesting land in the village of Beit Furik. The police then arrived and arrested one of the attackers.
Only in some of the cases that Yesh Din has documented, have suspects been detained or actually arrested, while in other cases the suspects escaped when they saw Israeli military forces approaching the scene. Since 2005, Yesh Din has opened some 280 investigation files dealing with damage to olive trees but only in 6 cases (2.2%) have indictments been made. More than 93% of these cases were eventually closed due to the police’s inability to locate the perpetrators or to gather enough evidence to prosecute suspects.
Military officials repeatedly declare their commitment to enabling Palestinian farmers in the West Bank to harvest “the very last olive.” However, according an information sheet published by Yesh Din, the ability of Palestinian farmers to harvest their olives and enjoy the rights to their property are severely impaired by restricted access to their lands, the inadequate activity of the military and police, and violent offenses committed by Israeli civilians.
The harvest season is one of the most important periods for the Palestinian economy. Around half of the Palestinian agricultural lands that are cultivated in the West Bank are home to olive groves. As of 2016, between 80,000 and 100,000 Palestinian families in the West Bank rely on the cultivation of olives and production of olive oil for their primary or secondary incomes.
One of the additional restrictions that limits the ability of Palestinians to harvest their groves is the permit regime, which provides temporary and restricted access to Palestinians interested in cultivating their lands located adjacent to Israeli settlements. These permits are supposed to protect the property rights of the landowners, however the permit approval process tends to be protracted, and in many cases the permits issued – for only a few days – are insufficient and make it difficult for the farmers to harvest the olives in the short span of time they have been allotted. In addition, in many cases Israeli civilians take advantage of the fact that landowners are prevented from accessing their land to vandalize trees or steal olives.
Another difficulty Palestinian farmers face is direct interference in their harvest by settlers including acts of violence, harassment, prevention of access and physical assault.