1500 trees destroyed: tense olive harvest in Palestinian territory

It was a shock for Palestinian olive farmer Mohammed Haj Mohammed when he entered his orchard this week. More than a hundred of its olive trees were severely damaged: the bark had been chopped around the trunk with an ax or saw. โ€œCompletely dead,โ€ he says with a barren branch of one of the trees in his hand. โ€œThe water cant reach the leaves anymore.โ€

When it happened exactly, the olive farmer doesnt know. The Israeli army does not allow him to enter his country all the time. But he has a suspicion where the perpetrators come from: from one of the Israeli settlements surrounding his village of Jalud. โ€œIts a drama,โ€ says Haj Mohammed. โ€œMy grandfather planted those trees 55 years ago.โ€

The first autumn rains are the beginning of the olive harvest in the Palestinian territories every year. It is a festive highlight on the calendar for many families. But there is also a lot of violence between Israeli settlers and Palestinian farmers every year. And after a sharp rise in the violence by settlers in recent months, many people have been bracing themselves.

In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, more than 600,000 Israeli settlers live in the midst of some 3 million Palestinians. Heres where those places are:

These settlements, which are illegal under international law, took place hundreds of attacks against Palestinians this year. So far, 437 Palestinians have been injured and five Palestinians were killed, according to United Nations figures. Thats more than in the whole year. There is also violence on the other hand: between June 1, 2020 and May 30, 2021, 99 Israeli settlers were injured by Palestinians; two people were killed.

Tensions on the West Bank tend to increase even further during the olive harvest. The destroyed trees of Haj Mohammed are not the only incident. Since 12 October, more than 1500 trees have been destroyed according to UN figures. Also, 13 Palestinians were injured in violence by settlers during the harvest.

After a few incidents that received a lot of media attention, the Israeli government recently condemned the attacks from the settlements. Last week, Defense Minister Benny Gantz called on the army to act โ€œsystematically, aggressively and uncompromisingโ€ against violence by settlers.

But there is rarely anyone arrested for the attacks. Palestinians and action groups say far too little is being done against it. They see it as part of a strategy to expel them from their country and speak of state-backed violence.

In settlements they see it differently

In the nearby Israeli settlement of Shvut Rachel, they have a different view of the case. โ€œThe Arabs here usually start,โ€ says Yaakov Moshe Levi, who guards the settlement. โ€œThey attack us in all kinds of places, throw stones at us and damage our trees. In response, some people try to hit back. Thats not the way it should be, but fortunately its only a small part of our community.โ€

Farmer Haj Mohammed is now left with the destroyed trees. He plans to cut them down and plant new specimens there. โ€œIt will take a while for those to produce as many olives as these trees,โ€ he says. โ€œBut what else should you do?โ€