By NASSER ISHTAYEH | AP
Published: Oct 23, 2010 22:56 Updated: Oct 23, 2010 23:15
LUBAN AL-SHARKIYEH, West Bank: Vandals chopped down around 20 Palestinian-owned olive trees in the West Bank overnight Saturday, the latest in a string of attacks against Palestinian property during the important fall harvest season.
The incident, which took place near the Jewish settlement of Eli, highlights a grievance frequently voiced by Palestinians and Israeli rights groups — that Israel’s military seems unable to halt the attacks that frequently occur in well-known West Bank hotspots where hard-line occupiers live close to Palestinians.
“We found our trees sawed when we came to pick them this morning,” said farmer Raja Aweis, 42. Israeli police and soldiers surveyed the damage. A military spokesman said police were investigating.
After a similar incident two weeks ago in another West Bank village, Palestinians accused Jewish occupiers of being behind the vandalism.
The Palestinian olive harvest, which runs from October to November, is traditionally a time of heightened violence, as a minority of extremist Jews tries to provoke Palestinians.
The oil the farmers squeeze from the olives is a crucial food staple for rural Palestinians and also a lucrative cash crop.
Palestinians own some 10 million olive trees, and most of the harvest takes place without incident. But Israel’s army coordinates with Palestinians to accompany them to the tensest West Bank spots — normally near Jewish settlements — so they can pick their olives in safety.
However, vandals have undertaken a near-daily string of attacks on the trees, usually at night when soldiers aren’t patrolling the area.
“It’s a very, very problematic, violent season,” said Sarit Michaeli of Israeli rights group Btselem.
A study by Israeli group Yesh Din showed that police opened 69 investigations into tree vandalism over the past four years — resulting in no indictments.
On Friday, residents of the nearby Palestinian village of Kufr Kaddum found their local cemetery vandalized with Hebrew graffiti. Resident Akef Juma said one grave was emblazoned with “the Palestinian state” and “Kahane” — a reference to the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, who preached that Palestinians should be expelled from Israel and the West Bank.
An Israeli military spokesman said they viewed the incident “severely.”
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