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Source: Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
22 October 2013

Al Mughayyir is a Palestinian village located north-east of Ramallah, with a population of approximately 2,700. The community has traditionally relied on farming and herding, with olive oil the main agricultural produce.

In 1998, the Adei Ad settlement outpost was established without official Israeli authorization, partially on private land belonging to the Palestinian villages of Jalud and Turmus’ayya, and adjacent to agricultural land owned by Al Mughayyir. Over the past ten years, Palestinian families whose agricultural land is in the vicinity of the outpost have been subject to violent attacks by Israeli settlers when accessing their plots. Attacks have included physical assault and the damage to trees and property. The Israeli army has also imposed restrictions on the access of Palestinians to some of the agricultural and grazing lands in the vicinity of the outpost.

Hussein Abu Alia, a 72-year-old father of nine from Al Mughayyir, owns a 60-dunum plot of land in the vicinity of the Adei Ad outpost, which was originally planted with 600 olive trees.

I have faced endless troubles from Adei Ad outpost. In the beginning, we caught the settlers stealing olives from our trees. Then they started breaking off the branches, but they grew back and we also planted new trees to replace those damaged. Then, three years ago when we went to pick our olives we were shocked to find the trees all yellow and dried up. We called the police who discovered that the settlers had drilled into the trunks and injected them with a poisonous substance that killed the trees from the roots up. To date, I’ve had around 300 olive trees vandalized by Israeli settlers.

The family of Halima Al Na’san, a 65-year-old mother of nine, owns an eight dunum plot of land near Adei Ad, originally planted with 160 olive trees. She recalls an incident that took place in 2004.

My husband Jamil was driving the tractor home and two of my sons and I were driving in a car behind, when a group of armed settlers started chasing and shooting at us. We drove faster to escape and as we got close to the village, they threw some type of explosive device at our car. Luckily, we’d jumped out of the car a few moments before, because it was completely burned, together with three large containers of olives we’d picked that day that we were transporting. Everyone ran in a different direction. My son Muayyad, who was only 13, hid inside a cave. A settler found him and put a gun to his head but people from the village came to help us and the settlers fled. Since that day, I’ve been constantly worried for my sons and Jamil and I encouraged them to go abroad. They could no longer continue working on the land, and there was nothing else they could do here. It hurts so much to lose your family, but we had no other choice to protect our sons.

The failure by the Israeli authorities to adequately enforce the rule of law in relation to Israeli settler violence against Palestinians is a longstanding concern. Certain aspects of the current system, including the lack of thorough investigations and the requirement for Palestinians to file complaints or testify at police stations located inside Israeli settlements, actively work against the rule of law and discourage Palestinians from lodging complaints. According to Yesh Din, over 90 per cent of complaints about settler violence filed with the Israeli police in the past six years were closed without indictment. Additionally, continued Israeli government support for unauthorized settlement activity, including the allocation of resources and retroactive ‘legalization’ of settlement outposts, promotes a culture of impunity that contributes to ongoing violence.

Over the past 14 years, the Al Nasan and Abu Alia families have submitted dozens of complaints to the Israeli police regarding the attacks by Israeli settlers against them and their property. The majority of complaints were closed on the grounds of ‘offender unknown’, despite the families providing evidence, including video footage taken during some of the attacks.

Hussein Abu Alia: I got tired of complaining to the Israeli police. You can’t imagine how humiliated we feel every time we approach an Israeli police station to make a complaint. Sometimes, they didn’t even allow us in. I‘ve submitted so many complaints that I can hardly count. I’ve gone back and forth between police stations and the courts for many years, but in the end the attackers are never held accountable for their actions. After the damage to my olive trees three years ago, they said they’d prosecute the attackers and compensate me for all my losses. But each time I call, they tell me they’ll get back to me once they are done with my case, but they’ve never called. I no longer call because I’ve given up on them.

An estimated 90 Palestinian communities in the West Bank which have land within, or in the vicinity of, 55 Israeli settlements and settlement outposts can access their land only through ‘prior coordination’ with the Israeli authorities. If ‘prior coordination’ is approved, access is generally granted for a limited number of days during the annual olive harvest, when Israeli soldiers are deployed in the area. In some of these cases, entrance of Israelis is forbidden by military order during the olive harvest period. Farmers requesting this ‘prior coordination’ during the 2012 olive harvest were generally able to access their olive groves at the coordinated times and relatively few incidents of settler violence were reported during these scheduled occasions. However, despite these measures, settler attacks during the olive harvest period continued. In addition, the current system has also proven largely ineffective in preventing attacks by settlers against Palestinian trees and crops, as most of these attacks occur outside the times allocated through the ‘prior coordination’ process. Overall, the ‘prior coordination’ regime places the onus on farmers whose access to their own lands is restricted, rather than enforcing the rule of law on Israeli settlers.

The Israeli army has made three classifications of Palestinian agricultural land in villages in the vicinity of Adei Ad, based on the proximity to the outpost: ‘no entry zone’ areas; areas to which entry is subject to ‘prior coordination’ and accompaniment by the Israeli army; and ‘unrestricted-access’ areas. Furthermore, during the olive harvest period, Israelis are officially forbidden to enter areas near Adei Ad that require prior coordination. The olive groves that belong to Al Nasan and Abu Alia families are among the areas designated as requiring ‘prior coordination’ and escort by the army. The families are permitted access to their olive groves twice a year: in spring for ploughing and in autumn for harvesting. On these occasions, permission is granted for a few days for a designated number of hours. To obtain permission, they need to apply in advance through the Palestinian District Coordination Liaison (DCL), which in turn transfers the applications to the Israeli DCL, which then grants or rejects the request.

According to the farmers, this entails a lengthy process, with no guarantee that the application will be approved. Hussein elaborates:

This year, they didn’t give us a permission to plough at all; they told us that the settlers were angry after an incident at Za’tara Junction in April 2013, when a settler was fatally stabbed, and the army said that they couldn’t guarantee our safety against reprisals. Another problem is that the coordination for the olive harvest is restricted to olives only. Once the soldiers stopped my grandsons from picking almonds, claiming that the coordination is only for olives, even though the almond trees are in the same field!

Last year I was allowed to plough my land. I hired 12 workers so I could finish the job within the limited time we were given. The next morning, an Israeli officer called to tell me that the army would not be able to escort us that day. It wasn’t easy to go home after paying workers 200 shekels each, so we started working without the army escort. Shortly after, armed settlers approached us, pointed their guns at us and told us to leave. When I reported this to the Israeli DCL, they told me it was my fault because I entered my land without their authorization, and that I should do as the settlers told me.

Since 2006, nearly 1,000 olive trees belonging to the Abu Alia and An Na’san families were vandalized. Settler violence has severely undermined the livelihoods of many families in this area, contributing to the relocation of some people in search of better livelihood opportunities elsewhere, including abroad. Those who continue to farm incur financial losses, partly because of difficulties in cultivating their land consistently, and because of the damage to their property or theft of their crops by settlers, in which case they lose both the money invested as well as the potential earnings from selling the crops.

Jamil Al Nasan: Our olive grove used to give us about 30 jerry cans of olive oil a year. The income we made covered all the expenses of maintaining the land; we were self-sufficient. But the settlers destroyed my olive trees. Now we have to cover all the expenses ourselves, hiring tractors and workers, just to hold on to our land. We’re surviving on the money that our sons abroad send to us, otherwise we’d be depending on charity and handouts.

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