Settlers uprooted, chopped and burned trees overnight in the villages of Sawia, Beta, Yitma, Bait Furik, Hawwara and Tal, said Palestinian witnesses on Wednesday.

One witness said Israeli soldiers in Tal, about six kilometres southwest of Nablus, fired into orchards, sparking a fire and leaving 200 trees charred. 

Olive crops amount to up to 50% of the livelihood of Palestinians in some of these towns.

Historic ties  

Farmer Imad al-Jallad from Hawwara, whose family lost 150 to 200 trees in the last week, could not find the words to describe losing orchards his father planted 40 years ago.

“We’ve been (farming) for hundreds of years,” he said.

His brother, Fawzan, was expecting nearly 25 barrels of olive oil from this year’s crop. Each barrel sells for $60 to $70 -money he needs to feed his family. 

The settlers’ latest activities mean that income has disappeared.

Hasan al-Afi owns 300 olive trees in Hawwara, but had been unable to harvest this year’s crop because Israeli soldiers and settlers were barricading his land. He tried to access his farm earlier this week accompanied by foreign peace activists, but was turned back.

“We are shot at if we go up there without the peace activists,” added the farmer, 47, bitterly.

An Israeli army spokesman said forces have no right to arrest settlers, even if they were attacking Palestinians and vandalising their property.

This harvest, some West Bank farmers appealed to peace activists from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and Israeli peace groups such as Gush Shalom and Peace Now to accompany them to their orchards for protection, particularly those located next to Jewish settlements.

Hasan is currently working odd jobs to put food on the table for his 12 children.

He discovered that his trees had been picked clean by the settlers, but not yet chopped down.

Israelis authorised

An Israeli army spokesman confirmed that these incidents took place.

“The army has no right to arrest Israeli citizens, including the settlers,” he told Aljazeera’s correspondent in the West Bank, Khaled Amayreh, in response to a question why the army did not intervene.

When asked if this also applied if there were attacks on Palestinian civilians and vandalising their property he said: “Yes.” 
 
Earlier this week, Jewish settlers from the Yitzhar settlement north of Nablus hacked down about 500 olive trees in Aynabus, some of which were hundreds of years old.
 
The Jerusalem Post quoted one of the settler leaders in the area as saying that the destruction of the Palestinian groves was aimed at preventing villagers from approaching the settlement.

Under international law, all Jewish settlements are illegal.

Opposition Labour party MP Ephraim Sneh was quoted on public radio as saying that he had raised the issue at a meeting of the parliament’s defence and foreign affairs committee after witnessing the damage himself.

Uri Ariel, an MP for the right-wing National Unity Party who is close to settlers’ organisations, claimed it was not known who was behind the destruction.

In 2002, Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, Israel’s former chief rabbi, issued a religious edict allowing Jewish settlers to steal Palestinian olive crops in their respective areas.