A decision by Israel's own High Court of Justice had likewise urged the Israeli Government to put an end to land seizures in the name of erecting the separation barrier.

Yet on Tuesday Israeli soldiers guarding the bulldozers used to level Palestinian fields west of Hebron, fired teargas canisters at Palestinian and international protesters, injuring a number of youths.
 
Hundreds of farmers and their children from the nearby villages of Dir Samit and Bait Awwa tried unsuccessfully to protect their olive groves from the onslaught of the bulldozers.
 
Israeli soldiers scuffled with the farmers, many of them agitated at the sight of their life's investments being ground to dust before their eyes.
 
Indifference

Peace activists from countries as far as Sweden had turned up at the site to express solidarity with the Palestinians. One activist carried a placard that said: "Israeli army: the world is watching."
 

Peace activists from abroad saw
the cruel face of farm seizures

But the Israeli soldiers on duty were no more responsive to the protests of the Palestinian farmers and foreign peace activists, than the rest of Israel has been to international condemnation of its annexation of Palestinian lands.
 
One Israeli solder reportedly told a Palestinian farmer distraught over the destruction of his olive trees, "We do what we want ... nobody can tell us what we do".
 
This correspondent saw thousands of mature olive trees either flattened by Israeli bulldozers or hacked down to prepare the ground for the construction of the separation barrier.
 
The wall meanders deep into the West Bank, east of the former armistice line of 1949 that is considered by the bulk of the international community as the de facto border between Israel proper and the Palestinian territories.
 
At gunpoint

One farmer badly affected by the current wave of land seizures and orchard destruction is 70-year-old Abd Allah Ahmad Salim Abu Kuraifa.

He told Aljazeera.net, "You see, Sharon tells America and the world that he wants peace and good neighbourly relations with the Palestinians.

"But look what he is doing to us. He is seizing our land at gunpoint, destroying our livelihood and pushing us towards violence and desperate acts."

"My son, what can you do when the judge is your enemy. You know their courts are rubberstamps in the hands of the army"

Abd Allah Kuraifa, 70-year-old Palestinian farmer

Abu Kuraifa said he and his relatives had gone to an Israeli court in an effort to stop the confiscation of his land but to no avail.
 
"My son, what can you do when the judge is your enemy. You know their courts are rubberstamps in the hands of the army."
 
Nearly two and a half months ago, the Israeli High Court instructed the state to create a "proportionality" between "security needs" and "Palestinian rights".
 
The Sharon government said then it would heed the court's ruling. But the latest land grab in the western Hebron hills has cast fresh doubt on the government's sincerity.
 
In early July, the World Court in Hague, in a non-binding ruling, underscored the illegality of the separation barrier and urged the Israeli Government to tear it down and compensate Palestinians affected by it.
 
But Israel accused the court of being biased and rejected the verdict.
 
Poll distraction

Separately, on Monday an Israeli Government official held talks in Washington with two Bush administration officials, telling them that Israel was making efforts to "minimise hardships for the Palestinians".
 

Israeli police prevented people
from approaching bulldozers

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Dov Weisglass, who is Sharon's chief political adviser, is trying to obtain an "American understanding" of the Israeli position, namely the annexation of huge parts of the West Bank.
 
Many Middle East experts believe the Bush administration's ability to say "no" to Israeli decisions at this point of time is greatly restricted by electoral exigencies, with the Republicans seeking to make a dent in the traditionally pro-Democratic Jewish constituency.
 
The experts say Sharon may be taking full advantage of the situation by implementing his own agenda in the West Bank, namely annexing large chunks of Palestinian territory and unilaterally creating future borders between Israel and a truncated, rump Palestinian entity.