On Monday, armed settlers from the settlement of Yitzhar near Nablus attacked Palestinian farmers harvesting their olive crops, seriously injuring a 28-year-old man.
 
The assailants withdrew to their settlement but none of them was arrested. Rather, the Israeli army and police arrested one Palestinian farmer and three international peace activists for "disturbing the peace".
 
A spokesman for the Israeli army told Aljazeera.net that the army will seek to protect defenceless Palestinians from settler violence.
 
"I hope these incidents will not continue," the spokesman said.
 
Collusion alleged

But Ahmad Shahada, a relative of the man who was injured in Monday's attack, accused the Israeli army of colluding with the settlers against the Palestinians.
 
"Believe me, the settler thugs wouldn't do what they are doing without at least a certain green light from the army," he said.

Settlers have a long history of
terrorising Palestinian farmers

"The army is well aware of what the settlers are doing. Israeli troops often look on while the settlers attack peaceful Palestinian farmers picking their crops."
 
Shahada said it would be futile to expect the army to provide protection against the settlers.

Some of the most violent settler harassment of Palestinians olive farmers is taking place in the vicinity of the three Jewish settlements of Yitzhar, Bracha and Tipuah near Nablus.
 
The illegal colonies are inhabited by particularly truculent settlers bent on expelling Palestinians from the area and seizing their land.
 
'Jewish patrimony'

The settlers employ a variety of intimidatory tactics, including burning down olive groves, shooting at farmers, closing off roads used by Palestinians and, most recently, poisoning water sources in the area.
 
Last year, a number of influential Jewish rabbis issued an edict allowing the settlers to steal Palestinian olive crops.
 

"The army is well aware of what the settlers are doing. Israeli troops often look on while the settlers attack peaceful Palestinian farmers picking their crops"

Ahmad Shahada, relative of Palestinian injured by Jewish settlers in Nablus

The rabbis, including Rabbi Ben Elyahu, a former grand rabbi, justified the edict, saying that the settlers wouldn't be actually "stealing" but rather "reclaiming" what is rightfully theirs since the entire West Bank is a "Jewish patrimony by divine decree".
 
Several liberal rabbis and government ministers criticised the edict, calling it "incompatible with true Judaic teachings".
 
On the ground, though, the Israeli Government and army have so far utterly failed to move decisively against settler violence, apparently due to the powerful influence of settler lobbies in the government, Knesset and the army itself.
 
Undesirable presence

On Tuesday, the Israeli army reportedly gave Palestinian farmers in the Nablus region a three-day ultimatum to pick their olive crops.
 

Palestinians say Israeli army is a
formidable ally of the settlers

The farmers rejected the army order, calling it a pretext to confiscate their crops.
 
"The army knows very well that it takes many weeks to harvest hundreds of thousands of trees. Besides, there is no law under the sun preventing farmers from picking their crops," said one farmer from the village of Asira al-Qibliya, scene of the most recent act of settler violence.
 
The Israeli army says the olive-picking season poses a security threat to settlers in the area, suggesting that the very presence of Palestinians in their fields and groves around Jewish settlements is somehow undesirable.
 
Wells poisoned

In addition to terrorising olive farmers, Jewish settlers are increasingly resorting to a worrying tactic: poisoning Palestinian water sources.
 

"The Israeli army knows very well that it takes many weeks to harvest hundreds of thousands of trees. Besides, there is no law under the sun preventing farmers from picking their crops"

Palestinian olive farmer from Asira al-Qibliya village

On Monday, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Jewish settlers had poisoned a major well near Nablus, which supplies drinking water to a local Palestinian village.
 
Sources said Palestinian villagers at the small hamlet of Madama have of late started to have liver problems as a result of drinking contaminated water.
 
The well was targeted by settlers on several occasions, who sneaked in at night to throw used nappies and dead animals into the water.

Every time local residents, with the help of the British charity Oxfam, took preventive action, the settlers succeeded in removing the concrete covering and poisoning the well water. 
 
Grim forecast

Against the backdrop of increasing Israeli violence - both army and settler inflicted - against Palestinians, a secret study prepared by the Israeli foreign ministry was released on Wednesday.

It predicts that Israel's overall standing in the world will deteriorate significantly as a result of the continued Israeli occupation and persecution of the Palestinian people.

Many Israelis are worried about
their poor international standing

The study said Israel will be perceived around the world very much like the former South African apartheid regime.
 
Moreover, the study predicts that Israel and Europe will find themselves on a collision course that will inflict serious economic and diplomatic damage to Israel.
 
The study examines future scenarios of the development of Israeli-European and Israeli-Russian relations, and concludes that a political and economically strong Europe will not be in Israel's interests.
 
Apartheid spectre

The study also predicts that "anti-Israelism" will continue to rise in Europe as more European youths will reject the existence of an exclusive Jewish state in Palestine.
 

"The situation is not
easy but we have a
lot of investment, especially in Europe that is important to all of us"

Ron Prushor,
Director-General,
Israeli Foreign Ministry

"The situation is not easy but we have a lot of investment, especially in Europe that is important to all of us," Ron Prushor, director-general of the Israeli foreign ministry, said.
 
Prushor told Israeli army radio, Gali Tzahal, on Wednesday that many countries were beginning to view Israel in the same way the South African apartheid regime was perceived.
 
According to Lior Ben Dor, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, the study was meant to be an "internal document" for the ministry's employees.