Ancient walls of Awarta, West BankOutgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced the dream of a “Greater Israel” was over this month—a day after settlers raided the Palestinian village of Assira Qabaliya, in the northern West Bank, causing extensive damage and wounding several people, in what was a reprisal attack. Police said an investigation was launched, but no arrests made. The Knesset internal affairs committee convened an urgent meeting to discuss the raid, reportedly sparked when a Palestinian stabbed a boy and burned a house at a settlement outpost. Video footage showed settlers attacking the village with Israeli soldiers present. “If the army is here or not, the settlers will attack,” a Palestinian resident told the UN news agency IRIN.
The Israeli military issued a statement saying: “The command and commanders’ orders are that a soldier shall not stand by and will act to prevent violent disturbances.” A security source said two firearms were confiscated from settlers who attacked the village.
“There will be no pogroms against non-Jewish residents,” the outgoing premier told his cabinet Sept. 14, the day after the attack. Shortly after Olmert’s speech, settlers went to Awarta, another town, and burnt down more than 400 Palestinian olive trees, according to residents. “The trees burned for hours,” said Asad Loolah, who told IRIN he lost about 50 trees.
It took almost an hour for a fire engine to reach the scene, due to the Israeli-imposed restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank. In addition, residents reported that Palestinian ambulances were delayed in reaching the injured the day before in Assira.
Attacks on the rise
In August, “37 people were injured as a result of attacks carried out by Israeli settlers, the largest number recorded since January 2005,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territories said. “The lack of adequate law enforcement by the Israeli authorities seems to be a key factor contributing to the persistence of the settler violence phenomenon over years,” the agency wrote in its recent Humanitarian Monitor.
With the olive harvest set to begin after Eid el-Fitr, which celebrates the end of Ramadan, in early October, many Palestinian farmers are concerned about his yields, an important part of their livelihood. With access to their lands greatly restricted by the Israeli military, they have been unable to effectively maintain even those groves which have survived settler attacks. “I need to get coordination from the [Israeli] military to access my land,” said Loolah. “They give me access only two or three days a year. I don’t have the chance to prune or water the trees and not enough time to pick the olives.” (IRIN, Sept. 21)