Israel War Crimes: Israel 'holding Palestinian minors'
- Israel 'holding Palestinian minors'
Rights group says Israel detained at least 81 minors between November 2009 and October 2010 mostly for stone throwing.
Last Modified: 13 Dec 2010 08:44 GMT
An Israeli human rights group has accused the police of arresting Palestinian minors as young as five in east Jerusalem and dealing with them in ways that violate the country's laws, as well as international laws.
In a report released on Monday, B'Tselem has said Israeli police arrested at least 81 Palestinian minors between November 2009 and October 2010 on suspicion of throwing stones at Israelis in the Silwan neighbourhood near Jerusalem's Old City.
"The Jerusalem Police systematically violates the law, primarily the Youth Law, which grants minors special rights in criminal matters and prohibits, as a rule, interrogation of minors at night," the group said.
The report said many arrests were made at night, "by taking the minors from their beds and rushing them to interrogation... in most cases in order to obtain information on incidents that occurred a few days earlier."
It also accused police interrogators of illegally preventing parents from attending the questioning of their children, and said many minors complained of violent treatment during their arrests.
"Their complaints of violence were disregarded or treated with scorn, and in the isolated cases in which the Department for the Investigation of Police opened an investigation, it was closed without any proceedings being taken against the persons responsible."
Detention of minors
B'Tselem said it had documented the detention of at least four children younger than 12, the age of criminal responsibility in Israel, "meaning they are not subject to criminal proceedings."
In one case, an eight-year old was detained in the middle of the night "only because his name was identical to that of another child who was suspected of throwing stones," the group said.
B'Tselem called on police to immediately end such arrests and interrogations and instead "emphasise options for the rehabilitation of the minors and for preventing injury to them."
"The police conducted these arrests in a harmful manner, which reflects disregard of the rights and needs of the child suspects and may have serious consequences on their future development," the report said.
Micky Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesman denied the report's allegations and said arrests were "carried out according to the law".
"The large majority of those suspects that were questioned and arrested admitted to being involved in violence," he told AFP news agency.
Rosenfeld acknowledged parents were not always present during questioning their children, but said the interrogations were monitored over closed-circuit television and parents always escorted their children to the police station.
He said night arrests were made only when "operational intelligence" suggested the suspect would best be apprehended at night, and denied allegations police were violent during the arrest of minors.
Rosenfeld also blamed the local community for failing to provide their children with alternatives to stone-throwing.
"There is a huge gap in the responsibility that the parents as well as the leaders of the community are taking on themselves," he said.
"The leaders of those communities have to set up social activities in order to prevent those teenagers from being on the street and ending up with a criminal record."
Disclaimer: Al Jazeera is not responsbile for the content of external websites.
Racial discrimination - a tool of occupation
By Nour Odeh in
on December 20th, 2010.
Our destination was Jub Al-Dib in the Bethlehem area. We located it on the map but getting there by car was a different story.
That’s because the West Bank is very spread out, despite its small area. There are hundreds of sometimes tiny communities strewn across the hills and valleys. And going from Palestinian point A to Palestinian point B in the West Bank has nothing to do with directions, logic, or geography.
It is decided by a very intricate system of rules, restrictions, and checkpoints that Israel has designed to limit Palestinian movement. There are settler-only roads, "shared" roads, and then there are no roads at all … just rugged terrains.
So sometimes, to go southwest, Palestinians must first drive northeast, etc. …
Once we got to the general area, we had to be careful not to get on "Lieberman road"; a settler-only road that bypasses several Palestinian towns and villages in the area. It’s there to connect the illegal settlement of Nokedim to occupied East Jerusalem. The settlement is home to Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s Foreign Minister - hence the name.
After over a dozen phone calls, we finally found the dirt road leading to Jub Al-Dib, population 150. No road here, just a bumpy lane up the hill.
Jub Al-Dib looks like a ghost town; no roads, no school but plenty of children, and run-down or abandoned homes.
In its latest report, Human Rights Watch says this village is living proof of a deliberate Israeli policy of racial discrimination against Palestinians that has had a devastating effect on this and other communities. The organization says Israel employs a two-tier system, which encourages and funds the building and infrastructure of Israeli settlements that enjoy all amenities while adjacent Palestinian communities are denied the right to any of those very services. So settlements grow, while these communities dwindle.
These Palestinian communities are under full Israeli control or Area C. Area C makes up over 60 per cent of the occupied West Bank with an estimated dwindling Palestinian population of 150,000.
Walking between the homes, I came across Amneh, planting a small plot of land encircled by a pile of rocks and twisted metal. This plot was Amneh’s home until four years ago when Israeli forces demolished it because construction is banned here. Now, the rubble is her make-shift fence and vegetables grow where she once slept.
Amneh doesn’t want to leave her village but many others have. Her brothers have all moved out, forced to find some space to accommodate their growing families. Human Rights Watch says this exodus is directly caused by the Israeli restrictions and it has displaced 31 per cent of area C’s population.
Amneh and her four children now live in an unfinished apartment in the middle of the village and she’s still afraid to get a demolition order. The only windows she put are in her children’s room; the rest of the house makes do with sheets.
There’s also no electricity, even though the electricity grids powering the nearest of three settlements around them is a mere 350 meters away. Israel also refused a donor-funded program to provide the residents with solar-powered lights.
Some residents have generators for occasional use. But mostly, families here live on kerosene lights. Studying has to be done before sundown and washing the laundry is an all-day affair. Winter is every mother’s nightmare here because after children walk 1.5 km to school in the mud and then back home, they return all muddied … No food can be stored too, so meat and perishable foods are occasional treats.
Going to the doctor is also an ordeal. An elderly woman called Eideh told me she feels like a prisoner. When she gets sick, the walk to the nearest road gets her even sicker. So she doesn’t leave Jub Al-Dib anymore.
Amneh is younger so she braves the hike out of the village to take her children to visit their cousins in nearby villages.
"I make sure to spend all day so the kids can have a good time. They get to watch TV and play," she told me.
This isolation and austere way of life is hard to imagine, much less cope with. But theirs is not a reality of choice; it is one forced on these communities. In the context of the Palestinian struggle for statehood, these villages are considered heroes of perseverance and defiance.
The Palestinian government has made them a priority; promising them aid and development projects despite the Israeli ban. But even after implementation, many of these projects are demolished by the Israeli army. An example is what has been dubbed "Freedom Road"; a short street connecting Qarawat Bani Hassan, another isolated village, to the main road. Israel has demolished "Freedom Road" two times already.
Less than a week ago, the Palestinian Authority prepared a road leading to Jub Al-Dib. It’s not paved. The children are not worrying about when it will be demolished or closed. For now, they enjoy it while they can…
"The world long ago discarded spurious arguments to justify treating one group of people differently from another merely because of their race, ethnicity, or national origin," said Human Rights Watch.
Israel now stands out as a sole violator of this universal principle.
Israeli fighter jets attack Gaza
Air raids appear to target fighters in several parts of the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory.
Last Modified: 21 Dec 2010 05:01 GMT
Israeli fighter jets have attacked the Gaza Strip, wounding two Palestinian fighters, according to a Palestinian medical source and witnesses.
The overnight raids came after the Israeli army accused Palestinian fighters of firing nine mortar shells on Monday into southern Israel, which fell on open ground and caused no deaths.
Three raids targeted the town of Khan Younis in the south of the Palestinian enclave governed by Hamas, wounding two fighters of the Ezzedin al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, one of them seriously, the sources said.
Four other attacks were carried out in the north of Gaza, targeting the Jabailya refugee camp and the towns of Beit Lahya, Beit Hanoun and Zeitoun, with no casualties reported.
The Israeli jets also attacked a tunnel between the Gaza Strip and Egypt near the southern town of Rafah, without causing any injuries.
An Israeli military spokeswoman, contacted by the AFP news agency, spoke of seven air attacks against tunnels used for smuggling weapons and "arms dumps used for terrorist attacks".
She described the raids as "reprisals for attacks on Israeli territory".
Nine mortar rounds were fired at southern Israel from Gaza on Monday, without hurting anyone, the Israeli military spokeswoman said.
Earlier, on Saturday night, Israeli jets struck central Gaza, killing five fighters as they were about to launch a rocket attack, according to the Israeli army and witnesses.
The raid was one of the deadliest since Israel's December 2008-January 2009 war on Gaza's Hamas rulers, codenamed Operation Cast Lead, which cost the lives of 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 13 Israelis, 10 of them soldiers.
Since Israel's war on Gaza, the number of rocket attacks has has gone down considerably. The Israeli army says more than 200 rockets or shells have been fired since the beginning of this year.
Netanyahu rules out Jerusalem split
Prime minister distances himself from remarks made by Defence Minister Ehud Barak in favour of dividing Holy City.
Israel: Settlements not an obstacle
Despite talks with Palestinians being deadlocked over issue, Israel's envoy to US says building is not blocking peace.
Israel's ambassador to the US has said that settlement building has never been an obstacle to making peace, just days after Washington ended attempts to push the Israelis into extending a moratorium on building the West Bank.
"Settlements have never been an obstacle to making peace - not with the Egyptians, not with the Jordanians, not with even negotiating with the Palestinians for about 17 years," Michael Oren said on Saturday.
"We don't see why they should be an obstacle now. We understand they are an issue, and we are, again, committed to resolving them within the context of those core issues: borders, territory and security."
The Palestinians have set the halt of all building in the occupied West Bank as a condition for the resumption of direct peace talks with Israel.
The US-brokered negotiations have been stalled since shortly after their launch.
The White House conceded on Tuesday that it had been unable to get the Israelis to accept an extension to a 10-month moratorium on new building that expired in September.
PJ Crowley, the US state department spokesman, said there "may well be a change in tactics," suggesting a return to indirect negotiations, as the US still believes that there must "be some kind of direct negotiation" to make progress on the core issues.
Oren said on Saturday that Israel was looking forward to addressing those ''core issues''.
"First of all we're we are very committed to moving forward, we want to move forward to achieving a framework peace agreement, within the shortest possible time, on all the core issues," he said.
"Not just territory, the refugees, the questions of security are very paramount for us so we are committed to moving forward, hopefully through direct talks with the Palestinians."
The so-called core issues are understood by both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to include borders and security, settlements, water, refugees, and Jerusalem itself, which Israel says is its capital but which the Palestinians also hope will serve as the capital of any future independent state.
In 1979, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 446, calling on Israel to halt settlement construction and stating that the settlements "have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East".
Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, but no action has been taken to halt settlement construction in the West Bank.
Rabbis say 'no housing for Arabs'
Hundreds of Israeli rabbis have signed a religious edict forbidding Jews from renting or selling homes to Arabs.
Mya Guarnieri Last Modified: 10 Dec 2010 17:26 GMT
Hundreds of Israeli rabbis have signed a religious edict forbidding Jews from renting or selling homes or land to Arabs and other non-Jews. The public letter instructs Jews to "ostracise" those who disobey the order, which is widely viewed as an attack on the country's Palestinian citizens.
When the decree was announced on Tuesday, it had been signed by 50 rabbis, many of who are employed by the state of Israel as municipal religious leaders. Despite sharp public criticism, another 250 rabbis have added their names to the proclamation.
It is the latest battle in the ongoing religious campaign against non-Jews.
A similar edict was issued in the city of Safed less than two months ago, when over a dozen rabbis banded together to urge Jewish landlords not to rent apartments to Arab college students.|
African refugees - a group the state refers to as "infiltrators" - and migrant workers have also been targeted. This summer, 25 Tel Aviv rabbis signed a proclamation that forbids Jews from renting to "infiltrators". Ten real estate agents who work in neighbourhoods that are home to large populations of African refugees answered the call, publicly stating that they would refuse such tenants and would not renew the leases of those who are currently residing there.
And in late November, the municipality of Bnei Brak - an ultra-Orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv - began notifying migrant workers and African refugees that they will be evicted from their homes in the weeks to come.
But Tuesday's proclamation, which was signed by rabbis from across the country, is the largest of its kind.
Israel's litmus test
Small demonstrations were held in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, protesters were met by counter-protesters screaming "Leftie traitors!"
A number of rabbis spoke out against the edict, calling it a "distortion" of Jewish religious law. A prominent rabbi remarked that signatories must be stripped of their pens. After his comment, two rabbis removed their names from the letter. But others dug in their heels, announcing that they would collect an additional 500 signatures against renting or selling property to Arabs and other non-Jews.
The edict was condemned by many members of the government, including Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister. "How would we feel if we were told not to sell an apartment to Jews?" Netanyahu said at a Bible competition in Jerusalem. "We would protest and we protest now when it is said of our neighbours."
Avishay Braverman, the minority affairs minister, called on the state to fire one of the rabbis involved. And the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), along with the Coalition against Racism, lodged a formal complaint with the justice ministry.
Einat Hurvitz, the director of IRAC's legal department, explained: "There are laws against these kinds of statements and this kind of incitement and they haven't been used against the rabbis."
"The attorney general must take immediate action," she said, adding: "If we don't receive adequate answers, we'll go to court."
On Thursday, the attorney general issued a statement calling the rabbis' edict "problematic" and "inappropriate for public officials". It also said it would examine whether or not the rabbis' actions were against the law.
Still, the attorney general did not launch a formal investigation. Nor did he sanction the rabbis.
"I expect the law enforcement authorities to do their part," Hurvitz said, pointing out that the state's response will be a litmus test of Israeli democracy.
Hurvitz added that the public outcry gave her hope that change was on the horizon. "There's a saying in Hebrew that the worse it becomes the better it becomes," she said.
Climate of racism
Abeer Baker, an attorney at Adalah, a local NGO that advocates for Israel's Arab minority, felt that legal avenues would prove ineffective. "Usually the struggle is against the state, now it's the private sector. You will find employers and renters with no will to help us now," she remarked.
And because the rabbis are publicly sanctioning racism, "people [who refuse Arab tenants or employees] will not feel guilty".
"In the past, people were afraid to say things like, 'I don't want to hire an Arab person'. They saw something immoral with it. Now the morals and values are deteriorating."
Baker, who called the edit "very scary" and "very dangerous", said "racism existed [before the decree]" and the proclamation is "an outcome of the general political climate of racism .... The struggle should be against the whole climate".
Speaking of Israel's Arab citizens, Baker added: "When you are under attack and people don't like you, you might treat people the same way."
The edict, she pointed out, gives permission to both sides to be racist. And that could escalate tensions.
'What we've become'
Roi, a 27-year-old Israeli who asked to be identified by a pseudonym rather than be associated with Al Jazeera, said he doubted that the proclamation would lead to violence. Still, he called the move "terrible".
"It's racist," he said. "But the thing that bothers me the most is that mainstream rabbis signed it, not just extremists. These are municipal rabbis. They're employed by the state."
He said the rabbis who signed the proclamation "don't represent" him and are "giving Judaism a bad name". He added that religious texts command Jews to care for non-Jews.
"Maybe [the decree is] something good because [Israelis] will understand what we've become," he said.
Roi emphasised that his feelings do not mirror public sentiment. "I'm sure there are a lot of people who are saying that the rabbis are just doing what everyone thinks. No one wants to live with the Arabs."
A recent poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, a non-partisan think tank, found that almost half of Jewish Israelis would prefer not to have an Arab neighbour.
Democracy under attack
Neve Gordon, the author of Israel's Occupation, remarked: "The rabbis are just an expression of the sentiment."
Some landlords have refused Arab tenants for years, Gordon added. "It's not new. What's new is the feeling that one can express this [without] shame ... and when you lose shame you've reached an extremely dangerous situation."
Gordon emphasised that this shift is not limited to the religious community.
"We shouldn't understand this outburst as an island. It has to do with the loyalty oath and other legislation that is now in the Knesset," Gordon said, referring to the controversial bill that would force non-Jews who seek citizenship to pledge allegiance to Israel as a Jewish state.
Human rights groups are concerned about scores of other bills, including one that would allow communities to turn potential residents away due to their ethnic, religious, or socioeconomic background, and another that would punish any citizen - Jewish or Arab - who participates in the global campaign to boycott Israeli products.
Gordon called such legislation "proto-fascist" and remarked that "the democratic elements of [Israel] are under intense attack".
Israel pulls down West Bank mosque
Palestinians say troops have demolished mosques and several other structures in two areas in the occupied territory.
Israeli soldiers who used Palestinian boy, 9, as a human shield avoid jail
Mother says suspended sentences and demotions for forcing her son to check bag for bombs at gunpoint are 'a scandal'
Israeli police demolish mosque
Action in Arab town in Negev, following a court order, prompts protest call by Muslim residents.
Colossus: the giant Gazan prison
The blockade imposed on Gaza is a powerful psychological device aimed at wringing concessions from Gazans and Hamas.
Gaza "the giant open prison" are not the words of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president. Nor were they scripted by Hamas' Khaled Mishaal or Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas. They belong to David Cameron, the young and charismatic British prime minister.
Since the imposition of the Gaza blockade nearly four years ago, no single European leader has voiced moral outrage over the sanctions with such alacrity, simplicity and forcefulness. His words have reverberated widely in Gaza as well as elsewhere in the Arab world.
Like Cameron's words, the untold misery shatters the international political society's quasi silence and questions the immorality of indifference and inaction towards the blockade.
Gazans need to reclaim their state of dignity and humanity before reclaiming the seemingly illusionary hope of a Palestinian state. A peek inside the 'big prison' reveals the blockade to be multi-layered - affecting economy, polity, diplomacy and security.
For most Arabs, that Israel imposes a de-humanising blockade may be easy to explain, but Egypt's role in the blockade defies logical explication. The music one hears from the Egyptian regime and other Arab states about adherence to international agreements convinces neither Arabs nor Westerners.
But abiding by sanctions that traumatise, de-humanise and isolate fellow Arabs, as in Iraq (where tens of thousands died as a result) or in Gaza is acceptable in the name of good citizenship in the international arena.
Occupied Palestine: Homo Sacer
There are many 'prisons' that dot the Middle East's vast body politic. However, Gaza is unquestionably the most restricted.
Cameron told the UK parliament in June 2010 that the world is unable "to sort out the problem of the Middle East peace process while there is, effectively, a giant open prison in Gaza". Israel needs to hear its friends' moral protest and heed their advice to end the blockade.
The blockade on Gaza is an affront to civilised behaviour. Period.
The horrors of the Holocaust are a lesson that no segment of the human race should be subjected to. The Holocaust belongs to all humanity and demeaned all humanity. It is not the exclusive bastion of Israel.
In Gaza, the Geneva Convention's obligations on occupying forces have been overruled and invalidated countless times, rendering the fourth convention no more than ink on paper.
Whether Israel is still an occupying force may be a tired legal red-herring. But the fact remains that Gazans cannot move, eat, watch TV, use the Internet, drive cars, study, work, think of the future, make and raise babies, and literally be, when Israel controls air, sea and land routes in and out of Gaza.
Without the protection of international law, Gaza is effectively treated almost as a homo sacer amongst the community of human entities and international society of cities and states. War, sanctions and a psychologically traumatising siege on 1.5 million human beings render them 'accursed', almost stripped of all rights afforded in and to societies of human congregations in all corners of the world.
Over the last few years Gazans have been placed on a forced collective 'diet', bombed in the middle of the blockade, starved of financial liquidity, causing Gaza to backtrack into an appalling state of sub-human existence.
Obama's daughters in Gaza
What is baffling in all of this is that the sanctions maintained by Israel and Egypt are not UN-mandated yet nearly the whole world - bar UN relief agencies - seem to abide by them.
Poor Obama whose advent to power whetted the appetite of the 'wretched of the earth,' who expected him to liberate them from hunger, occupation, authoritarianism and under-representation.
He is lost for words when it comes to Gaza. But his silver tongue virulently and eloquently lashed at Hamas and other Palestinian factions' rockets against the settlement of Sedorot. He was correct to lend support and sympathy to Sedorot's inhabitants. Ismail Haniyeh, the besieged premier in Gaza, concurs. Like many other Hamas leaders, he sees no utility in this strategy. Just as many Israeli leaders and people oppose the blockade and the bombing of Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009.
"If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I would do everything to stop that, and would expect Israelis to do the same thing," the then president-elect told Israelis in July 2008.
Malia, Sasha and their puppy would not endure the blockade in Gaza like the hundreds of thousands of puppy-less Gazan children whose parents cannot afford to feed them, much less buy them pets.
Maybe Obama thinks it but does not speak it: "If somebody was cutting off the electricity and food of my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I would do everything to stop that, and would expect Palestinians to do the same thing."
A Tale of Two Cities
The politics of urban space used by Israel is brilliant. It is another method in its inventory of war against Palestinians. Ramallah is ensconced in the false illusion that normalcy is back to people's lives. The trappings of normalcy - food, a degree of free movement, education, law and order and night clubs - abound.
The credit goes partly to Keith Dayton, the American officer who sculptured out of Fatah's unruly militias a nuclear body for an 'Abbas-istan' in the West Bank. There is, however, still policing against dissidence, corruption and nepotism.
Unlike Ramallah and Bethlehem where living standards are satisfactory, Gaza has to make do with little. Indeed, the blockade has been eased and more foodstuffs and other goods make their way into the Strip on a daily basis. However, to a large extent the strategic goods essential for reconstruction are still banned. Cement and metal are vital for rebuilding close to 20,000 homes destroyed during the 2009 bombing.
Coupon culture is rife. With nearly 40 per cent jobless, the blockade has turned a large segment of the Palestinian population into parasites, relying on food coupons and rations doled out by charity organisations and the government. Were it not for Qatar, amongst other donors, the local bureaucracy would have been wage-less. But as the crisis of liquidity bites, Haniyeh has to reduce wages by about $40 a month. The tunnels still serve to smuggle large amounts of cash but not enough to run a state.
Hard Power vs. Soft Power
This is exactly at the core of the blockade: to re-stratify the Palestinian polity between the haves of Abbas-ville whose livelihoods are secure, and the have-nots of Gaza where collective punishment makes people re-think loyalty to Hamas and commitment to its political strategy. It is a powerful psychological device aimed at wringing concessions from Gazans and Hamas.
Time has come for investing more soft power in Gaza to lure Gazans and Hamas to the negotiating table, and unburdening Israel and Egypt of their dehumanising tactics. Hamas needs to sharpen its diplomatic skills to open up Gaza. Gazans have endured enough humiliation and isolation.
The 'carrot' that is the West Bank has not thus far tempted Gaza. Instead of queuing up for the benefits of secure existence in Ramallah and its surroundings, Gazans affirmed resistance by digging tunnels, claiming in the past four years the lives of nearly 300 tunnel diggers.
Hamas sought self-sufficiency in fruits and vegetables and has partly succeeded. A lease-based farming system in the so-called muharrarat (formerly mustawtanat or settlements vacated by Israelis) has been instrumental in this strategy.
The release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and of Gilad Shalit, the captured Israeli soldier, can be one step in deploying soft power with Gaza.
It was heart-warming to see images of the Chilean miners winched to freedom and the world caring for 36 human beings trapped underground for over two months.
There is half a million minors (between the age of zero and 18), and 1 million adults trapped in Gaza in an inhumane state of siege, which is not UN-mandated but the whole world seems to observe. Why? They, too, need to be winched to freedom of movement and existence.
Dr Larbi Sadiki is a Senior Lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter, and author of Arab Democratization: Elections without Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2009) and The Search for Arab Democracy: Discourses and Counter-Discourses (Columbia University Press, 2004), forthcoming Hamas and the Political Process (2011).
Gazans missing out on school
About 40,000 children unable to start school because blockade has led to a lack of suitable buildings.
Last Modified: 27 Oct 2010 07:46 GMT
In Gaza, 40,000 students have been unable to start school this year because there are not enough buildings to accomodate them.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency says the Palestinian territory needs at least 100 new schools but there is simply not enough construction material available because of Israel's blockade of the territory.
Al Jazeera's Nadim Baba reports from Gaza.
West Bank olive groves become battleground
Most troubled harvest yet has seen attacks by Jewish settlers on Palestinian farmers and trees, say human rights groups
Harriet Sherwood in Luban a-Sharqiya
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 24 October 2010 18.21 BST
Eighty-year-old Rasmia Awase had left the best olive trees until last. She and her family had already harvested most of their crop when they went to a small plot near their home in Luban a-Sharqiya on Saturday morning.
Here were 40 trees that Awase had planted and tended herself, and they were now, two decades later, at their peak – the most productive of all the trees, which support 37 members of the extended family.
But Awase found that someone had got there before them and had chopped down the trees, leaving stumps in the ground and branches scattered about the plot. The family blame hardline Jewish settlers from the nearby Eli settlement.
"I was in shock, I lost my mind," she said. "I planted these trees with my bare hands, I gave them 20 years of hard work – and they are all gone." Each day of her long life was worse than the one before, she said with her eyes watering.
The Awase family are not alone in their experience. Among the tactics used by Jewish settlers this harvesting season are cutting down and torching trees, stealing fruit and attacking farmers trying to pick their crops, according to human rights organisations.
"It has reached a crescendo," said a spokeswoman for Yesh Din, one Israeli group monitoring incidents in the West Bank. "What might look like ad hoc violence is actually a tool the settlers are using to push back Palestinian farmers from their own land."
The upsurge in violence this year is attributed to a rise in settler militancy following the 10-month moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank and uncertainty about the outcome of the current, although stalled, peace negotiations.
According to Oxfam, which is trying to help Palestinian olive farmers realise the economic potential of their crops, some families are too frightened to pick the fruit. "We have seen a lot of olive groves burning and trees which have been chopped down," said the charity's Catherine Weibel. "People are clearly very stressed and worried, always afraid the settlers are coming."
Olives have been cultivated in the rocky hills of what is now the West Bank for thousands of years. Around 95% of the harvest is used to make olive oil, worth up to 364m shekels (£64m) a year to the Palestinian economy. Most farmers are small scale, growing trees on land that has been in the families for generations.
In recent weeks, there have been numerous reports of trees being stripped of their fruit overnight. Rabbis for Human Rights claimed that the olives from about 600 trees near the settlement of Havat Gilad were stolen before their Palestinian owners could harvest them. Police confirmed they were investigating the alleged theft.
The police had received 27 official complaints about sabotage since the beginning of this year's harvest, said a spokesman, Micky Rosenfeld. Sixteen Israelis had been questioned. "There are a number of ongoing investigations into damage caused in the past few weeks," he said. "We are working to prevent incidents on the ground. This is an ongoing problem that we have to deal with."
Damage had also been caused to Israeli property, added Rosenfeld.
Akram Awase, Rasmia's son, was sceptical about the protection offered by the Israeli police and military. "In the old days the resistance used to stop them [settlers]," he said. "Now there is no resistance, all of them are in jail. You can't do anything. Who do you complain to? The soldiers protect the settlers. They have raped our land and they will never leave it."
Israeli settlers build 600 homes in less than a month
Israeli settlers have started construction of more than 600 homes since the ten-month building freeze expired less than a month ago, in a move that further jeopardises the rapidly collapsing peace talks.
It means the building rate is now four times the pace of construction before the introduction of the building ban on occupied West Bank land, according to the figures released by the Israeli campaign group Peace Now.
Ghassan Khatib, a spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, said the latest figures were alarming. "This is another indicator that Israel is not serious about the peace process, which is supposed to be about ending the occupation," he said.
Naftali Bennett, the director-general of the Yesha Settlers' Council, confirmed widespread building, but refused to disclose the exact figures.
"We are not counting how many homes Jews are building in their land in the same way as no one counts how many homes the Palestinians are building," he said. "The land of Israel is ours, and that's the reality."
Mr Bennett denied that the frantic pace of construction was due to speculation that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, was planning a new building freeze as part of a package deal being negotiated with the Americans.
Israeli settlement building 'alarming', says UN envoy 22 Oct 2010
Netanyahu alters controversial citizenship law 19 Oct 2010
Palestinian fury at new Israeli homes in east Jerusalem 15 Oct 2010
US abandons attempts to end Israeli settlement expansion21 Oct 2010
Palestinians call on UN to halt Israeli building21 Oct 2010
Israeli plan to build a new Jerusalem gate condemned by Palestinian government21 Oct 2010
However, settler officials confirmed that about two-thirds of the current building could come to a halt if the government orders a new construction moratorium.
The Palestinians put direct peace talks with Israel on hold following the resumption of settlement construction on September 26, only weeks after the negotiations got under way.
Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian negotiator, said talks would only resume when Israel agreed an end to settlement construction and an end to the blockade on Gaza.
Earlier this month, Mr Netanyahu offered to renew the freeze in return for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. The idea was rejected out of hand by Palestinian leaders.