Jewish settlers have uprooted more than 5,000 olive tree saplings in lands east of the town of Turmusayya, north of Ramallah, in the central occupied West Bank, locals said Thursday.One owner of the lands targeted, Awad Abu Samra, told Ma’an Mews Agency that, over the past week, settlers have repeatedly raided the area to attack the saplings.
The attacks are reportedly carried out in order to ensure that Palestinian farmers are unable to plant in the area, further disenfranchising them and, thus, forcing them to leave the land, opening it to confiscation by settlers.
Mr. Abu Samra estimates that the assailants have managed to uproot around 5,000 olive tree saplings, out of a total of 8,000 that had been planted since mid-December, in the area, known as al-Zahrat.
The saplings had been planted in honor of slain Palestinian official Ziad Abu Ein, who died after being beaten by an Israeli soldier, during a march to help plant trees and protest land confiscation in the area, on December 10th.
Abu Samra said that the settlers who carried out the attacks most likely came from the nearby settlement of Adei Ad, an outpost of the ‘Jewish-only’ settlement of Shilo, located nearby. Shilo was built on lands confiscated from local Palestinians.
He added that, each day, settlers carried out raids in which they uprooted hundreds of saplings, under Israeli army protection, and that they had uprooted the saplings and broken their roots so as to prevent them from being replanted.
Jamil al-Barghouti, president of the Resistance Committee against the Wall and the Settlements, told Ma’an that the ‘barbaric act’ occurred under the cover and protection of the Israeli army.
Barghouthi, who lives in the area, says that he has seen with his own eyes settlers attacking farmers as they worked in the area, with the aim of kicking them off the land and seizing it for the settlement.
He stressed that the committee will re-plant thousands of olive trees and will provide full assistance to farmers, to help them cultivate the land again.
He stressed that Ziad Abu Ein, who was head of the resistance committee until being killed earlier in December, had been ‘martyred’ while working to plant the land and that the committee was dedicated to continuing his work.
Attacks on olive trees are a key way that Palestinians are forced out of their homes and their lands confiscated for settlement construction, as the loss of a year’s crop can signal destitution for many.
Over 7,500 olive trees were damaged or destroyed by settlers between January and mid-October in 2012, according to the United Nations.
Ma’an further reports that, since 1967, approximately 800,000 olive trees have been uprooted in the occupied West Bank, according to a joint report by the Palestinian Authority and the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem.
The olive industry supports the livelihoods of roughly 80,000 families in the occupied West Bank.
Settler violence against Palestinians and their property in the occupied West Bank is systematic and ignored by Israeli authorities, who rarely intervene in the violent attacks or prosecute the perpetrators.
As of mid-December, there have been some 320 reported incidents of settler violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, over the year 2014, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
In the South Hebron Hills, on Thursday, Israeli settlers targeted a Palestinian home in the village of Ad-Deirat, while Israeli forces demolished a tent in the village of Al-Mufaqarah.
See: Raids, Kidnappings and Demolitions by Israeli Forces Continue Across Occupied Palestine for details and further reports.