Avi Issacharoff
Haaretz (Opinion)
October 18, 2007 - 5:48pm

Abed Al-Fatah Al-Hindi, a resident of the Nablus-area village of Tal, reaches the main highway between the Hawara and Git junctions, near the Gilad Farm. An International Red Cross crew stands waiting for him. He is bleeding from a large scalp wound, and his left eye is swollen.

A paramedic bandages his head, and a volunteer from Rabbis for Human Rights cleans his face. "Every year there's a mess," the villager tells Haaretz. "It's just the first day of the olive harvest, and six settlers attacked me. There wasn't much we could do."

Around seven in the morning, Al-Hindi, his sisters and four other men came to the family olive grove, just 200 meters from Gilad Farm, not far from Nablus, one of the dozens of illegal outposts spread across the West Bank. They harvested for three hours, until 10, when they noticed a group of settlers approaching from the direction of the outpost.

"They shouted, 'This is our grove, you can't go near it,' and threw rocks at us," says Al-Hindi. "One of them held my arm and another beat my head with a rock. I yelled 'Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, and they said, 'I don't give a shit.' They beat me until they left."

10:52 - A police jeep arrives at the scene. Officer Amnon Barda gets out and begins questioning Abed. "Where were you? Did you see them? Do you know them? Where is your identity card?"

Zakhariah Sadah, a resident of the neighboring village of Git and an activist who works with Rabbis for Human Rights, offers his services as a translator, but Barda gets by. According to Sadah, after settlers threw rocks at olive harvesters at the nearby Farateh village, he and some Israeli volunteers guarded the groves. He says Al-Hindi and his family came to the grove without coordinating their arrival with Israeli authorities.

10:57 - A unit of the police Special Patrol Unit arrives in two vehicles. Barda updates the unit's commander on the incident. "What were they wearing?" he asks Al-Hindi, translating for a Special Unit member. "A white shirt, dark pants, black, tzitzit (ritual fringes)."

"That doesn't help me," the Special Unit man replies. "Did they have anything special on them? A hat? A pack?" Meanwhile, Barda has explained to Al-Hindi and Sadah they must file a complaint for an investigation to be opened. "This is already the third time that they've attacked in the last few days," Sadah says."

"But we don't hear about this in time," Barda responds.

11:07 - A police convoy slowly enters Gilad Farm. Barda's jeep is at the lead, followed by the two Special Unit vehicles. A new permanent structure is visible on a nearby hilltop, as is the constant expansion of the outpost. The jeep stops, and Special Unit officers are dispatched to remove Haaretz staffers on the grounds they are in a closed military zone.

11:18 - The incident is over. In the space of 11 minutes of activity in the outpost, which did not include searches, but rather polite questioning of a few residents, the police force exits Gilad Farm.

On his way out, Barda explains: "We were there, and we didn't find anything. Ask the spokesman of the Shai [West Bank police] district." The spokesman, Danny Poleg, says, "They searched according to the description of the suspects. This is being given over to handling on the intelligence level."

12:30 - Not far from Al-Hindi's olive grove stands Ibrahim Salah, 54, from Farateh village. Salah has been working for eight days, morning until evening, in the olive groves that belong to him and his family.

On Tuesday, his wife Nadia, his daughter Majed and his five-year-old grandson Salah were harvesting olives in the grove next to their house. They threw the olives onto a large black tarp and sorted them: the black ones solely for olive oil, the green ones for eating or oil.

Especially large green ones are considered a delicacy. They hauled the olives to a neighboring olive press, at which the yield of each tree will provide four to five liters of olive oil. A liter will sell for NIS 20. This year's crop is less successful than last year's.

According to Salah, in the present harvest, at least, the Civil Administration and the police have shown evident desire to help. "We coordinated the harvest at the grove next to the Gilad Farm two months in advance," he says. "Every morning, Rafi from the Coordination and Liaison Office calls me to tell me that I can come. When the police are there, there's no problem whatsoever. The situation this year has improved greatly. But the army by itself is worthless, because the soldiers do not take action."

Last year, settlers beat his son, Salah says, his voice charged with emotion. "They cut open his head and broke his arm. The army was there, but they did nothing, and the settlers continued to attack us."

Salah notes that the violence takes place within the villages as well. Three days ago, three armed settlers came to the entrance of the village, attacked a group of harvesters and threw everything they had harvested in every direction. "They have to be thrown out of these lands. They took over these lands and did not purchase them," he says.

Rachel Merhav, a volunteer from Yesh Din (Volunteers for Human Rights), which monitors settler violations of the law in the territories, declines to revel in the improvement this year. "Israel's splendid security forces know how to find the people they want to," she says. "But where violence by settlers is concerned, the process of bringing people to justice falls short." Dozens of cases have been closed under the determination that "the offender is unknown," Merhav says, adding that the pursuit of those cases in which an investigation is opened also falls short.

This week, Yesh Din sent a letter to the overall army's West Bank commander and the commander of the West Bank police district, demanding they take action to safeguard the olive harvest, prevent attacks on Palestinian farmers, and prosecute law breakers seeking to disrupt the harvest.

Yesh Did studied a series of incidents last year between settlers and Palestinian harvesters, finding that not a single indictment was filed from investigations of the attacks.

In response, police spokesman Poleg says Yesh Din's list of demands has yet to reach the police district office, and that the group's complaints will be examined.


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