For Palestinians, the olive tree has a special significance. Perhaps more than anything else, it symbolizes their connection with the land, rooted in centuries of Palestine’s fertile soil and tended to by generation upon generation of Palestinian farmers. The autumn, which brings with it the olive harvest, is a highly anticipated and celebrated season for Palestinian agriculture. Anyone who has ever sat at a Palestinian table for a meal knows the centrality of the crop; olives and their golden oil are omnipresent in the Palestinian kitchen. During these months, Palestinians descend on their olive groves for the annual tradition of the harvest and the collection of ripe olives.
Sadly, however, this season, so-well known for the olive harvest, is now becoming known for something else: Israeli settler violence.
For several years we have been keeping a database of Israeli settler violence attacks and incidents and have collected daily data from 2004 to the present day noting thousands of incidents. We keep track of the date, time, type of attack, location and so on.
Last year, we published a comprehensive report on Israeli settler violence, analyzing where it was most prevalent, what trends we found and what causes it. One undeniable trend is that Palestinians and their property are increasingly at risk of settler attacks during olive harvest season. The chart below depicts the percentage of annual settler violence each month sees in the districts of Nablus, Qalqilya, Salfit and Ramallah where the majority of the West Bank’s olive trees are.
As you can see the chart line ticks up markedly in September and October, the months of the olive harvest. A greater proportion of settler violence happens during this period than any other comparable time span year in and year out. This year is no exception, there are examples here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here and as I am drafting this text, here:
Settlers destroyed over 600 olive trees in a Nablus village on Wednesday, a Palestinian Authority official said.Ghassan Daghlas, an official who monitors settlement activity in the northern West Bank, told Ma'an that settlers from Yizhar cut down hundreds of olive trees belonging to the Hamad, Hussein and Allan famlies in the village of Einabus.
The uptick during the olive harvest supports an explanation of settler violence discussed in our report. The different security jurisdictions in the West Bank create vacuums of security for Palestinians. While many Palestinians live in Area A, where at least nominally the Palestinian Authority has security jurisdiction under the Oslo Accords, the vast majority of Olive Groves are not in Area A but instead in Area B or even C. This means Palestinians have to leave the sanctum provided by their own security forces and rely on Israeli security when tending to their crop. The Israeli military often merely protects settlers as they attack Palestinians and the Israeli police are useless in this regard as well. So Palestinians are essentially sitting ducks who risk their security for their livelihood and to maintain an annual tradition that is integral to the Palestinian agricultural economy.
The failure of the Israeli state to reign in the settler violence, and in many cases it aids and abets, is an clear indictment of its failure to uphold its responsibilities as an occupier, charged with maintaining the well-being of the occupied civilian population under international law.
As de facto state agents, the settlers are doing the work that might be too controversial for the Israeli military to be directly involved in for public relations purposes but still serves the larger aim of checking and demoralizing a Palestinian population. Settlers act in ways to confine the Palestinian population through the use of violence by increasing the risks of existence in any areas outside Area A which is the vast majority of the West Bank.
Israel continues to distance itself in official rhetoric from settler violence but as with other elements of the colonial enterprise this too could not occur without, at minimum the tacit consent of the government. That consent in itself is tantamount to direct involvement.
All responsible actors should work to pressure the Israeli government to immediately put an end to rampant settler violence. Without such pressure, Israeli will continue to allow its settler population run amok in Palestine.