Photo: Shabtai Gold/IRIN
Women walking past an old house in Awarta. The ancient town has come under attack, mostly recently loosing 400 olive trees to arson
AWARTA, NABLUS DISTRICT, 21 September 2008 (IRIN) - Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the dream of a “greater Israel” was over, 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.
“There will be no pogroms against non-Jewish residents,” the outgoing premier told his cabinet on 14 September.
Police said an investigation had been launched but no arrests made. The Knesset (parliament) internal affairs committee convened an urgent meeting to discuss the event, sparked when a Palestinian stabbed a boy and burned a house at a settlement outpost.
Video footage showed settlers attacking the Palestinian village with Israeli soldiers present.
“If the army is here or not, the settlers will attack,” a Palestinian resident told 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.
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.
Photo: Shabtai Gold/IRIN
Itamar settlement in background with palestinian olive groves
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, released on 12 September.
“There is Yitzhar, there is Brakha and there is Itamar,” Hani Darawshe, a resident said, pointing at the surrounding hilltops, each with an Israeli settlement, established on what Palestinians say was their land.
Near to each settlement lay several "outposts", satellites of the main colony, taking up more Palestinian land.
“We have been living here for hundreds of years,” said Darawshe, added that structures in the village dated back to Roman rule.
The land they have left is largely off limits to them.
“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.
"See, it is dried up and messy," he says, pointing at the inaccessible land, where he says he and 15 other families had many trees burned down.
With the olive harvest set to begin after Eid el-Fitr, which celebrates the end of Ramadan, in early October, he is concerned about his expected yield, an important part of his livelihood.