West Bank olive trees set ablaze
Tensions are high in the West Bank on Thursday during the annual olive harvest as Palestinian farmers accuse hardline Jewish settlers of stealing and destroying their crops.
More than one olive grove has already been set ablaze this year.
One Palestinian farmer told CBC News that an olive grove was burned last week by Jewish settlers from a nearby outpost called Havat Gilad. He said 1,500 trees were destroyed, some of them 60 years old.
The farmer, named Ibrahim, said Palistinian farmers have had problems since 2002, but this is the worst year.
The settlers have denied any involvement in the attacks.
But Yehuda Shimon, a spokesman for the outpost, said the trees and the land all belong to them.
"This is our land and all the olive trees are ours. You know, if someone puts an olive tree in your apartment, it's your olive tree."
A 2006 ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court obliges Israel to protect the harvest, but human rights groups allege the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) aren't doing enough.
They charge that they may be doing a better job of protecting farmers, but not trees or property, and that few if any of those accused of violence or vandalism are ever brought to justice.
"The army says they can't protect every tree every place, every hour, but what they can do is the 10 to 15 places where there is history, where it happens again and again … those places they can protect," said Arik Ascherman, an organizer for Rabbis for Human Rights.
One of the group's goals is to keep settlers from interfering with the harvest and monitoring the activities of the IDF during this time.
Ascherman said tensions between settlers and Palestinians have been exacerbated this year by all the talk about a possible extension of an Israeli building freeze, something the settlers see as a threat to their communities.
"We've seen trees damaged, cut down, poisoned … on Friday there was a huge fire where some [49 hectares] were burned," he said.