By: Daniel Breslau
Week 2,014 of occupation
5 January 2006 - 11 January 2006
Israel discovers the destruction of olive trees
For many years, Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank have vandalized the olive groves of Palestinian armers, cutting down, uprooting, and even burning thousands of trees. They have attacked Palestinians as they harvested their olives, sometimes with deadly gunfire, often preventing the annual harvest from taking place. All of this has been done with the knowledge and sometimes protection of Israeli security forces, who have themselves often prevented Palestinians from reaching their olive trees under the pretext of preventing violence. Attacks on olive trees aim to harm the livelihood of Palestinian communities and force them off their land. Over the past three years at least 2,400 olive trees have been uprooted in acts attributed to settlers.
Now, suddenly, voices from the political and military establishment, and the media who follow their lead, are condemning these attacks on olive trees, and are calling for action against the settlers responsible. Last week, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz took the first tentative step by calling for the formation of a panel to investigate the continuing destruction of olive trees. This was enough to put the issue on the agenda. On Sunday, 8 January, Attorney General Manny Mazuz, who has been silent on this issue, stated that the occupation authorities have failed to deal with settler lawlessness. Then, on Tuesday, the General Security Service (GSS) got into the act too, announcing that it had given the police and army identities of settlers known to have been involved in destruction of olive trees. According to GSS head, Yuval Diskin, the army and police did nothing to apprehend the suspects.
One outpost removed, maybe two more
Also this week, the IDF removed an illegal settler outpost, and announced that additional outposts would be evacuated and dismantled. The outpost of Neve Daniel North, near the Etzion settlement bloc, consisted of seven temporary structures and a trailer, on privately owned Palestinian land. Police under orders of the Civil Administration were met by 150 settlers who put up fierce resistance, hurling paint and eggs at the police. The police used teargas to clear a group of settlers out of the trailer, and arrested 11 of the resistors. The settler leadership held a hastily organized press conference, in which they expressed their sense of betrayal by the same security establishment that had helped them set up illegal outposts for so many years. The defense ministry is planning further evacuations of isolated outposts, but has made no indication of fulfilling Israel`s commitment, under the `road map` for peace, to dismantle all of the outposts that have been established since 2001.
Israel tries to distinguish good occupation from bad occupation
Why is Israel taking action against settler crimes that were tolerated or even encouraged for many years? This is not a reversal of Israel`s policy, but a shift in strategy, connected to the country`s changed political map. While the government is cracking down on settler lawlessness, it is pushing ahead with illegal construction elsewhere, and uprooting huge numbers of olive trees to build the annexation wall. The settlers, who proved so useful in the past, are now in the way of the government and its new ruling party, as it tries to consolidate control of the settlement blocs, Jerusalem, and the Jordan Valley, while leaving the central `spine` of the West Bank to the Palestinians.
Halutz refuses to breach `moral constraints`
On December 28, Israel declared a buffer zone in the northern Gaza Strip, and announced that anyone entering the area would be risking their life. B`tselem reported that if an order had been given to open fire on anyone entering the buffer zone, then this order was a blatant violation of the Geneva Convention, that requires all parties to a conflict to distinguish between combattants and non-combatants and to refrain from harming the latter. Israel is required to take legitimate and legal means to protect its citizens from the Kasam rocket attacks, which are themselves potentially war crimes.
On Monday, 9 January, IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said that Israel has the technological and military ability to stop the Kasam attacks, but that to do so would require `breaching moral constraints,` and he advises against it.
Elections to be allowed in Jerusalem, but...
On Monday, 9 January, Israel announced that it would allow parties and candidates in the 25 January elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council to campaign in East Jerusalem, but only if they receive permission from the Israeli police. Candidates of the Hamas movement would not be allowed to campaign. The U.S. has been pressuring Israel to allow democratic elections to take place in East Jerusalem, but figures in the Israeli government have been opposed to allowing Hamas members to participate in elections on what it calls its `sovereign soil.` Hamas is supported by up to 45% of the Palestinian electorate.
Sources: Ha`aretz, Ynet, Palestine Chronicle, ISM, B`tselem.