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Haaretz: High Court – “Unbearable Situation” For Palestinians During Olive Harvest

by Akiva Eldar, Tuesday 19th September

Labor Party minister Yuli Tamir recommended putting forth the demand that the prime minister renew negotiations with Syria and Lebanon in the Sareinu forum of ministers . Minister Ophir Pines-Paz told Labor activists in Tel Aviv over the weekend that Ehud Olmert’s references to the road map (among others) were nonsense. He suggested immediately opening the blocked Israeli-Palestinian channel. But, in the occupied territories, the domain of the party chairman, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, it’s business as usual. A non-law abiding group in the settlements continues to cut down olive trees and confront Palestinian farmers. A report prepared by the organization Yesh Din relating to a period in which Peretz was responsible for the welfare of residents of the territories, lists three serious incidents of felled olive trees in Salam (45 trees) and Sinjil (140 trees.) As in all previous instances, no arrests were made. Another report by the organization’s volunteers tells of an illegal outpost whose residents mock the law and those in charge of enforcing it.

At the end of June, the High Court of Justice panel, led by then vice president, Justice Dorit Beinisch, ruled there could be no acceptance of “the unbearable situation,” in which Palestinian farmers were afraid to harvest their olives. The High Court ordered the security authorities to act more diligently against offenders to uproot the phenomenon at its source. Subsequently, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz approached Peretz and Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter. He told them to “immediately order the implementation of a general plan” to fulfill the court’s directives,” and to address “specifically” how to beef up enforcement units in the territories as recommended. He told the two officials to keep him updated.

A document Haaretz received from a legal source, entitled “Recommended Directions of Activity,” reveals that the problem is not “staff work” nor even a manpower shortage, but the authorities’ level of effort in meeting the obligation to protect helpless farmers. The term “effort” (in other words “motivation”) appears five times in the document, which was prepared last January by the office of the coordinator of activity in the territories, Major General Yosef Mishlav.

Below are its main points: “Very serious incidents, involving damage to some 2,300 trees require urgent measures, and that the guilty parties be brought to justice, to serve justice, serve as a deterrent and prevent acts of revenge.”

The document notes it is necessary to act on three planes simultaneously:

  • Investigative efforts, under the auspices of the Israel Police and the Shin Bet security service – intensive work by the designated investigation team with the aim of linking suspects to events or their surroundings in order to produce evidence for an indictment
  • Operational-command level effort – the OC Central Command allocated a specific force for this objective, the “patience” objective, until all the guilty parties are caught red-handed. This will require a coordinated effort by the intelligence-investigative team and the operational team.
  • Legal efforts: convening a committee chaired by the Defense Ministry’s legal adviser to consider within the strict letter of the law the granting of compensation to tree owners, as was done at Inbus [hooligans destroyed an entire orchard in Samaria, and compensation was granted after MK Efraim Sneh intervened – A.E.] A legal opinion is needed for issuing removal orders and restraining orders against suspects from the Scali Farm and the Arussi Farm immediately after the evacuation of the Hebron wholesale market and the caravans at the Amona outpost. The legal advisers must help the OC Central Command.”

This document was sent to then-defense minister Shaul Mofaz for the lessons from the shortcomings in the preceding olive harvest. Peretz says that in the coming season, which starts at the end of the month, things will be better to the extent they depend on him. Defense Ministry officials say that it does not depend solely on the IDF. Check how much “effort” the police and Shin Bet’s Jewish division are investing, they suggest, in protecting residents of the territories.

Among the possible steps recommended by the coordinator of activities in the territories are “evacuation actions” at the two “farms” – the term that illegal outposts hide behind. Such items are popping up under the nose of the defense minister, who once protested against previous defense ministers over the establishment of new settlements. Apparently the changeover in justice ministers and heads of the ministerial committee for the implementation of the report on outposts, are providing the government with a new excuse for stalling. The new justice minister, Meir Sheetrit, assures the few interested in the fate of the promise Ariel Sharon made to the U.S. in 2004 to dismantle the illegal outposts built during his term that he is “studying the matter.”

Mazuz still has not formulated his position on the document prepared by his deputy, Mike Blass, which among other things proposes “whitewashing” the illegal outposts and even providing them with public funding. Mazuz wants to review the responses of all relevant parties to the new proposal, says the Justice Ministry spokesman. That’s what Shaul Mofaz said when he was appointed defense minister a few months after leaving the post of chief of staff. Someone should open a school of outposts. Attorney Talia Sasson, who wrote the report on illegal outposts at the request of then prime minister Ariel Sharon, could be the principal. She explains that with every day that goes by without any action being taken by the authorities in the face of the massive invasion of private lands is another day of collaboration with criminal elements, at least by default.

The case of the El-Matan outpost in Samaria demonstrates brazen violation of the law by settlers. Ten days ago, Ibrahim Alem of Tulat found that an electric cable had been laid on private lands owned by village residents. The cable led from the community of Ma’ale Shomron to the El-Matan outpost. Yesh Din volunteers found a group of residents from the outpost with a tractor out in the field working on laying a pipe and summoned representatives of the Civil Administration. A young settler named Eitam Luz said into the volunteers’ microphone that he was aware he was standing on Palestinian land, but the state was refusing to supply the outpost with electricity, and bypassing the land to run cable would be more expensive.

The Judea and Samaria Police district said in response that this was indeed private land and an investigation has been opened of possible trespassing. The work in the field was halted but the Civil Administration released a statement saying that it did not have the authority to issue a stop-work order, because this was not infrastructure building or a case of unapproved work.