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Open Letter to EU High Representative and Foreign Affairs Ministers concerning the Palestinian olive harvest

Saturday, 16 October 2010 15:12 REF.: 276/2010
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To: EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, The Foreign Affairs Ministers of the European Union

Dear High Representative,
Your Excellencies,

As a Palestinian NGO committed to the promotion and protection of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), we would like to draw to your attention the upcoming olive harvest season and the associated hardships for Palestinians. In light of your engagement in the region, we seek your assistance in protecting the rights of Palestinian harvesters this year.

Each year in October, the olive harvest commences in the OPT. An integral part of economic and cultural Palestinian life, the harvest is an important source of livelihood for many Palestinians. Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967, and particularly since the outbreak of the second intifada, Palestinians have struggled to harvest their olives due to harassment and violence by Israeli settlers and because of increasingly repressive measures taken by the Israeli military authorities.

Incidents of settler violence against Palestinian harvesters, including those involving the use of firearms, have intensified in recent years. It is often the case that such incidents are not simply random criminal acts carried out by individuals but are instead organised activities carried out by groups of settlers that often result in injury to Palestinian olive-pickers, the destruction of trees, and the theft of Palestinian crops.

In a report issued in September 2010, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has already documented a total of 204 incidents of settler violence resulting in Palestinian injuries or property damage, while 111 incidents had been reported in the same period last year. Al-Haq’s field investigations have monitored some recent incidents including one on 20 September 2010, where settlers stole Palestinian olive crops in Burin village, near Nablus, and threw stones at the villagers, injuring a Palestinian resident. On the following day, settlers returned to the village to steal olive crops.

In the 2006 Murad judgment, the Israeli High Court of Justice affirmed that Israel is duty-bound to protect Palestinian farmers from settler attacks and harassment during the olive harvest. Al-Haq’s documentation of incidents of settler violence from the 2009 harvest season, as described in the report “Lives and Livelihoods at Stake: Palestinians Again Confronted by Violence and Repression During the Annual Olive Harvest”, has shown that the actions of the Israeli occupying authorities have hereto failed to meet this obligation and are verging on complicity.

In spite of the increased risk of settler violence during the upcoming olive harvest, the Israeli military has announced in a recent press release that “in most of the places there will be no need for the presence of the security forces” and notes that its actions will be balanced against its “continued security operations and the ensuring of the security of the citizens of the state of Israel across Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley”  . This suggests an entirely inadequate response to the security situation on the ground.

As also confirmed by the Israeli organisation Yesh Din, the Israeli occupying authorities are consistently failing to prevent settler violence and to employ measures to hold settlers to account for their actions, creating a culture of impunity that contributes to the escalation in settler attacks. Whilst settler communities, despite being illegally present in the OPT, benefit from effective law enforcement by Israeli police and military forces, Palestinian farmers are denied protection under the law. Israel’s failure to provide sufficient security to Palestinian farmers and to safeguard their right to harvest the land is a breach of Israel’s international legal duties as an Occupying Power to maintain civil life and public order in occupied territory and effectively guarantee the rights of the protected Palestinian population.

In the absence of effective Israeli prosecution of settlers, along with the history of aggressive settler activity from previous years and the increasing incidents of settler violence in 2010, we are gravely concerned that the situation this season will further deteriorate, resulting in higher instances of physical and economic harm to the Palestinian population.

We hereby urge the EU to use all diplomatic and legal tools at its disposal to pressure the Israeli government to ensure the protection of Palestinians during the olive harvest by ensuring that Israel implements effective policies to prevent incidents and, should they occur, investigates and prosecutes those responsible. Violence committed by settlers is a by-product of the presence of Israeli settlements in occupied territory, which, standing alone, constitute a violation of international humanitarian law.

We are confident you will take our concerns in due account by implementing prompt measures to address these issues. Please do not hesitate to contact us should you require any further information on this issue.

Yours sincerely,

Shawan Jabarin
General Director
Al-Haq


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