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Settler Arson Attacks against Palestinian Farmers Spread in the West Bank

Thursday, 06 June 2013 20:56 - 27 May - 2 June
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In the past week, Al-Haq documented a significant number of attacks on Palestinian agricultural land at the hands of Israeli settlers. Such acts of deliberate violence included the burning of 20 dunums of cultivated land in Qalqiliya (one dunum amounts to 1,000 square metres); over ten dunums in Beitillo, Ramallah governorate; six dunums in Yatta, Hebron governorate; five dunums from two villages south Nablus governorate; and the uprooting of 300 olive trees in ‘Awarta village, also Nablus governorate. These attacks, which correspond with the harvest season, are particularly detrimental to Palestinian farmers, whose livelihoods depend on the revenue from their crops.

Hatem Ibrahim Abu Sbeih – Zeif Village – Yatta – Hebron Governorate

Six-Dunums-of-Hatems-Land-Burnt-following-the-Setter-Arson-AttackHatem, 33, is a Palestinian farmer who owns 12 dunums of agricultural land located close to his home in Zeif, a small village in the south Hebron governorate. Two weeks ago, Hatem and his family harvested wheat from land located to the west of Hatem’s home. They gathered it into piles and planned to grind the wheat on 31 May.

On 28 May at approximately 10:45 am, Hatem was standing in the playground of the village primary school. From his position, Hatem spotted a car approaching the field located to the west of his home. The car stopped on the side of the road and a man emerged from the passenger seat. He walked some 20 metres towards a pile of harvested wheat in Hatem’s field and stood by the wheat for a few moments before quickly returning to the car. As the car pulled away, Hatem saw the pile of wheat had caught fire and immediately ran towards his land. Meanwhile, a teacher from the primary school phoned the Palestinian Civil Defence to request that the fire services be sent to extinguish the fire. Some neighbours and farmers assisted Hatem in attempting to extinguish the flames but to no avail.

Approximately 10 minutes later, fire-fighters from Hebron and Yatta arrived at the scene of the incident and began extinguishing the fire and attempting to prevent it from spreading to the remainder of Hatem’s field. Shortly afterwards, the Israeli military, police and intelligence personnel arrived at the location and began to investigate the incident. An Israeli policeman asked Hatem to come to the main Israeli police station in Hebron governorate, next to the Israeli settlement of ‘Kiryat Arba,’ so that he could provide the police with a description of the car that he had seen approaching his field. Hatem waited for approximately two hours at the police station, before a policeman informed him that the perpetrator of the arson attack had been arrested and that they no longer required Hatem to identify him. As a result of the arson, six dunums of his land were was burnt and Hatem lost half of his harvest, from which he had expected to obtain one ton of flour. The harvest is essential to Hatem both because of the income gained by selling the flour, and because some of the flour is kept to provide food for his family. (Al-Haq Affidavit No. 8696/2013)

Hatem believes that the man who set fire to his crops was an Israeli settler, as many similar attacks have taken place in numerous Palestinian villages at the hands of Israeli settlers. On the same day as the incident, the Israeli police detained a settler suspected of being responsible of the attack, but released him a few hours later. By failing to take any further action, the Israeli authorities have left the victim of the attack without any remedy and have continued the practice of allowing the perpetrators of settler violence to act with impunity.

Al-Haq expresses its deep concern at the increasing number of arson attacks across the West Bank during the harvest season. As an organisation dedicated to the protection and promotion of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), Al-Haq condemns all attacks perpetrated against Palestinians and their property, and urges Israel, the Occupying Power, to comply with its obligations to secure the safety and well-being of the occupied population. Accordingly, Israel must search for those responsible for the attacks against Palestinian persons and property and provide reparation to the victims of such attacks.