(AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh)
The olive harvest has begun in the West Bank (known historically to Jews as Judea and Samaria) which means accusations are once again being launched against Jewish settlers for vandalizing Palestinian olive trees. Just last week, the UN’s Middle East envoy said he was “alarmed” by attacks on olive trees and that Israel should do more to protect Palestinian property, while the PLO’s Hanan Ashrawi went so far as to call for the deployment of international observers to protect Palestinian olive groves.
Turns out, what the mainstream media has been reporting may not the entire story.
Fed up with the often undocumented charges, the Shomron (Samaria) Settlers Council decided to investigate and on Sunday asked Jewish residents to start carrying cameras in their cars, even offering a photography course with the hopes of capturing images showing what’s really happening on the ground.
On Monday night, Shomron Regional Council spokesman David Ha’ivri e-mailed journalists, including TheBlaze, about what they found on the first day of their video deployment. He writes:
And indeed, this afternoon, already in the first days of the harvest season, two volunteers from the Shomron Settlers Council caught "red-handed", some Arabs and another man who joined them, likely a foreign Leftist activist, as they were cutting down trunks and branches of olive trees adjacent to the settlement of Elon Moreh, just a short distance from the town and close to homes.
The Arabs and the Leftist extremist were sawing through the trunks and branches and leaving them near the cut off trunks in an area near the settlement's homes, as well as in another location near the entrance to Elon Moreh.
Council volunteers photographed them in the act and called the police.
Chairman of the Shomron Settlers Council Benny Katzover said: "It's clear to everyone that if the alert volunteers had not recorded the provocation in real time, the whole world would have shouted and condemned the settlers and the State of Israel."
Ynet reports that on Monday, Palestinian farmers filed complaints about uprooted trees. The settlers say those trees were part of the same grove their videographers had documented [watch it below] and that Palestinians were trying to falsely accuse settlers as those responsible. Ynet reports:
The Palestinians, however, insist that the trees that the settlers documented are not the same ones that the farmers claim were felled. Ismail, one of the farmers who were caught on the settlers' video, told Ynet: "The settlers are just slandering us; we were trimming our trees and tending to them, but those that were chopped down are in a different plot, farther away. We saw we were being filmed."
B’Tselem – a group that monitors Israeli settlement construction – reports that 450 Palestinian-owned trees have been damaged or uprooted since October 10.
The mainstream media watchdog CAMERA last week emphasized the importance of finding reliable eyewitnesses and urged caution when reporting on the olive tree vandalism. It cited a 2006 report from Maariv:
Inspectors caught Palestinian youths in the act as they were cutting olive trees, claiming they did it at the request of the owner of the grove. The police suspect that he did it for compensation. Now additional Palestinian complaints will be investigated.
Are the settlers hurting the Palestinians or are the Palestinians hurting themselves? Frequently Palestinians farmers complain that settlers cut their trees and hurt them and their livelihoods. At times even IDF soldiers and police had to protect the Palestinians farmers in the territories during the olive harvest season. But the police suspect now that in some cases the Palestinians themselves are the ones cutting the trees and then blaming the settlers and demanding compensation from the [Israeli] Civil Authority.
The pro-Israel blogger Elder of Ziyon has been following the olive drama for years, during which he has reported on misleading allegations Palestinians have made when blaming Jewish settlers for tree vandalism. At least twice they claimed religious Jews had chopped down trees on the Jewish Sabbath during which it is forbidden to engage in any physical labor. Palestinians cutting down their own trees and then claiming damages, as apparently occurred on Monday, is not unprecedented.
The story doesn’t even end there. The blogger Yisrael Medad, who lives in the Jewish community Shiloh also in Samaria, reported on Friday that 125 olive trees were damaged. “No, not Arab olive trees,” he wrote. “Jewish-planted and owned olive trees.”
“I cannot tell a lie, father” – the phrase known to every American schoolchild who learns the fabled George Washington tale about his honest response after cutting down his father’s beloved cherry tree. Today we see the evidence that olive trees are being chopped down. Question is, who is telling the truth and who is telling the lie?
Watch Monday’s video here, provided by the Samaria Settlers Council, the only visual documentation that until now has been posted of the event. TheBlaze cannot verify additional information about the wider surroundings beyond that provided by the settlers’ group. At one point, it appears soldiers walk up the hill, but no further context is provided: