Saturday, October 16, 2010

 The burning report

The testimony of A., a Palestinian farmer from the village of Far'ata telling of what happened to his olive grove yesterday morning, was written down by peace activist David Nir, who spends much of his time monitoring the situation in the Nablus Area.

On the morning of Friday, October 15, A. And his family were harvesting olives on a plot near the built-up area of Far'ata. At 10.30 he was alerted to smoke rising from his other olive grove, which is near the "Gile'ad's Farm" settler outpost. The olives from the trees in that grove had been stolen by settlers before the Palestinian owners were allowed to visit it, and the settlers had recently started pouring concrete foundations for building a house there.

A. run to the spot, accompanied by two other Far'ata residents who also have trees nearby. All three ran on foot, intending to put off the fire. When the settlers saw the Palestinians approaching, one of them ran in their direction – being followed by four soldiers. The soldiers pushed the settler back from the three Palestiniand but did not detain him. It was the Palestinians who were detained, taken by the soldiers away from the burning trees and kept directly under the sun. (The temperature was about 37 degrees Celsius, and A. eventually required medical treatment for dehydration symptoms.)

While detained by the soldiers, the Palestinians saw the same settler moving between the different plots and personally setting the trees on fire, without interruption from the many soldiers who were nearby and witnessed the scene.. When A. asked the soldiers guarding him why they were not preventing the settlers from putting trees on fire before their eyes, they shouted at him to be quiet. When he said he would complain about their helping the settlers to burn the trees they said they would testify that it was him who had set the fire.

Around 13.30 two of the four soldiers were called to another place. The three Palestinians took advantage of the remaining soldiers' inattentiveness and escaped back to Far'ata, as they were sure the soldiers intended to take them into detention.

Only after hours of burning did the army allow fire trucks to arrive, but it was too late. When TV crews from Israeli, Palestinian and European stations arrived, the soldiers rushed them away to a location from which the fire was not visible.

A. estimates that the fire consumed more than a hundred acres of olive groves with more than 3000 trees, most of which belong to farmers from the nearby village of Tel. When Tel villagers riding donkeys tried to reach the spot, the settlers took away their donkeys and the army chased them away.

When representatives of the Palestinian Authority arrived, the soldiers expelled them, too.

All throughout the fire, there were about 40 settlers running about, as were many policemen and some 150 soldiers. The settlers were demonstratively friendly with the "security forces", who made no attempt to stop them from continuing to put trees on fire.