Saturday, October 20, 2018

Uprooted: Israeli settlers destroy crops and livelihoods in wave of “agricultural terrorism”


By Naomi Kundera - June 11, 2018
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Hebron] [agriculture] [settler violence]

Walking under the canopy of grapevines in the valley of Kafr Malik, the owner of the some 400 trees, Iyad Said Muadi, led the way through the sprouts of green bunches to the farthest corner of his crop. Suddenly, the encompassing green ended and was met with the shriveled brownness of death.

“I’ve been working for three years on this agriculture project,” Iyad told Palestine Monitor, “and they can come in one minute and destroy everything.”
 
Last week, four Israelis came down from a settlement up on a neighboring hill after the evening call to prayer, cut through a chain-linked fence, and severed 60 of Iyad’s grapevines from their roots. The settlers did not leave without further marking their presence with a crude slogan in Hebrew spray-painted on a nearby boulder.
 

A few green grapes still hang from the now-brittle branches of Iyad’s vines in a sad homage to possibilities lost.
 
But Iyad can be considered one of the lucky ones. His vines are only two to three years old and the settlers only destroyed about 20 percent of his crop.

Almost two weeks ago, at least three much more substantial attacks were reported in villages near Hebron. Over 800 grapevines, some as old as 20 years, were destroyed in Beit Einun and Halhoul. An entire wheatfield in al-Deirat was set ablaze. The owners of these crops are suffering monstrous economical setbacks, especially so close to the harvest season.

Settler attacks on Palestinian crops - or “agricultural terrorism” - is common. The current string of attacks has a lot to do with the nearing of the harvest season, which is purposefully planned by the settlers, but this form of violence is nothing new.

There are areas in the West Bank that experience violence against their land on almost a daily basis.
 
In the Salfeet governorate, where a whopping 22 hilltop settlements outnumber the 19 Palestinian villages still standing, agressions can be as “small” as stealing a few cows (damage valuing around $1100-$1500) or as detrimental as burning down hundreds of centuries-old olive trees (damage valuing over $55,000).

The economic impact of this very specific form of violence does not only impact the individual farmer, but the Palestinian economy as a whole.

According to the Palestinian Agricultural Assistance Programmes, an arm of Palestine’s Ministry of Agriculture that works in both the West Bank (AAWB) and Gaza (PSRG-A), the agriculture sector, “is a major contributor to the protection of land, achieving food security, providing jobs for 12% of the labour force, contributing to 5.6% of GDP and 12% of total exports.”

The AAWB programme has a record of claims from 2010 until today and although they don’t represent a steady linear trend, they are significant. Any given year within this recorded time period has witnessed as low as 140 claims (which can be translated into individual attacks on a single agricultural project) totalling almost $2 million in damages, which happened last year, to 745 claims totalling to over $14.6 million, like in 2013.

Over the past eight years, the AAWB has distributed $53,620,603 to farmers for damages to their agricultural projects caused by Israeli settlers. And yet this number doesn’t even come close to the actual costs of the damages, as its only the amount allocated to farmers as per their fund from the European Union and only accounts for direct value. The amount lost in production, or indirect value, is immeasurable.
 

Violence does not have a narrow definition of person to person bloodshed. In the West Bank, where illegal settlements dot the occupied territory like a creeping disease, violence can take many creative forms. The main objective of said violence is always the same: land grab.
 
Whether this systemic land grab comes from Israel through the military, businesses, or settlers is really a question of methodological differences.
 
“The difference between the settlers and the army,” Saad Khatib, Senior Advisor to Ministry of Agriculture, explained to the Palestine Monitor. “The settlers are haphazard, in the sense that there are droves that come down from the settlement and burn the trees or do things like poison the goats and poison the water. And they’re not organized very well.
 
“[Though the Israeli] army is organised. The army has the power to issue eviction notices. The army has the power to take over the land for a period of time up to 3 months for military trainings and operations. They take over land and claim it as state land. And eventually they give it to the settlers.”
 
And this is exactly what happened to Iyad Shakur in Salafeet. In 2011, settlers burned down 150 of his olives trees. The Israeli army then confiscated the land of tree trunk tombstones, which still looks exactly the same seven years later, and Iyad Shakur cannot have access without a special permit.
 
The settler violence against the Palestinians is intrinsically tied to the land. This is made evident by the “price tag” graffiti seen at attack sites but also by the fact that settlers experience full and complete protection from the Israeli military.
 
These acts of agricultural terrorism are not only meant to terrorize the daily lives of Palestinians, but they are methodological in stripping Palestinians further and further away from their land. 

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