Background: Settler attacks on Palestinians during the olive-picking season
During the olive harvest, numerous settlers attack Palestinians and destroy their property. For example, the settlers damage olive trees, steal crops, physically injure, and shoot at Palestinian farmers. As a result, the farmers have had difficulty in harvesting the olive crop. Since the beginning of the current intifada, the Palestinians’ reliance on farming has increased because of Israel’s sweeping restrictions on Palestinians entering Israel to work and on Palestinian movement within the Occupied Territories, which has led to many Palestinians losing their jobs. The effect of these restrictions has been devastating for the Palestinian population.
The Israel Police Force and the military are obligated to ensure the safety, property, and rights of the civilian population under occupation. Despite this obligation, and despite the defense establishment’s and the law enforcement authorities’ awareness of the settlers’ abuse of the Palestinian residents, the state has failed to safeguard Palestinian life and property. The state’s failures were also evident during the past olive harvest, during which the Police and the military chose, as in previous years, to handle the problem by restricting the entry of Palestinians to their farmland, while refraining from taking action against the settlers. This aspect of the problem is the subject of a petition to the High Court of Justice recently filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Physicians for Human Rights. Click here for information on the petition.
Description of the incident
The plaintiff in Civ. Comp. 11714/04 - Quq et al. v. State of Israel, a resident Turmus'ayya, Ramallah District, drove, on October 21 2002, the car belonging to his brother to the olive orchards near the village to assist his fellow villagers in the olive picking. The orchards are situated around three hundred meters from the Israeli settlement Shvut Rachel. Shortly after he arrived at the orchards, a white Subaru station wagon, bearing yellow [Israeli] license plates, approached from the direction of the Shvut Rachel settlement. Two settlers were in the vehicle, one of whom was Boaz, who was known to the villagers. The vehicle passed by the pickers and then returned to the settlement. The vehicle’s movements raised suspicions among the Palestinian olive pickers because of the many cases in which settlers from Shvut Rachel and Shilo had run wild and harassed Palestinians during the olive picking. In one such instance, a number of settlers from Shvut Rachel stole fourteen sacks of olives, damaged the vehicle of one of the farmers, and threatened to shoot farmers in order to expel them from the area.
One of the Palestinian farmers present in the orchards had called the Israeli District Coordinating Office in the morning, before the plaintiff arrived at the orchards, and informed the DCO official that the settlers were acting suspiciously in the area. He pointed out that no soldiers were at the site despite the prior arrangement made between the villages, the Palestinian DCO, and the Israeli DCO to protect the farmers from the settlers during the olive harvest. The official was surprised that the army had not yet arrived at the site, and said that he would send the army immediately. The plaintiff, who also wanted to warn about the suspicious movements of the settlers, contacted the police station in Beit El and spoke with an investigator, who also promised to send soldiers to the area.
A while later, a group of armed settlers, coming from the direction of Shvut Rachel, arrived at the orchards and spread out among the pickers. The plaintiff again called the Police in Beit El and described the immediate danger he and the other farmers faced, pointing out that the settlers were about to attack them. The policeman who answered the phone yelled at the plaintiff and slammed down the phone. The settlers physically attacked some of the pickers. In addition, one settler threw a stone at the front windshield of the car that the plaintiff had driven to the orchards. Another settler threw a grenade into the car, causing it to go up in flames. Settlers did the same thing to seven other vehicles, while another group of settlers threatened the farmers that they would shoot them if they approached the settlers.
Two and a half hours passed from the time that contact was first made with the Israeli DCO to the time that the soldiers arrived, and the settlers had already disappeared. Additional army and police forces came and positioned themselves around the Shvut Rachel settlement. When they arrived at the orchards, the soldiers asked the Palestinian farmers to leave the site within five minutes, threatening to take action against them if they did not obey.
The Palestinians’ whose vehicles had been torched, among them the plaintiff, went with the police officers to file a complaint. While on the way, as they passed the Shvut Rachel settlement, the plaintiff saw some of the belligerent settlers and the white Subaru that had been used by the assailants, and informed the police officer who was sitting with him in the back seat, but the officer told him to keep silent.
Correspondence with the authorities and the civil claim filed by HaMoked
After the plaintiff did not receive any update on investigation of his complaint, he contacted HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual. In March 2003, when HaMoked began its inquiry of the matter, it found that the file had been closed on grounds of insufficient evidence. Later, the organization was informed that there was one suspect. However, it was not until 12 October 2004 that the authorities completed their investigation of the incident.
On 20 October 2004, HaMoked filed a civil action for damages against the state for the damages suffered by the plaintiff and his brother, the owner of the car, including the damages for the car that was torched. Because of the loss of the car, which was used to transport goods from the metal and welding workshops operated by the brothers, they had to buy another vehicle and hire additional transport services.
The complaint states that the state was negligent in protecting the Palestinian farmers, despite the prior coordination between them that was intended to ensure that the army would prevent such incidents from occurring. The military and the Police ignored the pickers’ requests for assistance both before and during the attacks. The security forces’ failures continued: they refrained from checking the pickers’ claim, made just after the incident, that they saw the assailants and their vehicle, while the pickers were with security forces on the way to the Police station to file a complaint. The state also failed to thoroughly investigate the complaint and furthermore conducted the investigation at a snail’s pace. These failures also led to the loss of evidence that could benefit the plaintiffs in their claim. Although the military and the Police were aware, from past experience, that settlers attack Palestinians and their property during the olive harvest, they failed to prepare properly for the coming season, and thus gave a green light to the setters to treat as they wished the Palestinians and Palestinian property. In effect, the state allowed a situation in which the settlers were immune from punishment.
The civil action also contends out that the state and the security forces acting on its behalf breached its legislative obligations set forth in Israeli law and in international conventions to which Israel is party.