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Jerusalem Post: "Olive harvest has become more violent"

Includes mention of attack against Prof. Sternhell, the Peace Now "bounty" leaflet, and death threats against Peace Now's Yariv Oppenheimer

Oct. 19, 2008

bt YAAKOV KATZ, YAAKOV LAPPIN and JPost.com staff

There have been close to 20 violent clashes between Jewish settlers and Palestinian farmers since the olive harvest in the West Bank began earlier this month, making the 2008 olive harvest one of the most violent in recent years, a top IDF officer told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

"There is more violence this year than in 2007, and there is, on average, about one incident a year," the officer said, adding that the IDF and Civil Administration were doing their utmost to ensure smooth harvesting for Palestinian farmers.

Responding to the violence, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that he did not believe Israel was doing enough to prevent attacks.

Abbas met with reporters in Ramallah on Sunday and called for international intervention in the West Bank, Israel Radio reported.

The PA president criticized Israel and encouraged Palestinians to plant olive trees in response to these acts of violence. He vowed he would personally fund the planting of one million trees in the West Bank.

On Saturday, settlers from the Jewish community in Hebron clashed with Palestinian farmers who came to harvest an olive grove near the Tel Rumeida neighborhood. Three left-wing activists were arrested following the incident for allegedly violating an order that declared the Tel Rumeida area a closed military zone.

The officer told the Post that before the season began, the IDF had mapped out the different "hot spots" in the West Bank where violence between settlers and farmers was likely to erupt. The Civil Administration was successful last year in settling ownership disputes over land in the West Bank, as a result of which Palestinians were able to harvest more land this season.

He went on to say that contrary to last year and as an indication of how seriously the IDF viewed the issue, the Civil Administration was providing OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni with daily updates on the harvest's progress.

"We cannot station soldiers and policemen next to every olive tree," the officer said. "The IDF identified the traditional hot spots as well as those that it assessed could flare up and decided to put the focus there. But even in those places, it is impossible to be there 24 hours a day."

The officer said that the IDF was not surprised by the rise in violence this year and had felt, in its assessments prior to the harvest, that both sides were more radical and more likely to clash in comparison to last year.

"We were prepared [for the possibility] that there would be more incidents this year," he said. "There was a feeling in the air that this would happen on both sides - the settlers and the Palestinians."

The IDF, the officer said, made daily changes to its deployment in the West Bank during the olive season and in line with developments on the ground, such as Saturday's violence.

Also on Sunday, several left-wing activists who came to help the Palestinian farmers harvest their olive groves were arrested.

Police said a number of Israeli and foreign activists had arrived in Mitzpe Shai together with a group of Palestinians to pick olives. Judea and Samaria police showed the group a decree that said the area was a closed military zone.

"The group was given a reasonable amount of time to leave the area," Judea and Samaria police said. "The group did not leave. Three foreign [activists] and one Israeli female activist were detained. Afterwards, the [remainder of the] group dispersed."

Tel Aviv Police, meanwhile, launched an investigation into death threats made against Peace Now head Yariv Oppenheimer.

According to a police spokeswoman, graffiti addressed to Oppenheimer was found spray-painted on a Tel Aviv wall, reading, "Your end is near."

A police spokeswoman said the threats were being taken seriously, and patrols around his Tel Aviv home would be stepped up.

The incident came a month after left-wing political science professor Ze'ev Sternhell was lightly wounded when a pipe bomb exploded outside his Jerusalem apartment. Leaflets found at the scene offered a NIS 1 million prize to anyone who killed a member of Peace Now, with which Sternhell was loosely affiliated. Police suspect the bomb had been set by right-wing activists.

Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.