Why won’t the army stop the theft of Palestinian trees?

Time and time again, the saplings in the West Bank village Sinjil are stolen by Israeli settlers. Meanwhile, the army turns the other cheek, neglecting its obligation to protect the occupied population under its rule.

By Yesh Din (written by Yossi Gurvitz)

In early January 2014, after wandering the bureaucratic desert for over a year, the International Red Cross and the residents of Sinjil in the West Bank managed to get permission to plant 7,500 trees in the northern side of the village. Their joy didn’t last long: settlers began targeting the new saplings almost immediately.

The first attack occurred on January 22nd. The deputy chairman of the local council, Rabkhi Hassin ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz Gafri, received a message from one of the farmers working on the project that a massive theft had taken place. An Israeli District Coordination Office (DCO) officer rushed to the scene, followed by the police. A thousand saplings were stolen that night. Gafri, who estimated the damage at several thousand shekels, noted the following: the theft took place between a military post and the illegal outpost of Givat Harel; the military base is 200 meters from the scene; and that it is equipped with security cameras. Therefore, he was hopeful that the crime would be solved.

Ten days later, on February 2nd, Gafri received another urgent call. Once again, saplings were stolen – this time, about 1,200 of them. Once again, the DCO was called and once again the police arrived on the scene. Gafri repeated what he previously noted: the presence of the military post, just over 200 meters away, with security cameras. In his frustration, he told the investigator the following:

I told the investigator he should check my computer for the number of complaints I made against the settlers, in my own name alone, and that nothing came of them. Where is law enforcement? The situation is only getting worse. I told him we’re talking about a huge number of plants. It takes four hours to uproot them… where is the army? There is a military base overlooking the area. Where are the soldiers, where are their security cameras? Go to the cameras and check them. He just listened and was silent.

Gafri justly noted that the region is under Israeli control, and that Israel is responsible for the security of its residents.

And again, one week later: same place, another theft. This time, the thieves managed to get their hands on only 500 saplings. And this time, it was the Israeli DCO who called the Palestinians.

The uprooting of hundreds of saplings requires a team of several people, working for several hours. The Palestinians estimate this would require four hours. Even if we assume that they exaggerated and that two hours would be enough, there is a military base 200 meters away, equipped with security cameras, which managed three times in a row to not see a group of people coming down and carrying engaging in physical activity for quite a while – an activity we can assume is not very quiet.

These incidents, which take place time after time, can be explained in two ways. The first is that the IDF troops are thick screw-ups, who fail to notice an incident 200 meters from them even after being warned. The other explanation is that they don’t feel like noticing it; why do they need the pain in the neck of going out at night in order to scare away Israeli citizens who, after all, are only stealing the property of, you know, Palestinians.

The planting of the trees, we remind you, is a Red Cross project. This is the level of protection the IDF is either capable of or willing to – and as every IDF soldier knows, “can’t” is akin to “won’t” – provide to a project by one of the most important international organizations. It is also important to point out that the primary duty of the IDF, as an occupying force, is to provide protection to the occupied population and its property. It has been avoiding this duty for decades.

Keep this in mind next time someone speaks of the “most moral army in the world.”

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights. A version of this post was first published on Yesh Din’s blog. 

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