Israeli forces prevent farmers from planting near Bethlehem

12:00 Feb 16 2014 Ghozlan area, southeast of Bethlehem

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces prevented Palestinian farmers and international solidarity activists from planting olive trees on private lands southeast of Bethlehem on Sunday.

Local land owner Hussein Asakra told Ma'an that the farmers headed to their private lands accompanied by dozens of solidarity activists in order to plant olive trees in the Ghozlan area near the Israeli settlement of Teqoa.

After the group had planted a hundred olive trees, Israeli forces approached them accompanied by settlers and forced the Palestinian farmers to leave their private lands at gunpoint.

An altercation occurred between the Palestinian farmers and Israeli forces when the farmers brought official papers proving their ownership of the lands, including a document issued by the Israeli administrative office.

Despite this, the Israeli officers insisted that the farmers and solidarity activists leave the scene, Asakra said.

The farmers said that the lands in question are 90 dunams (22 acres) and are owned by four families living in al-Asakira village. They said they had worked with an Israeli lawyer to acquire a warrant in order to access the lands, but that Israeli authorities had refused to abide by the court's decision and instead cooperated with the settlers to take control over the lands.

Asakra said he appreciated the international solidarity activists who came to support Palestinian farmers. He added that the Tuqu municipality had informed them that they would help provide water to irrigate the olive trees and the seedlings.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said that "Palestinians and activists" had planted in an area "not determined to be under Palestinian or Israeli control."

She added that Israeli soldiers arrived on the scene and "requested them to leave and they left peacefully."

Israeli settlers often harass Palestinian farmers who live near settlements and target local olive trees for destruction. As a result, solidarity delegations of foreigners frequently accompany local farmers to protect them from attack.

In 2012, there were 353 incidents of settler violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Over 90 percent of investigations into settler violence by Israeli police do not lead to an indictment.
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