Calling on Israel to ensure the farmers’ safety, U.N. Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov told the Security Council on Monday: “Each year, the ability of Palestinians to harvest is compromised due to access restrictions, attacks and intimidation.”
Yigal Dilmoni, a spokesman for the settler council Yesha, said most of the accusations came from “dubious” sources.
“For many years now, extremist organizations… have been carrying out provocative actions and exploiting the harvest season to incite against Israeli civilians,” he said.
“I live on the ground and see thousands of Palestinians harvesting their olives daily without any problem.”
Around 430,000 Israeli settlers live among three million Palestinians in the West Bank, territory that Israel captured in 1967. Settlers have also been targets of Palestinian stabbing, shooting and car-ramming attacks.
Palestinians claim the West Bank for a future state. But Israel cites its security needs and historical ties to the region.
Tensions rose this summer over Palestinian fears that newly re-elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would implement pre-election promises to annex part of the West Bank.
Last week in Burqa, Reuters journalists there saw Palestinians and Israelis confronting each other. Israeli security forces intervened, firing tear gas and stun grenades towards Palestinians, who threw stones back.
A brush fire broke out amid the clashes and Israeli firing, and spread to nearby olive trees.
The Israeli military said security forces had coordinated with landowners to ensure safe picking, but were met with “rioters” hurling rocks.
“A few arson attempts were identified,” a military statement said. “Troops responded with riot dispersal means… During the incident, a fire broke out and several trees were damaged.”
The military said it “would not allow the olive harvest to be used in order to harm Israeli civilians or security forces.”
(Writing by Stephen Farrell and Rami Ayyub; editing by John Stonestreet)