Israeli officials slammed UN special envoy Robert Serry’s comments Tuesday equating alleged settler vandalism against olive trees to terrorism, saying such an equation was “absurd” and “reprehensible.”
Serry, attending an olive harvest event with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the West Bank village of Turmus Aiya, near the Shiloh settlement, said the olive tree was a significant Palestinian symbol.
“There could be nothing more symbolic here in Palestine than to participate in the olive harvest. The harvest is an act of identity and self-reliance. It is a symbol of a people’s unyielding attachment to their homeland,” he said.
The settler violence against Palestinian olive farmers, he continued, has only served to underscore the urgency to end Israel’s “occupation of the West Bank.”
“In recent weeks in this village alone, settler extremists have destroyed hundreds of trees by poison or by knocking them down,” Serry said. “The same story can be told by villagers in many other places. I am appalled at acts of destruction of olive trees and farmlands, desecration of mosques and violence against civilians.”
He called on Israel to protect the Palestinian farmers against such violence.
“Israel states its condemnation of attacks, and I welcome this,” Serry added. “But its record in imposing the rule of law on settlers is lamentable. Israel must combat violence and terror by Israelis, as is expected of the Palestinian Authority in the case of violence and terror by Palestinians.”
It was Serry’s characterization of “terror by Israelis” as similar to that of the Palestinians that infuriated some Israeli officials.
“We understand Robert Serry’s condemnation of violent action by a certain number of settlers, but the Israeli government strongly condemns them and [has] instructed the law enforcement agencies to crack down on the perpetrators, even before this advice from the UN envoy,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.
“As for the use of the word ‘terror,’ does he want to make believe that there are Israeli suicide bombers attacking Palestinians buses?” he asked. “One cannot understand this absurd equation. The Israeli government has acted with determination against violence directed against Palestinians, with a number of offenders brought to trial and an unambiguous approach by the Israeli justice system to this problem.”
Another government source said he found “reprehensible” a comparison of vigilante actions against trees, actions which he condemned strongly, “with the murdering of civilians.”
He added, “This is a problematic comparison that just shouldn’t be made.”
Residents of the nearby Shilo settlement said they were disappointed Serry did not visit their community as well, so that he could hear from both sides.
According to Yisrael Medad of Shiloh, their olives groves were vandalized three times in the last month and hundreds of kilograms of olives were stolen, he believes by Palestinians.
Two months ago, he said, over 60 dunams of fields near Esh-Kodesh in the Shiloh bloc were torched and destroyed by area Palestinians.