- Title: WEST BANK: Barrier clashes threaten olive harvest
- Date: 18th October 2008
- Summary: PALESTINIAN PROTESTERS PRAYING THEIR FRIDAY PRAYERS INSIDE OLIVE GROVE POLICEMEN WALKING AMONG TREES VARIOUS OF PALESTINIAN AND INTERNATIONAL PROTESTERS, THROWING STONES AND EVADING TEAR GAS GRENADES SHOT BY BORDER POLICEMEN VARIOUS OF POLICEMEN SHOOTING TEAR GAS AND RUBBER COATED BULLETS TOWARDS PROTESTERS/ PROTESTERS EVADING SHOOTING VARIOUS OF POLICEMEN SHOOTING TOWARDS VILLAGE / PROTESTER HURLING STONES POLICEMEN WALKING IN GROVE, WEARING HELMETS PALESTINIAN AMBULANCE ARRIVING AT THE SCENE VARIOUS OF PALESTINIANS HARVESTING OLIVES, NEAR THE JEWISH SETTLEMENT OF HASHMONAIM VARIOUS OF ISRAELI BULLDOZERS WORKING ON INFRASTRUCTURE FOR SEPARATION BARRIER
- Embargoed: 2nd November 2008 12:00
- Topics: Crime / Law Enforcement,Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA6678M0V0SKC6ME26UMW4J71K1
- Story Text: Harvesting olives is a laborious process, not made easier if tear-gas is drifting over the groves as it does most Fridays here in the occupied West Bank, where Israeli-Palestinian clashes are almost ritual.
Ram Kaho, an Israeli border police officer whose squad of 40 patrols one of the many fault-lines on the tense interface between the two communities, says this happens two or three times a week, with emphasis on Fridays.
Kaho's sector is where the Jewish settlement of Hashmonaim rubs up close to the Arab village of Nilin -- soon to be cut off by the barrier Israel is building in the valley between.
"From the perspective of our forces, we have in comparison with other areas a lot of injuries in this region," he says. "This area is very problematic and difficult."
Israeli settlements on occupied land in the West Bank are perhaps the most contentious issue in the way of a peace settlement with the Palestinians ending decades of conflict.
The Nilin clashes have been going on for about a year.
In 2004, the World Court in The Hague ruled that Israel's proposed 720-km (430-mile) barrier on occupied Palestinian land -- begun in 2002 -- was illegal.
Israel says the barrier, a mix of wire fence and concrete walls, keeps suicide bombers out of its cities.
When Kaho's police hear the Friday Muslim call to prayer from the hill opposite, they brace for action. They are sure that as soon as prayers are over, some Palestinians backed by international activist supporters, will begin throwing rocks.
A group of figures appears among the olive trees and prickly-pear cactus on the rocky hillside opposite. Kaho raises his binoculars and speaks into his radio. There are several bangs, then grey puffs of tear-gas smoke blossom on the slope.
The distant figures scatter, blurred by the heat haze. The purpose of the presence of border police forces in the area, according to the major, is preventing the protesters from attacking the bulldozers and the caterpillar-tracked diggers that are breaking up rock for the wall's foundations in the dry little valley just beneath his position.
Half-way up the hill, a couple of young Palestinian men and their father perch on ladders, stripping blue-black olives from a tree onto canvasses spread on the ground below.
They seem oblivious of the flying whiz and exploding pop of tear-gas canisters just up the slope. But the breeze soon blows acrid fumes over the small stony terrace of ochre soil where they are working.
One of the family members told Reuters that normally more people from the village would come to harvest the olives, but because of the situation, they prefer sending the young kids home in fear of their safety.
The protesters are no match for the Israelis, who have automatic weapons and armoured jeeps. Three Palestinians have been shot dead in the West Bank over the past four days, for aiming firebombs at troops, the army says.
Kaho says that his forces are trying hard to avoid use of lethal weapons. He relies on an arsenal of gas and stun grenades, or "shock weapons" as he calls them, to keep the stone-throwing attackers at bay.
The olive harvesters are allowed to get on with their work but when the protesters mingle among them, they start to worry, according to Kaho, 37, who has a livid scar above his left eye from a stone propelled by a Palestinian sling-shot.
An ambulance with flashing red light appears higher up the ridge, lurching slowly down a stony track to where someone has apparently been injured.
The Palestinians say the wall takes big bites out of their land and divides families. Legal challenges have forced a re-routing of some small sections but stone-throwing attacks have not stopped it being built.
The officer sets off to lead his helmeted squad up the dusty hill, through the trees and onto flatter ground. A stun grenade goes bang and the sound of rifles firing follows. Rubber bullets are being used, says another officer.
At a safe distance, by the checkpoint guarding Hashmonaim settlement, about 40 right-wingers have turned out to support the police, waving white-and-blue Israeli flags, singing songs.
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