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Tree-Cutting "Libel" - Once Again, Jews Stand Accused

Once again, reports that Jewish settlers cut down Arab-owned olive trees are suspected to be a "left-wing provocation" against the Jews of Judea and Samaria.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 11/28/2005, 11:46 AM / Last Update: 11/28/2005, 11:38 AM

It was widely reported Sunday, in the name of Arab sources in the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas, that Jewish settlers from the Shomron had chopped down 200 olive trees owned by Arabs. The Ynet site, for instance, wrote, "Palestinian sources reported that settlers from an outpost near Elon Moreh had cut down" the trees.

The reports were immediately followed by condemnations of the Jewish population in the Shomron and Israel's rule there. The extremist left-wing organization "Peace Now" released a statement saying that the incident was a direct result of the lack of law enforcement in the areas and the continuing "problem of the [Jewish] outposts."

However, the Yesha Council looked into the matter and said that though "we condemn all violence, including harming Palestinian property," it had found that the incident was apparently a provocation staged by extreme left-wing activists who "wish to sully their Jewish brothers, while at the same time extending their hand to terrorists."

The residents of Elon Moreh, in a statement, "wish to emphasize that we have no connection with this incident, which is based on the testimony of a single Arab."

A widely-published AP photo of an Arab woman weeping and embracing an allegedly chopped-down tree (similar photos were taken by Reuters, AFP, and others] shows that the trunk is intact, and that only the top branches are cut off - as if it had been purposely pruned. In fact, the Haifa-based Land of Israel Task Force says that this is exactly what happened.

"The left-wingers and Arabs pulled the same trick last year," Task Force head Aviad Visuly said, "and using the same method." Photos of the trees show that the branches were sawed off in a manner that is beneficial to the trees. "Why would vandals bother sawing off each individual branch? Wouldn't they just cut down the trunk?"

The branches begin growing back 2-3 months after they are cut, and grow to full size within two years. "In the meanwhile," Visuly said, "the orchard owners receive stipends from the Saudis, via the PA."

Visuly said that left-wing activists look for trees that have been pruned, and then blame the Jews for cutting them. "They have even admitted to the police that they do this," he said, "such as in the case of Ein Avus near Hawara [south of Shechem]. In that incident, they blamed the people of [nearby] Yitzhar, because Yitzhar was a convenient media target. Two Jews were arrested for five days and were then released with no charges whatsoever. Today, it's convenient for them to accuse the people of Elon Moreh. If the police had an investigator who was half-fair, he would throw the case out."

Two years ago, a similar story on Arutz-7 began as follows: "It led to anti-settler headlines, international embarrassment for the State of Israel, condemnations, and apologetics - and yet it all may have been one big bluff, or worse." At the time, international media reported as fact that Jews had destroyed the Arab trees, and President Katzav and Prime Minister Sharon issued statements implying that the Jews were responsible. Even the Yesha Council said that the tree-cutting had "defamed the entire sector of Jews living in Judea, Samaria and Gaza."

What went under-reported was that the police began to suspect that left-wing Israelis and Arabs were behind the incident. The police even asked Rabbi Arik Asherman of the Reform Movement and an Arab who filed charges against Jewish Yesha residents to submit to lie-detector tests - but it was reported at the time that the two had refused.

A Jewish National Fund expert brought in by the police concluded that no lasting damage was done to the trees, and that the tree-cutters did not "cut down" the trees, but rather "pruned" them.