Olmert´s Message: Olive Tree-Cutting Vandals Must be Dealt With

Acting PM Olmert chose to issue & publicize two statements during the Cabinet meeting he ran today in place of Ariel Sharon, sharply condemning those who cut down Arab-owned olive trees in Samaria.

Hillel Fendel , | updated: 11:46

Olmert's first statement was, "I condemn the phenomenon of cutting down olive trees, and I call upon the Attorney General to take action against the wild people responsible for this."

Press reports widely assumed that the olive tree vandals are Jewish residents of Shomron communities - even though in the past this supposition has been all but negated. In addition, no Jews have ever been caught and/or accused of this crime.
On the contrary, there is evidence that left-wing activists are behind the accusations, even though Arabs themselves may have pruned the trees.

During today's Cabinet meeting, when Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz reported that 2,400 trees had been cut down by Jewish settlers, Olmert furthered his attack. "I didn't realize the extent of the phenomenon," Olmert said, adding that those who are responsible must be brought to justice.

Reports that Jewish settlers have cut down olive trees have abounded over the past week, but many suspect them of being merely a "left-wing provocation" against the Jews of Judea and Samaria. The Yesha Council found that similar reports six weeks ago were 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, who were specifically named in connection with those accusations, said in a statement, "We wish to emphasize that we have no connection with this incident, which is based on the testimony of a single Arab."

"The left-wingers and Arabs pulled the same trick last year," Land of Israel 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?"

Visuly said that left-wing activists look for trees that have been pruned, and then blame the Jews for cutting them. 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."

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.

Olmert said at the beginning of today's meeting, "I imagine that if I would have been able to speak to Arik [Sharon] today and ask him what he wants us to do, he would have said, 'I appreciate very much your concern for my health, but it's important for you to get back to work and run the country and ensure its security, economy and society.'"

Olmert read off a list of heads of state who had sent their wishes of good health to Prime Minister Sharon.