JERUSALEM — Jewish settlers who vandalise Palestinian trees are not being brought to justice, with police inquiries repeatedly failing to lead to prosecutions, a human rights group said on Tuesday.
In an examination of around 100 Palestinian complaints of damage to their trees, Yesh Din researchers found that the police investigations did not result in a single indictment, with cases closed on grounds of insufficient evidence or "unknown perpetrator."
Conducted over a five-year period, the study tracked 97 cases where trees were vandalised, most of them olive trees, the group said.
"Not a single one of the monitored 97 cases under police investigation has yielded an indictment against those suspected of involvement in vandalising Palestinian-owned trees," said Yesh Din (Volunteers for Human Rights).
This year's olive harvest began earlier this month, ushering in a season which is often fraught with acts of harassment or violence against Palestinian farmers by Jewish settlers.
Israel's failure to prosecute the vandals only serves to encourage those behind the attacks to continue, head researcher Lior Yavne said.
"The law enforcement authorities are not responding to the ongoing harm done to the livelihood of Palestinian families," he said.
The fact that every case had been closed for lack of evidence or because the perpetrator was not known was "tantamount to an admission of failure" by the authorities, he said.
"This failure only increases this phenomenon, as the assailants are not punished, and therefore are not discouraged from repeating their offences".
Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld had no immediate information about the cases cited in the report, but said that since October 8, when the harvest began, police had received 27 complaints from Palestinians in connection with damage to or theft of trees.
"Until now, 16 people have been arrested in connection with these complaints and these cases are still under investigation," he told AFP.
This year's harvest has already seen more vandalism against trees than in the past few years, the Haaretz newspaper reported on Tuesday, citing an internal document from the defence ministry.
Over the past two weeks, some 500 Palestinian olive trees and 100 settler-owned trees have been cut down, poisoned with weed killer or set alight, the paper said.
Annual figures compiled by Yesh Din about complaints of settler offences against Palestinians have repeatedly shown that nine out of 10 police investigations fail to lead to a prosecution.
About 45 percent of farmland in the West Bank and Gaza is given over to olive production with approximately 10 million trees, said a report released on Friday by aid organisation Oxfam.
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