Palestinians call for deterring Israeli settlers

Erekat: Our lands are neither for sale nor for rent

Israel bargains U.S. by calling for Pollard release in return for temporary freeze of settlement activities

French President Sarkozy discontented over Netanyahu’s balk to freeze settlement construction

Palestinian officials and religion leaders strongly condemned the Israeli settlers for sabotaging a church in Jerusalem and called on the international community to intervene "to stop these practices."

Nabil Abu Rdeineh, spokesman for the Palestinian presidency said in a press statement that "the ongoing settlers attacks on religious Islamic and Christian sites "is a proof that those settlers are nasty and barbarians and practice the most awful kind of terror in front of the Israeli army."

He warned of what he described as "the operations of revel committed by the settlers in the West Bank," saying "such actions would certainly undermine all the exerted efforts to save the peace process from the impasse it is passing through due to the Israeli government's rejection to freeze settlement."

Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad described the settlers' practices "as acts of terrorism." He called on the Israeli people "to confront this injustice, and stand against it, mainly against occupation, settlement, violence and terrorism and what the settlers are committing."

He reiterated that the "Palestinian people are insisting to keep living on their land and practice their legal rights on it despite the occupation, the settlement and the separation wall."

"All these actions and practices will one day end and our people will keep believing in their just cause," he said.

Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Reyad al-Malki, also condemned the attack on the church. He called on the international community "to stop the programmed war that is carried out by the settlers, who are fully protected by the Israeli army forces."

He warned of the dangers of the escalated Israeli actions and the settlers attacks on the Palestinian towns and cities " including destroying the Palestinian farmers crops and the ongoing attacks on the mosques and churches and expelling the Palestinians out of their lands."

Hassan Khater, chief of the Palestinian Islamic-Christian Corporation, considered the attack on the church "a serious crime, " saying that the attack on the church "is a serious indication of a programmed policy that targets the Palestinian holy sites."

"All the Palestinian Islamic and Christian holy sites in Palestine are all threatened and these places had become insecure due to the ongoing attack under the occupation," said Khater, who called for an immediate world intervention to stop these assaults.

Meanwhile, Sheikh Joma'a Salama, Imam of al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, said "the recent Israeli attacks didn't differentiate between a Moslem and a Christian and not between a mosque or a church," adding "such actions contradict with all religions and laws of the freedom of worshipping."

The National Christian Forum in the Holy Lands said in a statement that the attack on the church in Jerusalem is "part of the ongoing attacks on the Palestinian holy sites which had escalated since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office of a fanatic government."

Zakareya al-Mashriqi, one of the bishops in the city accused the Israeli settlers for burning and vandalizing one of the churches in the city of Jerusalem. A group of settlers "broke the back window of the two-store church and threw fire bombs inside," he said.

The Catholic Forum of Bishops for the Middle East called on Israel during a conference held on Oct. 23 in the Vatican to end its occupation of the Palestinian and Arab territories, adding that Israel "doesn't have the right to depend on the holy book to justify the settlement policy."

The Palestinians have accused the Israeli soldiers over the past three month of burning two mosques and a school in the West Bank and writing raciest slogans on its walls.

Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas expressed a Palestinian despair concerning "the silence of the international community towards the settlers' practices in Jerusalem and the West Bank, without pressuring enough on Israel to stop such actions."

Since 1967, about 120,000 settlers live with around 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank. Most of the time, tension in the enclave turns into violence.

Nearly 3,500 olive trees a week have been destroyed in the harvest’s first month after settlers set them alight, cut them down or poisoned them with chemicals, according to Palestinian officials. Reprisal attacks on settler produce have also been reported.

But in a fresh twist to the long-running saga of devastation, the two communities have planted record numbers of new saplings in a bid to entrench their rival claims over one of the world’s most bitterly contested territories.

Since 2007, Palestinian farmers have planted 200,000 saplings a year, double the average of previous years and Palestinian officials hope that subsidies will help raise the figure to 300,000.

With a sapling taking up to 35 years to produce fruit, the increase in production has little to do with economics -- but by planting new olive groves close to the settlements, the Palestinians hope to check the settlers’ appetite for territorial expansion in the West Bank by using up empty land before they do.

For the same reason, the settlers, regarded by the West as illegal squatters on occupied Palestinian land, have nearly tripled production to 20,000 new saplings a year.

The violence and vandalism perpetrated every year has become one of the uglier manifestations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, turning the olive from a symbol of reconciliation into an emblem of hatred and division.

This season has seen a surge in the olive assault as radical settlers in the West Bank, which has been under Israeli military occupation since the Six Day War of 1967, demonstrate their opposition to international calls for a renewed freeze on Jewish construction in the territory.

With a fortnight left before the end of the harvest, settlers have been accused of pouring chemicals on to trees, deliberately channeling treated sewage into olive groves, arson attacks and late night raids to chop down trees, some hundreds of years old.

Nazmi Hussein, who runs the family olive grove near the Jewish settlement of Har Bracha, said: “The settlers are like locusts. They eat everything, the dry and the green.”

With attacks on the olive groves being complemented by acts of vandalism on Palestinian schools and mosques, an Israeli army plan to halt the destruction this season appears to have failed.

Palestinian farmers have accused the Israeli military of siding with the settlers, many of whom view the West Bank as Biblical land given to them by God.

Settlers say they are just as frequently the victims of Palestinian attacks on their produce. In Har Bracha, Nir Lavy, the owner of a boutique vineyard, said that 40 of his vines had been cut down last year while he had been forced to put out four fires, all deliberately started.

Palestinian officials counter that the West Bank’s 300,000 settlers should not be there in the first place, pointing to international treaties that forbid civilian settlement by the natives of an occupying power.

By failing to rein in the settlers, not least by ordering a new construction freeze, Israel is demonstrating its insincerity in tackling one of the main issues threatening the viability of a future Palestinian state, they maintain.

“Settler attacks against Palestinian civilians show the real face of the Israeli colonization process,” said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator. “With more settlement construction, the Israeli government is rewarding the most extremist segments of their society.”

Meanwhile, Members of the Israeli Knesset parliament are calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to pardon American-born spy Jonathan Pollard, having been jailed in a maximum security facility since 1985.

Dozens of parliamentarians from across the political spectrum signed a letter asking Obama to release Pollard, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for handing classified documents to the Israeli intelligence while working as an analyst for the U.S. Navy.

Legislator Uri Ariel of the National Union party, who heads the "Free Pollard" lobby, initiated the letter to Obama, according to local daily Ma'ariv. He was joined by a group of activists and the Israeli Association of Social and Humanities Academics.

"A rare window of opportunity (to release Pollard) has recently opened in both Israel and the United States," Ariel said, "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will leave for the United States next week and we are doing everything possible to make sure he doesn't miss that opportunity."

Pollard is a former civilian intelligence analyst who worked for the U.S. Naval Investigative Service (NIS) division. The security clearance he was granted enabled him access to highly classified information.

In 1984, he met a member of the Israeli intelligence and began passing him sensitive materials which included, among other things, a manual that detailed America's global electronic surveillance network.

Israel officially denied any connection to Pollard immediately following his capture in 1985, a policy it maintained until 1998.

Some Israeli politicians have since lobbied for his release, including Netanyahu, who visited him in prison in 2002.

Several high-profile U.S. officials, including legislators, a former CIA director and former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in recent years pleaded various U.S. administrations to grant Pollard clemency.

The letter signed by Israeli legislators follows an op- ed published in the Los Angeles Times by Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, who wrote that Pollard's punishment "doesn't fit the crime."

"Pollard has already served far too long for the crime for which he was convicted, and by now, whatever facts he might know would have little effect on national security," Korb wrote.

In their letter to Obama, the Israeli parliamentarians note that Israel has already taken responsibility for Pollard's actions and apologized.

"Even senior officials in your administration, including your deputy, Joe Biden, and your advisor, Dennis Ross, have supported the claim that Pollard must be freed after serving more than ample prison time for the offense he committed," the letter reads.

Esther Pollard, wife of the convicted spy, said her husband's health is fast deteriorating behind bars.

Regarding Netanyahu's scheduled meeting with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden next week, she said she hoped the Israeli premier would pass on the request to "do the right thing and put an end to a 25-year nightmare."

On the other hand, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is outraged at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for withdrawing his participation in a Paris summit with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Ha'aretz daily reported.

The two leaders held a telephone conversation 10 days ago, during which Sarkozy had asked Netanyahu to extend the construction moratorium in West Bank settlements in a bid to resume peace talks with the Palestinians, the report said.

The French invitation to Netanyahu and Abbas was delivered in September with the expected goal of bringing the two sides together to overcome the building freeze dispute, which has brought the talks to an impasse.

Both leaders had accepted the invitation to the October 21 summit, but Netanyahu cancelled his participation "at the last minute."

The report quotes European diplomats who said Sarkozy was so outraged at the Israeli prime minister that other European leaders were informed about the contents of the telephone conversation.

The Israeli leader is said to have backed out of the event after realizing that the Obama administration "viewed it as a positive development."

"Netanyahu realized that he would come under enormous pressure on the issue of the settlements and decided to cancel his participation to avoid that pressure," the report quoted the diplomats.

Sources at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem rebuffed the report, saying the conversation between Netanyahu and Sarkozy was "a routine call between friends." They added that Netanyahu cancelled his participation after the Palestinians proposed political preconditions that Netanyahu was not willing to accept.

"There was a public invitation to come to the summit and Israel accepted," a government official told Xinhua on condition of anonymity. "Israel remains ready to attend," said the official.