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Israeli injured when settlers fire at Israeli and Palestinian olive pickers

TOVAH LAZAROFF | 21.10.2002 09:55

OCCUPIED PALESTINE-Oct. 19, 2002-An Israeli was lightly wounded when settlers fired warning shots on Saturday at a large group of Israeli human rights activists and the Palestinians they were helping to harvest olives in the hills near Yitzhar and Itamar in Samaria.

The shooting was the latest in a series of incidents this month in which settlers have harassed, stoned, and shot at Palestinian olive harvesters as well as activists that are helping them.

Israeli Amiel Vardi said he was picking olives near Yitzhar with five Palestinians when a number of settlers arrived and starting shouting at them. They did not respond. "Then the settlers started shooting," Vardi said.

The Palestinians fled, but Vardi remained. He came out from under the tree where he had been working and shouted at the settlers, "I am an Israeli. If you go on shooting, you will hit an Israeli," Vardi said.

"During my army service I was shot at several times. I was always scared. This time I wasn't. It was crazy. I was just furious. I stood there and shouted again, 'I am an Israeli.' One of the settlers shouted 'dirty leftist' and shot at me. It hit the ground a meter and a half away from me. I shouted to the settler, 'You got it, you hit me.'"

In truth, Vardi said, he was hit in the stomach by a piece of debris from the ground.

Adam Keller, a spokesman for the activist group Gush Shalom, said that 250 activists from a number of groups such as Peace Now, Ta'ayush (Jewish-Arabic partnership), and the Women's Peace Coalition arrived in the area around 11 a.m.. They were split into small groups.

Keller said he was picking olives with a Palestinian family when he heard gun shots. Everyone ran for cover near some stones.

"We looked back and we saw four settlers wearing black trousers and white shirts. They were in their best clothes with guns pointing in our direction." The shooting seemed to go for 10 minutes, Keller said.

When the army arrived they tried to send the harvesters home, but in the end agreed to allow them to continue in limited areas.

One of the Israeli activists, Liora, told The Jerusalem Post Internet Staff that her group had arrived at an olive grove near Yitzhar, at around 1 p.m. local time Saturday.

"They (the settlers) started shooting at us when we were there for only about 10 minutes," she said. Even though they were most of the fire was shot in the air, she said they could not know that at the time." We just ran away."

Later the olive pickers resumed their work, but were moved by the IDF to a grove some 300 meters away, in what she termed "an attempt by the IDF to minimize 'friction' with the settlers."

National Police spokesman Gil Kleiman said there were two confrontations in which shots were fired. Four settlers were detained by police and then released.

On October 6, when a 24-year-old Palestinian, Hani Yusaf of Akraba, was killed while harvesting olives near Hirbat Yanun and Itamar. The bullet is being tested and a number of settlers have been questioned concerning the murder. One was arrested and then released, Kleiman said. The matter is still under investigation.