MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
In the occupied West Bank this week, Israeli authorities forcibly evacuated an illegal outpost established by a group of Jewish settlers. The settlers responded with an attack on nearby Palestinian property. As NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports, it's a tactic the settlers are calling the price tag.
LOURDES GARCIA: Ahmed Ghanem's fields and olive orchard lie just between the Jewish settlements of Kedumim and Yitzhar in the northern part of the West Bank. Last Sunday, Israeli police evicted a group of settlers who had established a small illegal outpost near one of the settlements. A few hours later, some 20 settlers set fire to Ghanem's orchard, he says. Standing on a craggy outcrop, the Palestinian farmer surveys the damage.
AHMED GHANEM: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA: It's the olive harvest season now, he says, and the attack couldn't have happened at a worst time.
GHANEM: (Through Translator) They managed to burn my land and the land of my neighbor, and they burned 150 trees.
GARCIA: Ghanem says there's little he can do to protect his property.
GHANEM: (Through Translator) The settlers can do whatever they want. I am helpless.
GARCIA: Ghanem was the victim of a new tactic extremist settler groups call the price tag. Each time an illegal settler outpost is evacuated by Israeli authorities, the settlers retaliate with an attack on Palestinian land or property.
MICHAEL SFARD: We've been monitoring this in Yesh Din for the last, at least, I think a year.
GARCIA: Michael Sfard is a lawyer who works with Israeli human rights group, Yesh Din
SFARD: Oh, it's quite smart but evil. The security forces will have to divert the resources, manpower and energy to deal with the new problem.
GARCIA: According to a Palestinian Authority official who deals with the settlements issue, since the beginning of the year, 3,400 trees have been destroyed in settler attacks in just this part of the West Bank. Sfard says the tactic works. Because of the settler attacks, he says, Israeli courts are now more reluctant to approve petitions for the evacuation of illegal outposts.
SFARD: I mean, the court tells me time and again: You know that it's not that simple to do what you're asking. And I'm always saying: Well, it means that being violent turns out to be a very clever thing to do.
GARCIA: A day after the attack on Ghanem's orchard, a group of settlers were back at the outpost that had been evacuated by Israeli authorities. The detritus of their scuffle with the police lay scattered on the ground. Nineteen-year-old Yishai Gilad says the Jews have the right to the land here.
YISHAI GILAD: (Through Translator) We are here to show that we can build freely. The land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. We are settling here and in other places because it's our right.
GARCIA: Gilad says he was not responsible for the burning of Ahmed Ghanem's olive trees, but he won't discuss it further.
The Israeli Army has just ordered some extremist settlers to leave the West Bank for their alleged involvement in attacks on Palestinian property. The Israeli authorities have also announced that during the olive harvest, a number of areas of potential friction will be closed to Israelis to protect Palestinian workers, and the government says it will continue to dismantle illegal settlement outposts. Some in the settler movement are questioning the price tag tactic. Daniela Weiss says she doesn't think it's the right way forward.
DANIELA WEISS: I'm not interested in how to retaliate, what to do to this Arab or what to do to this soldier, and I'm not interested in it, and I do not believe in it. I believe that sitting in the night on a hilltop with five boys and encouraging them to cling hard to that soil, to that hill, is the number one effort that needs my support. And to this, I dedicate myself every day, every night, every second of my life.
GARCIA: Other settler groups NPR contacted by phone also distanced themselves from the price tag attacks while acknowledging that they are likely to continue.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro. NPR News.
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