Responding to damage claim, the state claims ‘price tag’ victims at fault for failing to duly protect their land.
By Amira Hass, Dec. 26, 2013
The state is claiming that Palestinians who were the recent target of a “price tag” attack are to blame for their misfortune – because they failed to adequately protect their plot of land.
This position arises from the state’s response to a damages claim filed by the owners of an olive grove situated in Area C, under full Israeli military and civilian control. The IDF, for its part, is refusing to install lighting around the olive grove to protect it from future vandalism, arguing that a claim for damages has already been filed.
The grove, which belongs to the Amour family, lies adjacent to highway 317 in the southern Hebron hills, across from A-Tawani village, the settlement of Maon and the outpost Havat Maon. This case can well serve as a litmus test for the seriousness of declarations made by civilian and military authorities, according to which they will take action against price tag vigilantes.
In 2006, unknown persons cut down all 120 trees in the grove. In 2011, part of a surrounding fence was destroyed and a tree was felled. On the night of May 9 of this year, half of the trees belonging to the Amour family were chopped down, and the act was accompanied by a message sprayed in Hebrew letters, saying that “price tag is fed up with thieves – mutual responsibility” and “regards from Eviatar”. The perpetrators used hand saws to achieve their mission.
After each of the incidents, the Amour family filed a complaint with the police, asking for protection against future vandalism.
Ten days after the third incident, attorney Itai Mack, representing the family, appealed to Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz, who was then head of the Civil Administration in the territories, asking him to specify what actions he would undertake to prevent further acts of vandalism. Mack was relying on a 2006 decision by the High Court of Justice which ruled that the authorities must “devote manpower for the protection of Palestinian property, must open an immediate inquiry when reports of harassment are received, and send out patrols by security forces to locate such activities.”
Almoz’s bureau responded by saying that the person to handle such matters was Lt. Ronnie Rivlin, the officer in charge of public complaints at the IDF’s Central Command. However, two letters to Lt. Rivlin, sent on May 23 and June 5 by attorney Mack, went unanswered.
On June 13 Mack filed a claim for damages against the state, amounting to 65,840 shekels ($18,709) since, according to him, “the state’s incompetence, negligence and lack of serious attention to the complaints only encouraged extremist Israelis to continue their actions, giving them a sense of immunity vis-à-vis law enforcement authorities.” Mack mentioned in his petition that the state routinely safeguards the property of settlers and funds security measures for them, such as fences and surveillance cameras.
The state’s response to the petition was brought on October 20 by attorney Moshe Vilinger. It says that “the state’s contention is that the bulk of the blame lies with the plaintiff, who at the very least was a main contributor to the damage. The state claims that the plaintiff did not take sufficient measures to prevent the incident. For example, the plaintiff claims that had the defendant had set up lighting, the incident would have been avoided. However, he decided to wait it out, relying on security forces and the authorities to undertake an action which he could have resorted to himself.” The attorney also argued that the vandals were not emissaries of the state, which did not sanction or approve their actions.
In the meantime, the officer in charge of public complaints responded to Mack on October 3, and upon her suggestion, on October 28 representatives of the Judea and Samaria legal counsel and officers of the Civil Administration toured the grove in order to investigate methods of protecting it. A month later, unknown persons vandalized an adjacent grove belonging to another family.
In response to a query from Haaretz regarding the setting up of lighting around the grove, the military spokesman said this week that “the family’s request was carefully addressed, including tours to the area. The family chose to turn to the courts before a decision was reached by the IDF. The issue is now being handled by the legal system, and the family will be notified in the customary manner when a decision is reached.”