Wednesday, February 07, 2007
International Olive Tree Planting Day, February 3rd 2007
posted by Frubious Bandersnatch

At 9.30 am on Saturday February 3rd, a group of about 40 international volunteers gathered at the YMCA office in Beit Sahour for the first international planting day of the Joint Advocacy Initiative Olive Tree Campaign in 2007 (www.ej-ymca.org). The Olive Tree Campaign aims to replant uprooted trees, and to plant trees on land that is threatened with confiscation by the Israeli authorities, with the help of international church groups and peace activists. Since the outbreak of the Intifada, over half a million olive trees have been uprooted throughout the Palestinian Territories, decimating the rural economy and the morale of the people. International Planting Day is an exercise in awareness raising, as well as an opportunity for fundraisers to participate in olive tree planting. Besides this, the presence of international volunteers acts as some deterrent against unwarranted interference and sabotage by Israeli settlers or Security forces. The diverse group this year consisted of British, Norwegian, French, German, Italian and American volunteers, as well as both Palestinian and Israeli peace activists.
Planting for the Olive Tree Campaign began in mid January this year, and so far over 5000 trees have been planted in 78 fields in the Bethlehem, Salfit and Hebron areas of the West Bank. A further 2000 or more trees will be planted, mainly around Jenin and Gaza by mid March.

International planting day this year took place at Ein al Qassis (Reverend’s Spring) at Al Khader, a village very close to Bethlehem. This village is surrounded on three sides by the Israeli settlements of Har Gilo, Betar Illit, Neve Daniyyel and Efrat. Several of these settlements are currently expanding, with outposts of caravans occupying the hilltops bordering the villagers’ lands. It is worth noting that all of these settlements are well to the Palestinian side of the 1967 armistice line (Green Line), which runs to the north of Battir (see map), and hence are illegal under international law. Settlement expansion threatens Palestinian livelihoods as it goes hand in hand with land confiscation, harassment of civilians and appropriation of water resources.


Map of Bethlehem area showing Al Khader Village and the Israeli settlements around it (prepared by ARIJ - www.arij.org)













There have been several reports of increasingly violent behaviour by the settlers at the outposts around Al Khader, with farm animals being attacked and killed, trees and storage sheds destroyed, and farmers beaten and attacked by dogs whilst trying to access their fields. The settlers have a vested interest in preventing the farmers from working their land, as under Israeli law, dating back to the Ottoman era, land that is ‘abandoned’ and left uncultivated for a period of 4 years becomes state property. Thus if farmers cannot work their land it is seized by the Israeli government, and will doubtless be allocated to the settlers.

In addition, the route of the Separation Barrier is very close to the built-up part of Al Khader village, and when completed will cut off access to 90 % of the village’s agricultural land. In recent years, villagers have suffered greatly, both from land confiscation, destruction of property and settler violence and intimidation. According to the database of the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (ARIJ, 2005), over 10 000 trees have been uprooted in this area since the year 2000. Furthermore, several wells and 25 homes have been demolished. As a farming community, the people of Al Khader have been economically decimated by these actions, as well as emotionally demoralized. The crumbling economy of Bethlehem city, which has suffered from the demise of the tourist industry in recent years, has no capacity to absorb the ruined farmers of Al Khader and if current trends continue, their future looks grim indeed.

On Saturday, over 250 trees were loaded onto trucks by the volunteers at the YMCA, and driven to fields belonging to three different farmers from Al Khader, to the south of the village, near Neve Danniyyel settlement. Here they were planted, with the help of the farmers whose land it is. Work went well apart from a brief interruption by settlers from a new caravan outpost nearby, who attempted to prevent the planting and called out the Israeli army to evict the volunteers and land owners. After some time, the army arrived and requested that the group leave the field closest to the settlement, brandishing a military order declaring it a closed military zone. They also attempted to arrest a young Palestinian volunteer, but after the intervention of Ecumenical Accompaniers and Israeli peace activists, he was released. The group moved on and continued planting at a field further from the outpost and closer to Al Khader village. Shortly after all the trees were planted, rain began to fall, watering these newest seeds of hope for Al Khader.
2 Comments
Anonymous Anonymous
You forgot to mention the part where you destroyed a bustan belonging to the "new" outpost.
10:14 PM  
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