By Khalid Amayreh
Palestinians say hundreds of thousands of grown olive trees were destroyed and uprooted by Israel in the past few years.
“Imagine watching the trees you planted and nurtured all your life being suddenly uprooted and destroyed by the callous blades of a huge caterpillar bulldozer,” weeps Abdullah al-Hurub, an elderly farmer from the village of Dir Samet, near the southern town of al-Khalil (Hebron).
“One raises the tree like he does his own child,” says an emotional al-Hurub.
Thousands of farmers have to struggle, nearly on a daily basis, with Israeli army troops and Jewish settlers who are pursuing a relentless campaign to destroy Palestinian olive orchards throughout the West Bank.
Olive trees, some a century old or older, are extirpated by heavy machinery and replanted at a neighboring Jewish settlement or kibbutz.
Al-Hurub, like other Palestinian farmers, are left completely helpless to stop the theft which takes place in broad daylight.
“You can imagine the anguish and the mental pain we suffer watching our life-long labor reduced to zero in a matter of a few minutes.”
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, there are as many as 10 million grown olive trees in the West Bank, covering more than 45 percent of arable land in the occupied territory.
The Israeli army has been targeting Palestinian olive orchards for many years.
However, the last two years saw a phenomenal increase in the destruction and bulldozing of olive fields.
Palestinian officials estimated that “hundreds of thousands of grown olive trees” were destroyed and uprooted by Israel in the past few years.
Most of these trees were destroyed by Israeli army bulldozers for the purpose of the construction the separation wall, which Israel claims is aimed at preventing Palestinian fighters from sneaking into Israel.
Israel is annexing large swathes of Palestinian land to build the wall.
In 2004, the International Court of Justice branded the 900 kilometers steel and concrete wall illegal.
The UN General Assembly has asked Israel to tear it down and compensate the Palestinians affected.
|The Israeli army has been targeting Palestinian olive orchards for many years.|
Initially, the Israeli occupation army granted the farmers special permits to plough and harvest their orchards.
However, in recent years, Israeli security officials have been turning back farmers and owners, telling them that their property was confiscated.
In some instances, security guards would tell the frustrated farmers that the person responsible for granting them permits had died and that the land was simply expropriated by the government.
When Mohammad Shawamreh, a farmer from the village of Dir al-Asal, 22 kilometers west of Al-Khalil, tried to access his olive orchard through a small opening in the wall, the Israeli guard trained his gun toward him.
“He said ‘if you walk another step, I’ll fire.’ I told him that I possessed a permit to enter my orchard but he wouldn’t listen,” Shawamreh told IOL.
“He said the man dealing with permits had died and that he didn’t know when a substitute would be hired in his place.”
Shawamreh described the Israeli measure of denying him and other farmers access to their land as “a scandalous act of theft.”
“First they told us this was a security barrier, not a border, then they told us that we would have constant access to our land, and now they are telling us the land has been confiscated,” he fumed.
“I don’t really know if we are dealing with a state or with a gang of criminals and liars?”
Asked why he doesn’t take his case to Israeli courts, Shawamreh dismissed the suggestion as “irrelevant and ridiculous.”
“Are you kidding? What courts are you talking about? In Israel, non-Jews can’t really dream of receiving justice. Besides, everyone knows that the Israeli justice system is effectively a rubber stamp in the hand of the Israeli army.”
Olive trees have an immense economic, nutritional as well as symbolic importance for the basically agrarian Palestinian society.
Olive oil has always been and continues to be a basic and healthy food component for the average Palestinian family.
Moreover, the Olive Tree is considered somewhat “sacred” in the Palestinian culture as it is mentioned in Holy Scriptures, especially the Qur’an.
Palestinians often liken their continued survival as a people with the olive tree which can live for hundreds of years.
Similarly, the extirpation and destruction of a Palestinian olive orchard, especially by the Israeli occupation army and Jewish settlers, is viewed metaphorically as symbolizing the uprooting of the community itself.
Armed settlers, including students of Talmudic schools, known as Yishivot, often attack Palestinian olive farmers to drive them away and take over their land.
When farmers try to defend their crops, settlers attack them with firearms or call up the Israeli army which arrests the Palestinians for “entering a closed military zone.”
Some influential rabbis, especially those affiliated with the religious-Zionist camp, teach that Jews may steal Palestinian olive crops because “this is a Jewish land that had been usurped by the Arabs.”