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Land & Nature

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The Olive Tree Planting Day
submitted by Baha Hilo

Olive Tree Planting Day 3rd February 2007 3rd February, 2007

The day started with local and international volunteers gathering at the advocacy office – YMCA in Beit Sahour. Together with the YMCA advocacy desk staff, the volunteers took the olive trees and shovels onto the bus and set off to the field in Al-Khader village, south of Bethlehem, next to an Israeli settlement outpost (an off-shoot of Neve Daniel). Al Khader farmers and owners of the lands are facing great difficulties getting to their fields, in order to tend and cultivate them, so the volunteers support was sorely needed.

More than 200 olive trees were planned to be planted in three adjacent fields in the area, belonging to 3 different farmers, as part of the JAI "Keep Hope Alive - Olive Tree Campaign" first planting day of 2007. With the help of one farmer's donkey, the volunteers carried their tools and trees from where the bus dropped them, to the field beyond the hill.

More than 50 local and international volunteers, together with the farmer's families and villagers took part in the planting. International volunteers came from various groups and organizations, including the EAPPI.

While planting in a field closest to the outpost, settlers interfered, shouting at volunteers and locals to leave the land. They called for the army to support them, and the soldiers duly ordered people to evacuate, claiming the land to be a closed zone!

There was heated discussion between farmers and settlers, and the soldiers tried to arrest a local boy, whom the volunteers and farmers just managed to pull out and release.

International volunteer perspective:

A volunteer from the EAPPI, Anna Ljung, from Sweden, who has been in Palestine for 2 months so far, said that it was her first time taking part in such an action, and believes that such methods of non-violent struggle are much more effective than violent means. She participates as an international presence, showing solidarity with and support to the farmers, giving hope to Palestinians by forming a united front.
Once Anna gets back home, she intends to work on informing people about the tragedy of the olive trees being uprooted, and encourage her friends and family to sponsor trees in support of Palestinian farmers, because it is a great feeling to know that something you helped to plant is going to grow and give fruit.
She added that it would be wonderful to include more Palestinian women in such activities and find methods for bringing men, women and children together in their struggle.

Local farmers:

Imad Salah:

Imad Salah is 40 years old and married with 4 kids. He is an owner and farmer of fields nearby the newly constructed settlement.

Imad says:
[The settlers came in June 2003, starting to place their caravans. Day by day, they started to expand, occupying the main track, and stopping farmers from getting to their fields. the other farmers started using my field as a path to theirs.
In 2005 the settlers entered my field, forbidding locals from getting into it, and occupied a cave in it They closed it with a door and started to prepare it as a Jewish synagogue. I asked them not to come to this field again, and they refused; so me and my family broke the door, and cut the electricity to the cave. After doing this, the head of the settlement came and threatened to kill me, to attack other farmers and to destroy the trees in the field.

When the Israeli soldiers came last year they claimed that the land in unused and nobody is planting it. I said that the settlers are forbidding us from getting into the field; therefore we have not been able to plant it since last year. I showed my document of ownership of the land to the army officer, who told me to go to court, and not to enter my field meanwhile, claiming it is a closed military zone!
I went to the court, which asked me for several documents. I got them and submitted them, but with no response.

The settlers uprooted more than 30 grape vines, and I fought with them several times, after which one settler threatened to kill me and take me to court too.]

Fatima Ghnaim:

Fatima is an old lady, who owns and farms about 1 Km2 of land. The land was owned by her husband, who inherited it from his father and ancestors. Her husband is dead now, and she tries to continue working in the land with her sons. She and her family have not been able to enter their field for the last 4 years, where the settlers were attacking them with dogs and trying to beat them.

Abd El-Rahman:

Abd El-Rahman is 20 years old and a student at Bethlehem University. He helps to farm and take care of 0.7 km2 of his family's land. There are parts of his fields he cannot access. The settlers destroyed and burnt many of his trees and threatened to stop him bringing farming tools into the fields. He is happy that the volunteers are supporting his family's struggle, and showing the world how they suffer.

Joint Advocacy Initiative
Beit Sahour
March 2007

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