500 Olive Trees Planted Despite Settler, Soldier Interference

3 February 2007

Today, 50 Palestinians accompanied by 10 internationals including those from PSP, Ecumenical Accompaniment, and the YMCA, along with 10 Israeli activists, including members of Ta’ayush, planted over 500 olive trees in the land of Al-Khadr, near Betlehem. The land was adjacent to the illegal Israeli outpost of Sde Boaz, made up of approximately 5 temporary homes. The settlers have continuously harassed and attacked the farmers when they attempted to access their land.

After 2 hours of planting, 2 soldiers from within the settlement approached and informed the farmers that they “thought” that the Palestinians were not allowed to be there. Israeli activists contacted the DCO, which verified that not only was the land we were currently planting on private Palestinian land, but that the land occupied by the outpost was as well. Palestinians, internationals and Israelis continued to plant as 2 settlers approached. One, from upstate New York, admitted that the outpost was not authorized by the Israeli government. After a short period of time, the 2 original soldiers were joined by 2 army jeeps, 1 police jeep, and 1 jeep from the DCO. The soldiers began interfering with the planting, stepping on trees and harrassing the Palestinians. When one Israeli activist attempted to drive some Palestinians on the road near the settlement to pick up more trees, he was told that “only Jews” were allowed to ride in his car. Eventually international activists –both Jewish and not– rode with him. When they returned the Israeli army declared the area a Closed Military Zone, and ordered all of the people to leave or risk being arrested. After determining the range of the Closed Military Zone, the farmers and activists moved to a new field and began to plant there.

After just a few minutes of planting, 3 soldiers grabbed a young Palestinian man in an attempt to arrest him. A Palestinian woman, and then international and Israeli activists, intervened. For several minutes violent soldiers and military police pulled the young man as international and Israeli activists surrounded him. One soldier grabbed the youth by his neck and sweatshirt, tearing the sweatshirt. He also threw an international to the ground. Other soldiers pushed and hit activists as they were non-violently protecting the young man. In the end, activists were successful in preventing the arrest, though two Israeli activists from Ta’ayush were briefly detained afterward.

Overall, 500 trees were successfully planted on the land of 4 different farmers. Though the farmer with land closest to the settlement was concerned that the settlers would simply pull out the trees once the activists left, it was an important precedent for the Palestinians to demonstrate continuous use of their land. Settlements have often expropriated land by claiming that Palestinian owners had “abandoned” it by not working it. More importantly, it was a statement to the Israeli colonists that the Palestinians will not give up their land willingly.