Israeli Military Announces Plan to Uproot New Trees in Saffa

28 January 2010

Today, January 28, at approximately 10:30am Israeli soldiers and representatives of the Civil Administration (the liason body between the Israeli military and Palestinian civilians) approached farmers from the ‘Adi and Soleiby farmers in the Saffa area of Beit Ommar and handed them a military order that stated their intention to uproot trees the farmers had planted two weeks ago as part of PSP’s massive replanting Saffa project. The order stated that the farmers had planted these trees on Israeli-owned state lands and they had 48 hours to appeal in Israeli civilian court.

Lawyers with Rabbis for Human Rights, who also supported and participated in the re-planting Saffa campaign investigated the issue and found that the Israeli government claimed it had declared the land “state land” in the 1970′s, and the Palestinian owners, who have documentation dating back to the Ottoman period showing ownership of this land, did not respond when they were informed of the confiscation 30+ years ago. The land now belongs to 4 brothers from the ‘Adi family. Their older relatives clearly state that they had never been told the land was intended to be confiscated, and had been working on it without problems ever since. The Israeli military is required to give notice to farmers if their land is to be taken and given a chance to respond in Israeli courts. While the order to uproot the trees now is based on the “fact” that the land was declared Israeli state land over 30 years ago, without proper notification at that time the confiscation is not valid.

The land, which is located on the hillside next to the built-up Palestinian area in Saffa, was seriously damaged by 2 fires started by settlers last summer. More than one hundred trees were planted in the area 2 weeks ago to replace what was damaged due to the fire. It is these trees, bought with funding by private donors, Rabbis for Human Rights, and Gush Shalom, that the Israeli military is now threatening to uproot. Clearly, the Israeli military, after ignoring Palestinian use of what they deemed Israeli state land for over 30 years, are now trying to punish the farmers of Beit Ommar and Saffa for their work in this area for the past 9 months.

Additionally, by “re-declaring” this area as Israeli state land, the Israeli military seems to be setting the stage for the eventual theft of the entire agricultural land between Saffa/Beit Ommar and the right-wing settlement Bat ‘Ayn, which has been trying to expand onto this land for years. Indeed, the only land now between what has been declared “Israeli” and Bat ‘Ayn itself is the land of Abu Jabber Soleiby, who has come under frequent attack and the victim of property destruction by settlers of Bat ‘Ayn for years. Bat ‘Ayn has also been fighting in Israeli civilian courts to take this land, but has thus far been unsuccessful. However, due to their increased violence beginning in April, 2009, the Israeli military has been declaring the entire valley a closed military zone, preventing farmers from adequately accessing the land. Prolonged declarations of ‘closed military zones’ are often precursors to confiscations, a fact the settlers of Bat ‘Ayn surely know and which they hope to capitalize on in order to expand.