Reclaiming Land, One Tree at a Time
On Saturday, February 13, 2010, a group of farmers from Beit Ommar and Saffa were accompanied by members of the Beit Ommar popular committee, Palestine Solidarity Project under the new Center for Freedom and Justice of Beit Ommar, and international and Israeli solidarity activists to march into the valley below Saffa, which has been under threat of confiscation through settler violence and the Israeli military declaring the entire area a closed military zone in perpetuity.
PSP had organized a series of tree-plantings along with Israeli anti-occupation activists last month. The Israeli military attempted to prevent the tree-plantings and went so far as to announce they would uproot hundreds of the trees planted in the area (this is currently being challenged in the Israeli courts).
This Saturday, the group demanded their right to free and unfettered access to their agricultural land. Carrying signs and Palestinian flags, they were met by several jeeps of Israeli soldiers at the edge of town who began checking the ID’s of all of the Palestinians, stating they would allow Palestinians into the area but not their Israeli and international supporters. The landowners countered that they had every right to bring whoever they choose to their own land, and that the need for Israeli and international accompaniment was due to the lack of the Israeli military to stop Jewish settler attacks.
In the end, though the Palestinians were allowed to get slightly closer to their goal, the Israeli military quickly decided to disperse the group, throwing tear gas and sound grenades. 5 people were severely affected by tear-gas inhalation.
The next day, February 14, 2010, members of Palestine Solidarity Project and The Center for Freedom and Justice of Beit Ommar joined volunteers with the Beit Sahour YMCA to plant 400 trees on the lands of the Bregieth and Abu Ayyesh Families of Beit Ommar, along with the land of Diyah Abdah of Betlehem all near the Israeli settlement of Mijdal Oz, on the eastern side of Route 60. This land has been encroached upon by the expansion of Mijdal Oz and Kfar Etzion in the last two years and has been almost totally inaccessable to the Palestinian land owners because of its location between settlements and its proximity to a large highway, route 60. Dozens of international volunteers came out to help with the planting, which is the first to be done in this area.