Planting Begins in Saffa!
On Thursday January 27 at 10 am, a crowd of over 300 Palestinian farmers, activists and international supporters gathered in the Saffa and Ayen Al-Baid regions of Beit Ommar to begin planting olive trees on land marked for annexation by the neighboring Bat Ayn settlement. The crowd was joined by several prominent figures, including PA minister of the Wall and Settlements Maher Ghnemi, the mayors of the Hebron and Beit Ommar municipalities and US Department of State Foreign Service Officer Billy McFarland. The ceremonial planting marked the kickoff of a campaign to plant 3,000 trees in Saffa, on land that the Israeli military claims is “unregistered” despite being privately owned by Palestinians for over a century.
Three Israeli military jeeps joined the event, shooting tear gas canisters at nearby houses and threatening the participants with arrest. Despite military intimidation the event continued for over an hour, and 800 trees were successfully planted. The event followed the successful planting of 2,400 trees in Saffa last winter, which the military has since threatened to uproot.
The Israeli military has been harassing farmers and activists in Saffa for several years. A series of closed military zone orders in the summer of 2009 and again in the fall 0f 2010 have prevented farmers from freely accessing their land, and have led to hundreds of arrests of Palestinian, Israeli and international solidarity activists. The Israeli military’s effort to prevent farmers from accessing their land is part of a larger plan to annex the land in Saffa to the neighboring Bat Ayn settlement.
In addition to military intimidation and harassment, farmers in Saffa have been subject to frequent violence from the Bat Ayn settlers. A series of settler attacks in the spring of 2009 left several farmers wounded and much of the land destroyed. Attacks have continued throughout the past two years, culminating in an attack the day before in Ayen Al-Baid which left several hundred trees destroyed by Bat Ayn settlers.