Planting Trees To Challenge Israeli Occupation

By Zeina Fakhriddin

Ever since the creation of an Israeli state in 1948, Palestine has been a victim of an ongoing process of colonization with discriminatory policies and laws that facilitate the exploitation of indigenous Palestinian communities and their natural resources.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the indigenous Palestinian communities are left with less than 15 percent of the historical Palestine. Of the land remaining, 60 percent of the West Bank is classified as “Area C” and is under full Israeli control. In addition, the Apartheid Wall, which Israel began constructing in 2000, cuts deep into the West Bank expanding the expropriation of Palestinian land. The Wall is not built along the 1967 boundary; rather 85 percent of it is located inside the West Bank. As a result, approximately an additional 1,200 km2 of land (21 percent of the West Bank) is lost and subjects Palestinians to a complex system of physical and bureaucratic barriers that impede freedom of movement and access to healthcare, education and other essential services

Colonizing the Palestinian Land

Additionally, in the 1980s, Israel enacted an old 1858 Ottoman law, whereby any plot of land that has not been cultivated for three years, or has less than half its area cultivated must be reverted to the Ottoman Sultan or the state of Israel in this case. The confiscated land has been used to accelerate the proliferation of the Israeli state through the expansion of illegal settlements, the building of settler-only roads, or the extension of Israel’s Apartheid wall. In order to expedite this process, thousands of acres of Palestinian agricultural land have been uprooted and razed by Israeli occupation authorities, whereby approximately over 2 million trees have been uprooted since the year 2000. Furthermore, 90 percent of Palestinian communities own olive groves within, or around, Israeli settlements, which they are frequently denied access to by Israeli occupation authorities for ‘security reasons’.

Moreover, Israel exercises discriminatory policies to control and restrict Palestinian access to aquifers and other water sources. Within the Occupied Palestinian territories (OPt), Israel determines the amount of water Palestinians can extract from aquifers, and it controls the collection of rain and spring water through most of the West Bank, and prohibits the drilling of new water wells without permits. In addition, according to a World Bank report, Palestinian water extraction is limited to 17 percent of the total water in the aquifers, while Israel is given the liberty to extract the remaining 83 percent, either for use in settlements, for consumption in Israel, or for sale back to Palestinians at inflated prices.

Socio-economic, Cultural and Environmental assaults

Therefore, the clearing of Palestinian held land, restricting access to agricultural land, and the authoritative control over water resources have caused massive disruptions to Palestinian livelihoods and a weakening of their food sovereignty as communities rely on agriculture as a source of both food and income. For example, the olive industry, including olive oil and its by-products, is worth between US$160 and $191 million, and supports between 800,000 and 100,000 Palestinian families, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Also, one-third of all women in the Occupied Palestine are employed by the agricultural sector. These offenses are a strategic attack on Palestinian identity, culture, and heritage as communities have relied on olive groves and agriculture for thousands of years. Beyond the socio-economic and cultural crippling of Palestinians, Israeli occupation authorities are also guilty of environmental assault; the uprooting and razing of centuries old agricultural land results in tragic ecological damage including biodiversity loss, crop damage and loss of vegetation cover.

Million Tree Campaign Mobilizations

It was in response to the stark injustice faced by Palestinian farmers that the Million Tree Campaign (MTC) was launched in 2001 with the aim of replanting fruit tree seedlings to help farmers maintain ownership of their land. Since the project’s inception, over 2 million fruit trees (including olive, almond, apple, fig, grape, pomegranate, guava and citrus trees) have been replanted on over 100,000 dunams of land (one dunam equals almost 11000 sq. ft.). MTC has targeted over 23,000 at-risk farmers and the fruit trees provide them with a sustainable source of income that helps reinstate their sovereignty over their food and natural resources. In addition, the campaign provides other services to ensure the longevity of the planted trees; 6,500 meters of irrigation networks have been extended, 31 water wells have been constructed, and 295 dunams of land have been fully rehabilitated. The campaign has also had a strong presence in Gaza, where 109 greenhouses have been built, and 156 fishing nets and 574 water tanks have been distributed. In some cases, the campaign has also donated vegetable seedlings along with the trees as a shorter-term solution for vulnerable farmers; over 390,000 vegetable seedlings have been planted.

Despite the many accomplishments over the years, the campaign has faced impediments caused by Israeli occupation forces, including restrictions on land, the arresting of volunteers, and the uprooting of replanted trees. However, these have been successfully thwarted by working with local partners and creating a strong network of volunteers. It is also important to note that the MTC maintains an independent philosophy such that it is funded by local or regional donations, or foreign private individuals, but does not accept any funding from foreign public or private institutions.

MTC Sustainability

Any long-lasting protection of human rights and social integrity in Palestine depends largely on Israel, as an occupying power and it must meet its obligation of international law that protects human rights and ecological integrity. Since the establishment of the state of Israel, a plethora of resolutions have been passed condemning the violations it has committed and the consequential threat to long-lasting regional peace. In 1948, for example, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 194 (III) stating that Palestinians have the right to return to their homes, which completely invalidates Israel’s Absentee Property Law. In 2004, following the submission of resolution ES-10/14 by the General Assembly, the International Court of Justice ruled that Israel is obliged to return the land and olive groves seized for the purpose of the construction of the wall to their Palestinian owners. In 2016, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2334 reaffirming that Israeli settlements, the confiscation of land, the demolition of homes, and the displacement of Palestinian civilians are a flagrant violation of international law and have no legal validity.

The sad reality is that Israel continues to operate with complete impunity and rare indictment or accountability. Therefore, while some may regard the planting of trees as futile in the face of settler colonialism, MTC remains a peaceful and effective form of defiance to the razing and expropriation of Palestinian agricultural land and the displacement of Palestinian communities. It is a form of protection of emblematic Palestinian culture and heritage, a form of preserving land and soil for future generations, a form of financial empowerment, and a form of widespread awareness to the multiple accounts of human rights violations, until the occupation is dismantled and Israel is incriminated for its crimes.

The Arab Group for the Protection of Nature (APN) is a non-profit organization that seeks to strengthen the capacity of Arab peoples to control and sustain their natural resources.  APN works to advocate for individuals and communities who have been marginalized and disenfranchised by occupation, armed conflict and protracted crises. In Palestine, APN plants trees with smallholder farmers as a means of resistance and defiance to Israeli occupation and resource theft.  


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