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by Ran Farhi


The tree has long symbolized the battle over sovereignty between Jews and Arabs. So far we've only heard about Jews uprooting Arab trees. In recent months we've often heard cases of the reverse

In recent years the Israeli media has extensively reported the cutting down of Palestinian olive trees, and the settlers are invariably the number one suspects. Omedia has discussed doubts regarding the identity of those responsible for damaging the trees, and suggested Palestinians as well might be cutting down trees to receive compensation from Israel or to blacken the name of their settler neighbors. Last year Palestinians were caught red-handed cutting down olive trees. Despite such reservations, there is an ongoing Palestinian campaign to make it axiomatic that if an olive grove exists the land must be Palestinian.

And the Palestinians and their supporters from leftist organizations who collaborate in planting olive trees in areas where land ownership is unclear or in dispute have good reason. Olive trees give the Palestinians presumed ownership over the territory. In such cases Jews are hesitant to remove the illegally planted saplings, fearing they will be accused of cutting down trees and face arrest.

Aside from planting olive trees in numerous locations there are cases where Palestinians, in conjunction with pro-Palestinian activists (both Israeli Jews and foreigners), cut down Jewish trees in Judea and Samaria. Sometimes the uprooting is accompanied by planting olive trees in that very same area for the purpose of asserting a reverse claim. The absurd in all this is that the Civil Administration is late in arriving and then generally declares the area a closed military zone, which bars Jews from approaching the site. In recent months at least three incidents of uprooting occurred. That they received little media exposure goes without saying.

The Uprooting of the Sdeh Boaz Garden

Nearly a month ago on Tu Bishvat (Feb. 3, which fell on Shabbat) a group of 15 Palestinians and seven radical leftists, including the notorious leftist activist Ezra Naawi, arrived at the Sdeh Boaz outpost in Gush Etzion and uprooted dozens of Jewish fruit trees. They then proceeded to plant olive trees in their stead, an action tantamount to planting a stake for the Palestinians. The fruit trees had been planted three years ago. A wooden structure erected by Jews at the spot was wrecked.

According to the outpost residents, their relations with Palestinian farmers in the vicinity are relatively good and they claimed most of the disturbances in the region are instigated by leftist activists. "The Palestinians in the adjoining fields work here on a daily basis unmolested and in a number of cases we have even helped each other out," says Amit Barak, a resident of the outpost. "It's a pity that a group of extremists activists looking for weekend action creates disturbances that harm both sides." Amit claims near the outpost there are dozens of plots belonging to Arabs who cultivate their lands unhindered, whereas the extreme left activists arrived in the company of Palestinians who do not own land in the area.

After the uprooting the residents of the outpost received a directive not to approach the area of their garden, since it was suddenly declared a closed military zone.

The Palestinians Uprooted 4,000 Trees

Two days after Tu Bishvat, on a Monday, a massive uprooting of saplings took place on a piece of land belonging to Israelis. The previous day members of the Bnei Akiva youth movement from the school in Sussya had set out, with authorization, to plant 5,000 pine and cypress trees on a plot of land near the Meitarim Industrial Zone in the South Hebron Hills (8 km south of Shimaa). The youths' attempt at planting was hindered by a leftist activist, Reform Rabbi Arik Ascherman, who aids the Palestinians. He tried to prevent them from continuing, and only after Civil Administration personnel arrived on the scene and showed him the required permits were they allowed to plant.

The areas where the trees were planted is included in the master plan for the industrial zone, which permits Jews to plant there. That night Palestinians uprooted 4,000 of the trees.[1] Ironically the area actually belongs to the Jewish National Fund, and who happens to be the local Jewish National Fund representative in the South Hebron Hills? None other than a Palestinian from the village of Yatta!

They Plant Olives and Uproot Bushes

On the Nof Hanesher Farm, located near the community of Beit Yatir and run by Yaakov Talia, Palestinians planted hundreds of olive trees on land Talia had cultivated for 15 years. This land was then expropriated from Talia by an order signed by Central Command Head Yair Naveh. The order bars Jews from entering the area, while granting Palestinians access. The Palestinians took advantage of the opportunity to create facts on the ground, planting hundreds of olive trees.

Meanwhile Talia reported Palestinians had cut down his hyssop bushes, which were on the pastureland where he was permitted to graze. These bushes are essential for his flock, and he maintains they were cut down to reduce their source of food.

Media Incredulity

This accumulation of facts attests to a situation in which Israel is gradually conceding its sovereignty and its rule of law while abandoning Jewish agricultural property to the mercy of the Palestinians. The myth that the Palestinians are deeply attached to trees, perhaps as opposed to the Jews, plays into the hands of those who use trees for political purposes. When the trees belong to Jews, the tree is merely considered another tool in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. It is well known that the Jewish-Arab conflict in Israel is tied to the struggle over land, such as the struggle between the Jewish National Fund's pine and cypress forests (only in recent years have they begun planting olive trees), and olive groves, typically seen as a Palestinian symbol.

All of the above information was only made public on Arutz Sheva, a radio station identified with the settlers, and never managed to reach the general public. Why was such pertinent information never published in Ha'aretz or on central news sites such as NRG? Such information is obviously newsworthy. Perhaps these media outlets consider the uprooting of Jewish trees by Palestinians too commonplace -- a "dog bites man" story -- or see it as a mere curiosity. Whatever the reason, tree removal by Palestinians deserves media exposure as well.


1. Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, "How Do You Tell Children that Arabs Uprooted their Trees?" Arutz Sheva,

Ran Farhi is the politics and media commentator for This article appeared on the Omedia website in April 2007 and is archived at 608&ThreadID=1014011


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