A resident of Jab'a stands next to destroyed olive trees. (Photo: Palestine Solidarity Project)
Yesterday, February 22 2011, a number of Palestinian news agencies, including the agency that I work for, published articles on the destruction of olive fields in the West Bank town of Jab’a, found in the greater Bethlehem district.
The details were far from sparse, but cut to heart of the matter. The Israeli military had entered the olive grove of a Palestinian farmer and destroyed between 230 and 250 of his olive trees (reports vary). The military claimed that they were clearing state land, although the land is actually owned by the farmer and he has all legal documents to prove this.
Today I went to meet this man with a Palestinian friend of mine, and a couple of mutual friends, both internationals.
The gentleman in question goes by the name of Abu Taha. He is part of the small community of Jab’a, approximately between 800 and 900 people, and he relies on his olive groves in the area for his livelihood. Although a small town, the population of Jab’a are the legal owners of a large quantity of land in the South Bethlehem district. Fertile land land that is increasingly becoming prime real estate for the growing settler population in the region.
Abu Taha is also a beneficiary of the work of the Joint Advocacy Initiative, a project of the YMCA in Beit Sahour - a town located on the outer edge of the city of Bethlehem. It was in this context that my Palestinian friend visited today, as a representative of the venture, that gives away young olive trees to Palestinian farmers, and helps both plant said trees and harvest them through their campaign to bring internationals to the area to work alongside and learn from Palestinians such as Abu Taha.
The support of the JAI is crucial for farmers like Abu Taha is isolated in his work. Of his nine children, most are abroad, and those who aren’t have no interest in following their father’s footsteps to the olive groves.
Abu Taha’s struggle with the so-called Civilian Administration, i.e. the Israeli military that occupies and controls the West Bank, began when the Israeli water company applied to the Israeli military to build a water pipe on his land.
Without consulting Abu Taha, permission was granted, resulting in the destruction of 60 of his trees, and the paving of part of his field . This water pipe supplies Israeli settlements with water that is, of course, not allowed to be used by the Palestinian population in the area.
The military came back, yesterday, to clear his land, claiming that it was the property of the State of Israel; an action that was averted when a friend of Abu Taha’s saw the attack and alerted him.
Abu Taha arrived at his fields to prove ownership of the agricultural land, at which point the Israeli military was forced to halt their actions, but not before a sizable portion of his trees had been destroyed, the bulk of which were confiscated, and chemicals poured over the stumps to prevent them from regrowing.
Some were fully grown, whilst others were barely saplings.
When the destruction of Abu Taha’s property was partially averted, the Israeli military turned their attention to the neighboring field, who’s owner was unable to attend to prove ownership, resulting in the destruction of approximately 150 more trees. This took yesterday’s total to around 400.
The reason for this act of violence against Palestinian property can only be assumed to be for the aid of settlement expansion. Close to the violated fields, caravan outposts loom ominously on the hillside.
Within reach of the settlement of Beit Ein, these caravans are used when the residents of settlements wish to expand their land grab. They are placed away from the settlement, but within a few kilometres, so that the land between them is effectively annexed. Once the settlement has been expanded the surrounding areas, usually right up to the built up area of local Palestinian towns, are confiscated to the settlement under the auspices of providing a safe buffer zone from the Palestinian communities nearby, robbing Palestinians of their property, their livelihood and their home land.
In the media we are quick to ignore the human side of this de-humanizing occupation. When reporting on destruction of property, on abduction, on injury and even on murder, we tell ourselves we must remain detached to keep a grip on our objectivity.
How can you remain objective when faced with words such as these:
“When I saw them cutting down the trees I felt as if somebody is uprooting my heart from between my lungs.”
When you come to Palestine, please come meet Abu Taha.
Circarre Parrhesia is an editor and writer for the International Middle East Media Center, www.imemc.org, based in the West Bank town of Beit Sahour.