Villagers relaxing in Deir Istiya, 2009. (Photo: Genevieve Long)
Earlier this week, Israel ordered Palestinian farmers in Deir Istiya, a major West Bank olive producing village, to uproot 1,400 trees by the end of this month. By comparison, this order is 400 more trees than the total number uprooted in all of 2011.
"This is the largest order for uprooting trees that the farmers of Wadi Qana have ever been given," said the International Women's Peace Service (IWPS). And Amal Salem, 63, from Deir Istiya, but now living in St. Louis says unearthing olive trees effects everyone in the village, "When I visited last year, every house I went to has had uprooted trees."
Amal's family has farmed olive for five generations. It was their livelihood, and afforded her to attend school in Cairo. "I went to school because of the olive trees. I went to school because in Cairo because of the trees. My father had no other income but the olive trees." In Amal's family, Israeli authorities uprooted 300 trees of her 83-year old uncle's land. Amal described them as ancient growth, "1,000 years old," stemming from the Roman period. The day the bulldozers arrived, her cousins protested, clinging to the trees, although they were uprooted regardless. But within a day or two, her family proudly re-planted what was unearthed. Yet Amal's uncle has night terrors from this incident, stirring over the sight of seeing his child nearly smashed by a bulldozer.
Since the Mamluk period, Deir Istiya has been one of the largest olive producing regions in the West Bank. But, even with 10,000 dunums of agricultural land, the village's full farming capacity is weakened by Israel's military and civilian occupation. Nearby, eight settlements are built on, or adjacent to, a total of 15,000 dunums of Palestinian land. "From my parents' house we can see were they built a settlement on our land," says Amal. And from the outposts, wastewater seeps into and is illegally dumped into a natural spring used by Palestinians producing olives. Amal says the wastewater flows down from the settlements like a river, "but it isn't a river." At times, the wastewater overflows from the dumping site to onto Palestinian orchards. Last fall, over 100 trees in Deir Istiya were destroyed by flooded wastewater.
Additionally, the settlers themselves cause problems to Deir Istiya's farmers through acts of harassment and violence, including arson to agricultural lands and "price tag" attacks. Amal has seen them holding guns a schoolchildren and earlier this year, settlers desecrated a mosque during a wave of price tag actions sparked by the demolition of an illegal Israeli outpost. And devastatingly, Amal says a few years ago a settler ran over one villager with a car.
Today IWPS held an action in support of the farmers and released the following statement:
On April 25, 2012 nine farmers of Deir Istiya, Salfit were given orders to uproot 1400 olive trees in the Wadi Qana agricultural area by May 1, 2012. This is the largest order for uprooting trees that the farmers of Wadi Qana have ever been given. Most of the trees were planted approximately 5 years ago on privately owned Palestinian property. The orders, placed on retaining terraces, rocks and fences in the vicinity of the trees, state that if the farmers do not uproot their trees they will face punishment which could, according to Deir Istiya mayor Nazmi Salman include large fines and imprisonment.