Arboricide in Palestine - olive orchard destroyed

| 25th February 2015
Olive tree cut by Israeli settlers from illegal settlements in the South Hebron Hills. Photo: Operation Dove.
Olive tree cut by Israeli settlers from illegal settlements in the South Hebron Hills. Photo: Operation Dove.
Israeli settlers in Palestine's South Hebron Hills last week cut down an orchard of 36 olive trees, in the latest attack of a decades-long war against Palestinian culture and survival in which has seen the cutting, burning and bulldozing of over a million olive, fruit and nut trees.
By occupying Palestinian agricultural lands and destroying Palestinian olive trees, crops and property, Israeli settlers seek to deprive the Palestinians of their main livelihood.

Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills awoke last Friday to find that 36 olive trees had been cut or seriously damaged during the night, probably by Israeli settlers.

The 25 year-old trees, owned by the Hushiy family from Yatta, were located near the village of Qawawis in the South Hebron Hills, between the Israeli illegal outpost of Mitzpe Yair and the Israeli settlement of Suseya, beside Bypass road 317.

This is the third incident of Israeli settler 'price tag' vandalism against the Palestinian inhabitants of the South Hebron Hills in the last two months.

On 9th January 2015, in the same area between the Bypass road 317 and Suseya settlement, Palestinians discovered nearly 200 olive trees cut on their property as well as established almond trees. Some days before, on 31st December, two settlers threw a Molotov cocktail into a Palestinian house in Ad Deirat village.

Palestinian residents of the South Hebron hills have suffered from the presence of Israeli settlers since the 70s. Ongoing settler violence deprives Palestinian families of security in daily life and restricts their freedom of movement. The violence and vandalism is also aimed at undermining the basis of their subsistence on the land.

By occupying Palestinian agricultural lands and destroying Palestinian olive trees, crops and property, Israeli settlers seek to deprive the Palestinians of their main livelihood. Olive trees are also of huge symbolic, cultural and historic significance to Palestinains, and represent their 'rootedness' in the land. As reported by Electronic Intifada in 2007:

"Universally regarded as the symbol of peace, the olive tree has become the object of violence. For more than forty years, Israel has uprooted over one million olive trees and hundreds of thousands of fruit trees in Palestine with terrible economic and ecological consequences for the Palestinian people.

"Their wilful destruction has so threatened Palestinian culture, heritage and identity that the olive tree has now become the symbol of Palestinian steadfastness because of its own rootedness and ability to survive in a land where water is perennially scarce."

An illegal attack on Palestinian history, culture and livelihood

According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Hague Regulations, the International Court of Justice, and several United Nations resolutions, all Israeli settlements and outposts in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are illegal, despite Israel's refusal to accept their application.

By occupying Palestinian agricultural lands and destroying Palestinian olive trees, crops and property, Israeli settlers seek to deprive the Palestinians of their main livelihood.

Most settlement outposts, including Havat Ma'on (Hill 833), are also considered illegal also under Israeli law, but even these are mostly tolerated by the authorities and protected from attempts by Palestinians to reclaim their land.

The destruction of the olive trees is also a specific violation of Article 54 of the 1977 Protocol to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which prohibits the "starvation of civilians as a method of warfare". It states:

"It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse Party, whatever the motive, whether in order to starve out civilians, to cause them to move away, or for any other motive."

In the West Bank an estimated 100,000 Palestinian families depend on olive sales, and the olive harvest provides farmers with 25-50% of their annual income. Indeed for many it is essential to their survival.

Given the olive trees' cultural value to Palestinians, along with the festivities and communal work that accompanies the olive harvest, their destruction also violates Article 53 of the 1977 Protocol, which prohibits "acts of hostility directed against the historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples" and "to make such objects the object of reprisals."

Despite their international obligations, Israeli police and army personnel rarely intervene when settlers cut down trees or commit other acts of vandalism.

Forbidden to plant olive trees on their own land

Indeed they carry out their own attacks on Palestinian civilians and their international supporters, as they did about a month ago on 23rd January when a group of Palestinians from Susiya village in the South Hebron Hills tried to plant olive trees on a plot of village land between the Israeli army base and the Israeli settlement of Suseya.

First the Israeli army declared the area a 'closed military zone' then they attacked the procession of about 150 people as it made its way towards the land, using stun grenades, tear gas, water cannon and physical and verbal violence. During the action, the Israeli forces arrested four Palestinians.

In spite of this most of the demonstrators reached the land and started to plant the olive trees. Immediately, Israeli soldiers and policemen pushed the crowd back towards Susiya village, again deploying stun grenades, tear gas and waer cannon, pushing and attacking the people, and arresting another two Palestinians.

A few days before, on 19th January, soldiers killed a sheep in the Tuba village area, while they were chasing away a flock owned by Palestinians. A day later Israeli soldiers arrested a 14 year-old Palestinian boy while he was grazing a flock near Maghayir Al Abeed village, and demolished four structures in the Ar-Rifa'iyya village.

"Despite attempts by settlers to force them from the area through violence and intimidation, the Palestinian communities of the South Hebron Hills remain strong in their commitment to nonviolent popular resistance against the Israeli occupation", reports Operation Dove.



Action: Operation Dove has maintained an international presence in At-Tuwani and South Hebron Hills since 2004. It is a project of Italy-based Operazione Colomba, a project open to all people, believers and nonbelievers, who believe that nonviolence is the only way to get a true Peace, based on truth, justice, forgiveness and reconciliation. Its principles are:

  • Nonviolence: an active and creative strength which comes to life through various actions such as interposition, accompaniment, mediation, advocacy, protection, reconciliation, animation ...
  • Sharing life: volunteers share their lives with the victims of both parts of the conflict, no matter the ethnic group, the religion or political view ...
  • People involvement: the few requirements to be a volunteer are: the will to live in a nonviolent way, the ability to live in a group, to be of age and finally to take part in the training course.

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