People Planting Trees: Two stories in remarkable mirror image — PHOTOS & VIDEO

Sometimes it pays to wait before firing off a post. After awhile, something may just come along that turns your story upside down. Or inside out. Such is the case here. Or, some may say the two simply cancel each other out, but I don’t think so: Arrogance and greed versus the demands of Godly justice and the force of simple human decency — in the end, it’s simply no match.

Here are the two stories, both of which have to do with Jewish Israeli activists planting trees on Palestinian-owned lands in the Israeli-occupied West Bank — but having totally different motives, and eliciting totally different responses from the “security” forces of the Occupation …

–  S T O R Y    O N E   –

“We believe in Peace…”

Tree planting, occupied West Bank (CLICK for VIDEO)

The “other” story, which I discovered last, is about some 35 Israeli Jews attempting to plant trees on Palestinian land, with the permission of, and in solidarity and partnership with, the Palestinian owners. This perfectly legal activity ended with … (wait for it) … yes, a nasty encounter with Israeli security forces in full riot gear, who descended on the group, declared the area a “closed military zone” on the spot (a favorite, fall-back gambit of the occupation forces), and then proceeded to arrest some of their do-gooder compatriots (who were later released, after negotiations). Most of the 200 olive saplings were never planted.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXv5MDkrYiE&feature=player_embedded#!

The solidarity angle issues from the fact that the Palestinians in this particular village of al-Janiya (“Genia” to Israelis) had already lost large portions of their village lands to the neighboring Israeli settlement of Talmon and had come under repeated attacks perpetrated by the settlers involving hate graffiti, punctured tires, broken windshields and other such vandalism. The security forces, who were waiting at the planting site when the activists arrived, considered their action a “disturbance of public order”, meaning that the neighboring settlers would go crazy once they caught wind of it!

The story is told HERE, by Rabbis for Human Rights on their web-site, featuring a first-hand account by one of the participants; the coverage includes a photo and two pieces of VIDEO (Note: both videos are in Hebrew. In the 5-minute piece shot on the scene, the only English words uttered provide my title for this story.) The second video begins with a short segment on the incident (as part of a longer Israeli TV program).  The title of the story on the RHR site, “Festival of Trees”, is a reference to the minor Jewish holiday of Tu B’shvat, a sort of ‘Jewish Arbor Day’ and the day when the attempted tree planting was carried out.

 –   S T O R Y    T W O   –

“A War of Agricultural Terrorism”

click for video

The phrase was uttered by Sharon Katz, participant in an event of the right-wing, settlement-supporting Women in Green organization. It is heard in this 2-1/2 minute VIDEO, posted by the group itself, in an attempt to explain and justify their repeated acts of trespassing upon — and, indeed, trying to lay claim to — privately owned Palestinian land. Actually, Ms. Katz summed up quite well what is going on here, but without identifying who the terrorists are.

Now if you view the little video and (as they intended) go all soft and gooey at the sight of the ladies and precious children planting tiny, fragile trees in an effort to “Redeem the Land” — then you’re liable to miss the point here. The point is: It’s NOT their  land.  Its. Not. Their. Land.  The parcels in question here are indisputably privately owned by Arab-Palestinian families and in most cases have been for generations. And they don’t need to be “redeemed”, not by Nadia Matar from Belgium, not by American-born Ms. Katz, and not by anyone else! I’m not against a little honest to goodness redemption, mind you. What I’m against is the arrogant sense of absolute entitlement that says: “What was yours is now mine” — and the overt acts it produces. (In 1 Kings 21 is a Biblical parallel, one which is not forced at all but really quite relevant.)

The settlement-promoting crowd are very clever at wrapping their patently illegal actions in a biblical-prophetic aura and thereby obscuring the legal realities. They can say “black is white” — they can turn principles of Biblical justice, traditional Jewish ethics, and plain human decency inside out, in the service of their nationalist-colonialist agenda —  and a few people will always believe them. If you have any doubt how proud the ladies are of their project, they’ll tell you more about it here — and where to send your checks (don’t you dare).

BUT, if you want to know ‘the rest of the story’ — and the impact on the Palestinian families who really do own this land (including repeated acts of settler violence) — it was reported by Haaretz contributor Amira Hass in the February 10, 2012 print edition, found on-line HERE. The text is reproduced in full below.

By the way, the article mentions more than once the Palestinians uprooting the planted trees, both the saplings and much bigger ones. The reason is simple and clearly understood by both sides: If the “Jewish” trees remain in the ground and the Palestinians can then be kept off their own land (the Israelis have a bag of assorted bureaucratic-legal tricks they use to achieve this), at some point ownership can actually pass to the “state” (=settlers). So, don’t be scandalized that the Arab landowners are ripping the trees out of the ground. You would too.

Sadly, things like this — and obviously much worse — occur on an almost daily basis, and at many places throughout the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The encroachment and covetous land-grabbing is absolutely relentless. The particular incidents highlighted here took place between Bethlehem and Hebron, an area already chock full of Israeli settlements. It’s the very region where the Nassar family has dealt with the same sort of thing for over two decades — forays and incursions onto their private land, the cutting of illegal roads, endless legal proceedings (at great expense) — all of which the Nassars have responded to creatively, with much support, through the Tent of Nations project.

Understand, most such incidents are never reported anywhere in the mainstream media, either in Israel or abroad, thus you will only learn about them by trolling the reports or web-sites of various human rights NGOs or UN agencies. Or by reading Haaretz.

And where, one might ask, are the supposed forces of law and order in all of this: the Israeli army, the regular (“blue”) police and the (“green”) Border Police? Most often, if they are not actively abetting the settlers, they either conveniently turn a blind eye or harass or, as in this case, even arrest the Palestinian victims of these encroachments.

So, read the article and decide for yourself who is actually engaging in the “agricultural terrorism” here. And, after the article, there’s a “Round Two” (and now “Three”)

* * *

 Saplings serve as weapons in battle for West Bank land

Saplings cost money, and Women in Green urges its supporters, both in Israel and abroad, to supply it. The goal: to redeem state lands ‘on which Arabs are planting.’

By Amira Hass

Sharon Katz of the Women in Green organization defined the situation well in a YouTube clip the group posted on April 7, 2011: We are in a battle in a war of agricultural terrorism.”

Residents of the village of Al-Khader, imprisoned between the West Bank settlements of Alon Shvut and Elazar, have already stopped counting the number of battles. Every Palestinian landowner has a thick file full of documents attesting that he and his family owned the land many years before Women in Green founder Nadia Matar was born in Antwerp, Belgium. The files also contain copies of their complaints to the police against the settlers trespassing on their land.

The weapons in this battle are saplings, irrigation systems and plastic sheeting to keep the water from evaporating. The saplings have been uprooted repeatedly, but Women in Green keep planting them – and full-grown olive trees as well. Once, the Palestinians uprooted those, but the women soon planted six more trees. And then another six [these were certainly stolen from other Palestinian properties — the madness!! (tp)].

On Tu Bishvat – the Jewish Arbor Day, which fell on Tuesday – a man in a mask (“to protect my lungs” ) surveyed the hundreds of saplings planted since October 2010 on land belonging to Yassin Da’dua of Al-Khader and Sauad and Fatma Sanad of Artis. Armed with no visible weapon but a camera, he bestrode the battlefield where Women in Green members say Arabs attacked them in the past. Another bearded man, looking equally unafraid, was replanting uprooted saplings.

Soon, an army jeep arrived, followed by a vehicle from Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank. A Civil Administration officer emerged; the Palestinians call him “Assad.”

Women in Green claims the Civil Administration dismantled the outpost they are trying to build there. “Assad” indeed sought to determine where new saplings had been planted, but so far, all his agency has done is issue eviction orders from a few plots it deems “state land.” Despite all the police complaints, the forces of law and order have yet to do anything to stop the takeover of the Da’dua and Sanad families’ lands.

On November 5, 2011, Sauad Sanad went with her sister and her sister’s husband to the Kiryat Arba police station to complain that settlers trespassing on their land had beaten them. To their shock, they were arrested on suspicion of having attacked the settlers. They refused to post bail, remained in jail until evening and were released only on condition that they not go near the land for two weeks. When they returned, they found new saplings there.

Police also opened an investigation into Da’dua, after settlers trespassing on his land claimed he assaulted them on April 1, 2011.

Saplings cost money, and Women in Green urges its supporters, both in Israel and abroad, to supply it. The goal: to redeem state lands “on which Arabs are planting.”

The money buys not only saplings, but also irrigation systems and even wooden benches inscribed with the donor’s name. One such bench is redeeming land that Da’dua, 52, can remember from his childhood: He used to accompany his father to tend the family’s vineyard there.

Sauad Sanad says these hills, and the valley between them, are the first sight she ever remembers seeing. Her father, a resident of Artis, bought a plot of land here from an Al-Khader resident in the early 1950s; in the 1980s, before he died, he transferred it to his two daughters. Along with the land, he bequeathed them a one-room stone house he built in 1959. The house still stands, though it is scorched where someone set it on fire several years ago.

Between the terraces are some barren, blackened grapevines. “After 15 or 20 years, the vines get tired,” Da’dua explained. He and his family began uprooting them two or three years ago; they then planned to let the land lie fallow for two years, after which they would replant.

Instead, it is being “redeemed” by Jews on the pretext that is “uncultivated” and “empty.” In one plot, Sanad said, the settlers even uprooted her grapevines and destroyed the terraces. “Now we’re afraid to uproot the existing vines and continue improving the soil,” Da’dua said.

They are also afraid to bring their grandchildren there, due to an incident on January 1: After “Assad” tried to tell three settlers to leave, more settlers arrived, with dogs, and a fight broke out, Da’dua said. Sauad Sanad’s back still hurts; her sister’s wrist was cracked. The dogs attacked the children and tore their clothing.

They called the army and the police, who indeed came – and told them this was a closed military zone, so they had to leave.

But wait, there’s more…

ROUND TWO:  The Women in Green fired back at reporter Amira Haas via the following ad published in Haaretz a week later, on 17 FEB [click on the screen snip below for a readable image]. They apparently think she just doesn’t “get” what their brand of ardent, aggressive Zionism is all about. Actually, I think Hass does understand, all too well. And once you detect the towering arrogance and sense of absolute entitlement permeating their message, you will understand too…

Advert placed in Haaretz, 17 FEB 2012, by Women in Green (highlightling in the original). CLICK for LARGER IMAGE.

Wait, there’s still more…

Settlers’ olive trees uprooted by Palestinian landowners, under army protection. Haaretz photo.

ROUND THREE:  Now it seems the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), through their “Civil Administration” (occupation government) have done the right thing — for a change — and ordered the Women in Green extremists to end their tree-planting encroachments onto private Palestinian land.

The March 19th follow-up story, again by Amira Hass of the Haaretz newspaper, highlights the landowners in this case, sisters Fatma and Suad Sanad, and Suad’s husband Jamal Assad. With their parcel of private land wedged between two Israeli settlements, Alon Shvut and Elazar, they have faced repeated aggressive attempts to relieve them of their property. Now, finally, the state has acted on their behalf.

I don’t want to make too much of this, mind you: The authorities essentially put a note on the organizer’s front door in the nearby settlement of Efrat, asking her and her activist gang to cease and desist. They then gave the Palestinian family permission (and protection) to remove the trees — but at their own expense, of course (these were mature trees, by the way, not saplings). And the Civil Administration was not proactive in this, not in the least: Their hand was forced through the concerted intervention of the NGOs Rabbis for Human Rights and Ta’ayush, plus UN groups and various attorneys — the article describes some of the legal maneuverings. Still, one must give credit where credit is due. Hass writes:

What deserves newspaper space is the fact that the Civil Administration made haste to issue orders demanding the removal of the Jewish encroachment – that is, the trees – on private Palestinian land. This was a new twist: In contrast with countless other instances in which Jews have used the planting of trees as a weapon to seize land that is not theirs, the authorities intervened this time on behalf of the Palestinians – and they acted relatively quickly.

AMIRA HASS is the Haaretz correspondent for the Occupied Territories. Born in Jerusalem in 1956, Hass joined Haaretz in 1989, and has been in her current position since 1993. As the correspondent for the territories, she spent three years living in Gaza, which served of the basis for her widely acclaimed book, “Drinking the Sea at Gaza.” She has lived in the West Bank city of Ramallah since 1997. Hass is also the author of two other books, both of which are compilations of her articles. [bio from Haaretz web-site]
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