Olive trees - Fattal - 1.4.12
Olive trees in the West Bank. Photo by Michal Fattal
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Israel's Civil Administration in the West Bank has ordered Palestinian villagers to uproot more than 1,000 olive trees because they were planted in a nature reserve.

Residents of Deir Istiya said they would fight the order in court, arguing that it violates their right to work privately owned land within the Nahal Kana reserve.

"The Civil Administration says we must preserve the status quo, but we don't accept that," said Deir Istiya Mayor Nazmi Salman. "We think the owners of private land have the right to work it and earn a living. In our view, this is part of an attempt to strengthen Israeli control of the site. There's a double standard here, because on one hand, settlements were established in the area and are expanding; they even built a road through the reserve to one of the settlements. In contrast, we aren't allowed to work the land."

Nahal Kana is one of the most important nature reserves in the northern West Bank, containing numerous springs and a rich variety of flora and fauna. But it also includes plots of privately owned land that Palestinian farmers have worked since before the area was declared a reserve.

This is the second time this year that Deir Istiya residents have been told that their trees are not welcome.

About six months ago, the Civil Administration uprooted hundreds of trees planted in the reserve. Deir Istiya residents discovered the latest order when they went to tend their trees last week.

Officials from the Civil Administration and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority say that in recent years, the Palestinians have tried to expand the cultivated area, including by digging a canal to which they diverted the spring water. This has caused serious damage to the reserve, they said.

The trees in question are all between 2 and 5 years old, according to Salman.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories did not respond to questions about the latest injunction. When the earlier order was issued, it said the goal was to preserve the status quo in the nature reserve.