Olive trees - Fattal - 19.3.12
Innocent trees are a weapon in the settlers' encroachment on Palestinian land. Photo by Michal Fattal
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Under the supportive supervision of the Civil Administration, and with IDF soldiers providing security, the fine olive trees shown in this picture were uprooted early Thursday morning. It's a painful sight.

But, you may ask, what's new and different about this story that warrants a few inches of newspaper space? The difference is that these were trees planted by Jews and uprooted by Palestinians.

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.

When two sisters, Suad and Fatma Sanad from the village of Irtas, were born some 50 years ago, the plot of land in question had been purchased by their father in the valley that curls pleasantly between small hills, south-west of Bethlehem. Olive groves and stone terraces served as the background to their childhood. Together with the land, the father bequeathed to his daughters a stone dwelling which he built in 1959.

Since 1967, houses belonging to two settlements, Alon Shvut and Elazar, have been besieging the daughters' land (along with lands owned by many other Palestinians ). The small stone Palestinian domicile remained isolated, not connected to electricity or water. After all, the policy enforced by the authorities is to allow Jews only - not Palestinians - to expand and build on vacant land. As time passed, Suad Sanad and her husband Jamal Assad added a rest-room hut next to the stone dwelling. Keep this wooden rest room hut in mind; it will return to our story.

In recent years, Jews, who claim that in real estate transactions with the Almighty they received deeds of ownership and sale, or however such documents are called, have been satisfied neither with the land generously allocated to them by the authorities nor with the policy of ethnic discrimination. They go out and plant saplings and install drip irrigation systems, and call this "redemption of state land."

In the contemporary Hebrew idiom, on both sides of the Green Line "state land" is a code term for "land belonging to Jews alone." (If Daphni Leef, the tent squatter on Rothschild Boulevard who started the Israeli social protest last summer, does not grasp what is wrong here, she could check the entry for "South Africa." )

One place where "land redemption" initiatives are rampant is the area of the soft, flowing hills where Suad and Fatma Sanad grew up. Since August 2011, their small plot of land has been subject to planting attacks. When it's innocent saplings that are in question, they can be removed easily. That is why the land redeemers came in the middle of the night and planted mature, also innocent, trees. Six were planted at the start of November, and another half dozen at the end of December.

The Rabbis for Human Rights group, via attorney Quamar Mishirqi-Assad, mobilized to provide legal help for the Irtas family. Activists from the Ta'ayush organization and workers from UN groups also made their presence and concerns felt. Haaretz published a report on February 10.

The Women in Green website disclosed that on February 20, policemen arrived at the Efrat settlement, to the home of Nadia Matar, and put on its door a "warning about the obligation to immediately evacuate land." The warning elaborated: "If you do not evacuate it by yourself by February 22 at 2:30 P.M., the authorities will evacuate it and you may be charged for the fees of their work."

Women in Green leaders Yehudit Katsover and Matar immediately contacted Attorney Doron Nir Zvi who sent, during the night, a letter to the head of the Civil Administration, Motti Almoz, and to attorney Koby Avitsan of the prosecutors office at the Civil Administration, claiming that since Women in Green has been holding on to that land for more than 30 days, they have no right to implement evacuation order 1472 against his clients"

Mishirqi-Assad explains: "In the case of new acts of trespassing, a complaint must be issued within 30 days of the encroachment in order for an immediate evacuation order to be issued against the offenders." She adds that the complaints against this trespassing "were submitted within the required time period." Thus, there was no readily available excuse to perpetuate the encroachment.

Last Wednesday, at 5 P.M., the Civil Administration contacted Jamal Assad, and informed him that the following morning he could, with military protection, uproot the trees; but responsibility for conveying the uprooted trees to the garbage dump also fell upon him. Assad estimated that this whole project to eradicate the injustice would cost him NIS 7,000. That added an element of anxiety to his happiness - he faced an expensive and time-consuming tree removal operation.

Mishirqi-Assad thought that this imposition of responsibility for conveying and paying for the tree removal is illogical and unjust. The Civil Administration's infrastructures staff officer refused to negotiate with her. The attorney of Rabbis for Human Rights insisted and spoke with an officer at the West Bank military legal advisor's office. Their negotiations led to an arrangement whereby Assad was to take care of the uprooting the trees, and then leave them by the side of the road - this is what happened on Thursday.

Incidentally, that night anonymous marauders destroyed the small rest room adjacent to the stone house.

No answer was provided to Haaretz's question regarding the Civil Administration officer's original demand that Asad be responsible for ferrying the uprooted trees to the garbage dump.