Gideon Levy

It Was a Great Day for Israeli Occupier. Not So for Palestinian Farmer He Ran Into

A view of the Palestinian village of Al-Walaja, in 2016.
Emil Salman

Dayan Somekh works as an inspector for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority’s investigations division, whose offices are located on Am Ve’olamo Street in Jerusalem. As a young man, he undoubtedly dreamed of being a permanent member of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.

Perhaps he loves wildflowers, perhaps he climbs mountains, perhaps he raised hamsters. Perhaps he’s a settler, perhaps he’s an expert on snakes, perhaps he just wound up in this job by chance, after doing wonderful service in the army’s Kfir Brigade.

At work, Somekh wears a green shirt with a drawing of an ibex and an oak tree, the nature authority’s logo. The authority is headed by Shaul Goldstein, who by chance previously served as chairman of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, the local government of a West Bank settlement bloc.

The settlers, as everyone knows, are the greatest lovers of this land. In fact, there’s no one like them for this love. So it’s only natural that a settler activist should be responsible for preserving nature in this country; the land of Israel takes precedence over the people of Israel.

On Wednesday last week, Inspector Somekh went to work as usual. That was during the intermediate days of the Sukkot holiday, and the nature authority had opened the renovated Ein Haniya spring for a few days. This is an apartheid spring, whose renovation cost 12 million shekels ($3.4 million), and only Jews are allowed to enter it, as Nir Hasson reported in Haaretz (October 15).

Ein Haniya

Somekh was undoubtedly in a good mood; a lot of Jews had come to swim in the spring. The job he was assigned to do – cleansing the surrounding area of Arabs, who don’t sit well with the Jewish swimmers – didn’t dampen his mood. He may even have been enthusiastic about doing it. He’s a Zionist who likes to do Zionist things.

Somekh turned his steps toward Wadi Ahmed, the valley south of the spring, located at the foot of the Palestinian village of Al-Walaja, part of which lies within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries. The story of this village’s unbelievable hardships will be told in Friday’s Haaretz; for now, we’ll focus on Inspector Somekh.

As the nature inspector was driving down the dirt road that crosses the wadi, he was shocked to see an unnatural sight – a Palestinian farmer harvesting his olives. Can you believe it? It was exactly 11:17 A.M. Somekh quickly got out of his car and came closer to see what was going on.

This valley, most of which is privately owned Palestinian land, was declared a “national park” in yet another con game of dispossession. The development work hasn’t yet begun. Nidal Abed Rabbo, whose family owns the land, was standing by his tree, on his own land, and harvesting his olives.

Somekh didn’t hesitate for a moment. Such damage to a tree – harvesting its fruit – was something he couldn’t overlook. After all, trees have feelings too; that’s already been proven by research. Abed Rabbo’s harvest surely pained the tree. And it pained the inspector no less.

The Ein Hanya spring outside Jerusalem.
Emil Salman

From a bag at his side, the kind that nature lovers use, Somekh quickly pulled out a form titled “Announcement of a fine as per Article 228 of the Penal Code.” His description of the crime: “Destroying an olive tree.” The harvest had become destruction, almost a Holocaust.

Here is the suspect’s response: “Just now, I came to pick the olives. To pick them – there in the bucket.” To pick them, there in the bucket – but not here. Not among us. Not on your land, not from your trees.

This is what the mechanism of dispossession, which we call the nature authority, decided – a 730 shekel fine. And for the information of the Postal Bank clerk, payment cannot be accepted after January 24, 2019 (that mistake was in the original document, but who’s counting?).

The stunned farmer took the fine and quickly left the site. The separation fence already separates his village from the remnants of his land, and now he has been completely dispossessed. His desperate attempt to harvest the last of his olives will now cost him half his monthly salary.

And Inspector Somekh? He proudly reported his operational success to his superiors. He’s not a border policeman or a Shin Bet interrogator; he’s just a nature inspector doing his green job. Perhaps news of his achievement went all the way to Goldstein – fining a farmer for harvesting his own olives on his own land.

Over the radio, the inspector reported that the Temple Mount is in our hands, and now, so is the Ahmed valley. The area has been cleansed. It’s possible to swim in the spring safely and peacefully.

Happy holidays, people of Israel; a joyous festival. A most joyous festival.