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.'

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.

Women in Green - Michal Fattal - February 2012
Michal Fattal

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.

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.