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Adam Keller: The Story Of The Trees

The Story Of The Trees


reported by Adam Keller
Gush Shalom

The idea was: as Olive Harvest Coalition to do something about the Palestinian loss of olive trees - replanting saplings for all the trees uprooted on behalf of the notorious wall, and for the trees destroyed overnight by malicious settlers. With money raised in an international campaign, and with hundreds of old and young activists from all over the country taking part thousands of trees were planted on this Saturday alone. Activists from Tel-Aviv and Haifa went to Kaffin; the Jerusalemites with an addition from Be'er Sheva to the South Hebron Hills.

Kaffin

A desolate landscape. Behind us the last houses of the Israeli Arab town of Bak'a al Garbiya, a single old border stone still marking the pre-'67 "Green Line". Ahead, the "Separation Fence", with its grim lines of barbed razor wire mounted with electronic "early warning devices" and interspersed with military patrol roads. We have arrived at the cut off Kaffin lands, already four year virtually inaccessible to their owners, once full with trees - now strewn with high mounds of rubble and smelly rubbish.

"This garbage dump is completely illegal. Some individuals or companies took advantage of the lands being unattended. They just started to dump here, it is more cheap than the legal places" says Wai'a Gazawi, an Arab Israeli activist from the nearby town of Kalamsawa. He is a district coordinator for Al-Ahale, a newly-founded association based in Nazareth (*) taking upon itself the care of lands from which the Palestinian ownwers have been excluded.

"We formally notified the Ministry of the Environment, which is legally bound to act in such cases. and asked them to remove all this, but we are not holding our breath waiting for them to act. We raised enough funds from donations to remove all the garbage ourselves. In a month from now there will be no garbage left and the olive saplings which are planted today will have all the room they need to grow and develop".

These explanations were actually filling the time of a delay. The army, it turned out, reneged on an earlier agreement and blocked the delegation of Kaffin villagers from crossing the fence and coming to us. The rusty condition of the lock on the gate in the fence testified to how rarely it is opened. "This gate is installed for the Supreme Court. They tell the judges that there are gates for the villagers' use - but how often the gates are opened, and whether the villagers are let through, is quite another thing" says an experienced activist.

While organizers start negotiating with officers, activists take the time to finish preparing two giant banners, proclaiming in Hebrew and Arabic "They uproot - we will plant!". Others just wander around, discovering that the Al-Ahali tractor has already dug holes in the earth, ready for the saplings.

Finally, the officers allow through the Fence ten Kaffin arbitrarily selected villagers (out of some twenty-five who had intended to come to meet us), led by the town's mayor. They also let through the van carrying the olive saplings.

The work is actually quite simple: take off the black nylon covering around the roots, carefully place the sapling in the hole, and fill in. Some activists use mattocks and spades - which makes them look like the early Zionist pioneers in the old black-and-white photos. But in fact, it is easy enough, even with bare hands.

"Welcome, friends, to the land of Kaffin, and thank you for coming to help us" says Mayor Taysir Harashi, as we assemble at the end of the work at a more or less level piece of land. "You should know that this is the first time that I am able to visit this part of our lands since the Fence went up four years ago. Until 2001 Kaffin had some 10,000 dunums [four dunums = one acre]. 6,000 were left behind the fence, we have 4,000 left -2,000 are built up, 2,000 are all that we have left to live from.

The army is very tight-fisted with the permits. Many people who ask are refused, without giving any reason. If you get a permit at all, it is only for the harvest season. There are almost no permits for the rest of the year, to do the necessary maintenance. We told the army that if they don't let us remove the undegrowth between the olive trees, fires could spread very quickly. They did not listen.

Then the fire really came - five fires, burning our olive trees, in three months. Every time it was the same. We asked the army for a permit for the Palestinian fire brigade to cross and put off the fire, and the army did not allow it. Our Israeli friends in Kibbutz Metzer tried to call the Israeli fire brigade, but they did not come in time. We could just watch across the Fence and see our trees burning. 4,500 dunums out of the 6,000 on this side were totally burned. We asked the army to investigate what caused the fire, they shrugged and said it was probably an accident. Somebody dropping a cigarette, something like that, or pehaps five people dropping five cigarettes. Who knows?"

"We have a very long history of contacts with Kaffin, as with the other Arab towns and villages around here" says Doron Lieber, General Manager of the nearby Kibbutz Metzer. "Actually, the government people who placed us in this area, back in 1953, intended us to act as a kind of buffer, to separate the Arab villages from each other, but they chose the wrong people for the job. We always felt we want to be a bridge, not a buffer or barrier.

In the 1950's Kaffin, like the rest of the West Bank, was under Jordanian rule. But there was no border fence then, and it was not too difficult to establish friendly relations. This continued after 1967, and we never had any problems of theft or burned fields, which plague many other border communities. When the Fence started to go up, we pleaded with the army people to put it along the Green Line route and not touch the land of Kaffin, we told them that hungry and frustrated neighbors are the worst danger to security. We said that we prefer to give up some of our own land. We thought that perhaps we convinced them, but then came the attack on us. [A Palestinian infiltrator killed a woman and two children at Metzer].

Of course our friends at Kaffin offered condolences, mourned our dead as their own. But the army used it as the final pretext to push the Fence route deep into the land of Kaffin, as they intended all along. Stupid folly!

Now, we try to act as the wards of the land, until the Kaffin people could take care of it themselves once again. Together with Al-Ahali we have undertaken to tend the saplings which will be planted today, to trim the trees and get rid of the undegrowth, to build acess roads. But I hope we will have to be the caretakers only for a short while".

"Metzer and Kaffin should serve as the pattern for the peoples and communities of this country. We will struggle together until we pull down the Walls and Fences, we will not let them separate us. There can be no peace without justice!" burst out Jana Zifferblatt, of the Women's Peace Coalition. And Suhel Salman, of the Tulkarm branch of PARC (Pal. Agricultural Relief Committees) was equally eloquent: "Our slogan is 'They uproot - we plant', and it is more than a slogan. Peace is impossible with Separation Fences which are hatred fences. Life is too short to be wasted in contests of hatred. We are not only planting olive saplings, we plant seeds of love".

Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom paints a grim perspective: "As we said from the first moment, this is not a security fence. It is an annexation fence, which intends to cut off outright some 10% of the West Bank. And then there is the Jordan Valley which is another 33%. Sharon always said he wanted it, and now Sharon is in coma but Olmert continues on his way, there are roadblocks completely forbidding West Bank Palestinians from going there. And then there is "Greater Jerusalem" and the "settlement blocks" and "the access roads" - and altogether, Israel keeps more than half of the West Bank, the Palestinians are suffocating in isolated enclaves, and the hidden hope of those who plan it is that they will just go away by themselves.

And now, they have the perfect pretext - Hamas, the Palestinian Palestinian Parliament where Hamas is the majority and which is being inaugurated at this very moment in Ramallah. Our politicians say they will never talk to Hamas. We have an electoral contest in Israel, a contest between three main parties who compete at who is best at not talking to the Hamas. As if they talked with Abu Mazen, when for a whole year he was offering and asking and pleading with them to talk with him. They did not! They didn't want Arafat, they didn't want Abu Mazen, now they have got Hamas - and now they have to talk to Hamas! You can only make peace with your enemy, and only your enemy can decide who will represent them. That was true for Arafat and the PLO twenty years ago, it is true for Hamas now."

The concluding remarks come from Ya'akov Manor, coordinator of the Olive Harvest Coalition who had initiated this entire event. "I have news from the South Hebron Hills. Our friends from Jerusalem have planted succesfully trees at four different locations, near settlements and "outposts" where olive trees were uprooted by settlers. The saplings planted, both here and there, were paid for by donations. I should especially remark on the donations of Jewish activists in the Boston Area. (**)

So much for the good news. But I am sorry to say that the last part of our program - sitting down and having some informal talk with our Palestinian friends while eating good pita bread with humus - must be cancelled. The army gave them permission to be here only until 2.00 PM, which is a quarter of an hour from now. After that, the gate will be closed to them and their presence here, in their own land, will be considered illegal. So it must be goodbye, right now".

photos expected soon at the Gush Shalom site

contact:
Taisir Harashi, Mayor of Kaffin - Taisir_Harashi@yahoo.com
Doron Lieber, Kibbutz Metzer merakez_meshek@metzer.org.il
Wadi'a Gazawi, Al Ahali Association wadgaz16@hotmail.com

(*) Al-Ahale website
http://nif.org/content.cfm?id=1648&currBody=1

(**) Some of the American donors wrote moving dedications
you can read them at:
http://geocities.com/toi_billboard/tree_dedications.htm

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