Get stuck in: planting olive trees in Palestine

January 9, 2013
Sarah Benton

Planting olive trees in Mureir

Why It’s Important to Participate in Planting Trees in the Occupied Territories

Rabbi Yechiel Greinman returns from planting in Mureir and Sinjil with new insights into the contribution it makes to Israeli society. Also, we bring you a wonderful letter we received from Gila Avni, who joined us for the planting trip.

By Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann, Rabbis for Human Rights
January 08, 2012

Last Thursday Rabbis for Human Rights took a small group planting. For me it was a remedial experience, since the previous Thursday in Qusra we were confronted by violence – by the settlers, by Palestinians and the army. We have unfortunately become familiar with stone throwing, tear gas and coordination between the army and settlers. But our goal was to intervene in this scripted scenario and calm things down by panting 200 trees.

This time was different. The day passed without incident in great weather. Our hosts welcomed us warmly and wholeheartedly, and our feeling was that today we’d made an important contribution to coexistence. We planted trees in two villages – Mureir and Sinjil – a small number in each place, but a symbolic step; we planted twenty in each village and left the rest for the farmers there to plant later. We are confident they will take care of the saplings. Planting is very important, especially since the Israeli army has not assumed responsibility for protecting Palestinian farmers. According to a Supreme Court ruling regarding Mureid, the army must protect the farmers’ entrance and exit from their farmlands, but that has only partially happened. All the while their Jweish settler neighbors continue to steal their lands.

We will continue planting
As part of the planting we also left a number of saplings for a third village in which settlers had uprooted trees recently. So far we have planted about 850 trees in five villages, of which only about 60 have since been uprooted as far as we know. We will continue planting as necessity, budget and weather dictate. We will also, of course, plant in honor of Tu Bishvat. Since that date is a Saturday, we will do so on the 25th of January. Please save the date – you’re welcome to join us.

Contact us at the office: and register for the trips.
Wishing you peace, love, brotherhood and friendship,
Rabbi Yechiel

Join in RHR’s planting
By Gila Avni, Rabbis for Human Rights

Exactly a year ago, on Tu Bishvat [New Year for planting trees, February 8 2012], I joined in the first planting trip of my life in the Occupied Territories. I chose to join Rabbis for Human Rights after I had heard do much about their wonderful activities. That day we came to a village located not far (unfortunately) from one of the hostile settlements. The night before, settlers had sprayed graffiti on one of the cars in the village and on the walls of houses, slogans and provocations directed at Muslims.

As soon as we got to the village a group of soldiers approached us from the settlement. Before we’d had a chance to plant more than two trees, we were ordered to leave – an area that of course belongs to the village farmers, of course using the recurring claim that the area was a closed military zone. To ensure we left immediately, the soldiers took Rabbi Arik Ascheman with them, saying that as soon as we turned the vehicle around he would be released. That difficult experience remains with me, and prompted me to join this year’s trip, which proved a healing experience for me and all those who participated. Under a benevolent winter sun we planted some of the trees we brought and received a warm welcome, abundant words of Torah and a feast fit for a king, including salads and pitot prepared by none other than the mother of the clan.
It is hard to put into words the feelings of satisfaction and enjoyment I got from planting those olive trees, this time without disruption. I hope these trees live long and help fix all the injustice! Thank you for all your incredible work!

Keep Hope Alive – The Olive Tree Campaign

By Joint Advocacy Initiative, The East Jerusalem YMCA, the YWCA of Palestine

The Olive Tree Campaign (OTC) seeks to plant and replant sponsored olive trees in areas trees have been uprooted and destroyed by the Israelis in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip or in areas where fields are threatened to be confiscated by the Israeli military Occupation, or where parts of the Israeli apartheid wall and settlements are constructed on part of the land.

Since the year 2001 Israel through its military and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza has uprooted, burnt and destroyed more than 548,000 olive trees that belong to Palestinian farmers and land owners, most of these trees have survived hundreds and thousands of years. We know that we will not replace the life of such olive trees, nor the stories and life lived around them, but we try to overcome such barbaric, irresponsible and careless practices by providing a sign of hope that future generations might than us for.

When the campaign was launched in 2002 its objective was to replant 50,000 olive trees in the Palestinian Territories through the sponsorship of individuals, YMCAs, YWCAs, churches, church related organizations, human rights organizations, as well as solidarity and advocacy groups around the world. Through replanting olive trees, Palestinians will be encouraged to keep hope alive and to reaffirm their commitment to work constructively toward peace-building.

The Campaign has an expanding network of friends and partners who have decided to join into the campaigns mission in keeping hope alive. They all work to bring about awareness about Palestine and encourage others to get involved through the sponsoring of planting of an olive tree. The campaign’s networks exist in many countries like Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Japan, UK, Switzerland, USA, Ireland, and many others.

The annual objective of the campaign is to bring in about 350 new sponsors and to help in replanting 8,000 new olive trees each year.

So far the campaign has planted more than 80,000 olive trees in hundreds of fields in the West Bank and Gaza, many of which are already bearing fruit for the farmers and their families. The trees planted have helped the farmers to steadfast on their land and confront the unjust Israeli military practices, and more importantly, to get individuals from all over the world involved and become more aware of what is happening in Palestine.

Help Keep Hope Alive
For the amount of USD $20 you can Sponsor an olive tree. Sponsorship covers the cost of the young plant, distribution, planting and information for the farmers on the best techniques for olive tree care and production improvement. The cost also covers an official certificate, a sponsor label to be inscribed with the sponsor’s name and put up in the field where his/her tree is planted and miscellaneous implementation costs of the project. Three-year old, solid, young plants, agriculture tubes are used in order to optimize survival potential as well as irrigation pipes for fields that have access to water.

Every sponsor will receive a certificate and an indication of the location of their trees. Write us at

The war on the Palestinian olive harvest

Olive tree vandalized by settlers in the Tuwani fields, near the outpost of Havat Maon, South Hebron Hills, October 28, 2012. Photo by Guy/Taayush

Some 80,000 Palestinians families depend on the annual olive harvest for their livelihoods. This year alone, settlers, with the backing of the army, have destroyed or damaged thousands of olive trees, threatening both a major source of income and an age-old agricultural custom.

By Alon Aviram, +972

October 30, 2012

Dry shrubs and a mishmash of makeshift tarpaulin shelters cover parts of this parched valley in the South Hebron Hills. The carcass of a car rests in the bottom of a cistern. According to Breaking the Silence, an organization of veteran combatants that works to expose to the Israeli public to the realities of the occupation, it had been placed there by local settlers in order to contaminate collected rainwater with rust. This is the village of Susya al-Qadima. There is an absence here of local infrastructure, as Israeli civil authorities repeatedly deny building permits, and the entire village has been issued pending demolition orders. Unlike the much younger neighboring Jewish settlement of Susya, it doesn’t get much more arid and inaccessible in the West Bank than here.

Last Saturday, Israeli Border Police declared an area belonging to Susya al-Qadima a closed military zone, effective immediately. An officer waved papers at us and stated that he was legally warranted to force everyone out of the valley. We noticed that the orders were outdated, unsigned, and dictated that only Israelis were prohibited from entering the specified site. This did not stop the temporary expulsion of Palestinian locals.

An activist beside me from Taayush, the Israeli and Palestinian organization which uses non-violent direct action to try and end the occupation, was detained as he argued against the authority’s actions. He was handcuffed and marched to the army pillbox overlooking the valley. The Border Police prohibited locals from farming their own land, manhandled us, and threatened anyone who remained in the area with arrest. Instead of harvesting, the families gathered outside the closed military zone, overlooking their unpicked olive grove from a distance. Just another day in the South Hebron Hills.

Year after year, West Bank farmers experience multiple types of restrictions and physical attacks. In the first week of this year’s olive harvest, more than 870 olive trees were vandalized or destroyed by settlers, according to the United Nations. Hundreds more are reported to have since been damaged or destroyed across the West Bank.

A total of some 7,500 olive trees belonging to Palestinians were destroyed or damaged by settlers between January and mid October 2012, according to a recent report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Since 2001, half a million olive trees have reportedly been uprooted in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It takes an average of ten years before newly planted olive trees can begin producing fruit. Consequently, the ramifications of this widespread vandalism are felt long term.

The olive industry in the Occupied Palestinian Territories supports 80,000 families, and accounts for 14 percent of the OPT economy’s agricultural income. The inability of farmers to cultivate or harvest their crops due to security-related pretexts or the physical destruction of trees undermines the fragile Palestinian economy and makes arable subsistence for communities less feasible. With water shortages, restrictions to land access, and the expropriation of land by settlements and the separation barrier, total agricultural output has been seriously damaged. The proportion of GDP earned from agriculture fell from 28 percent to 5.6 percent in the past 20 years.

The Israeli army has rejected claims that it has neglected its legal obligation under international law as the occupying power to protect Palestinian civilians and property. It has repeatedly stated that it works to protect Palestinians and their crops during harvest. “The army, the Civil Administration and other relevant organizations are taking every possible effort to secure the olive harvest,” Israeli army spokesman Eytan Buchman told The Media Line. Facts on the ground and in the courts suggest otherwise. The Israeli NGO Yesh Din has reported that out of the 162 complaints they have lodged about settler attacks on Palestinian trees since 2005, only one suspect has been indicted. The recurrent high levels of violence directed at both Palestinian farmers and their crops is indicative of a pervasive culture of impunity; perpetrators have reason to believe that the Israeli state will not charge them.

The destruction of olive trees is not only economically burdensome for the West Bank economy and its people, but also represents an affront symbolically and culturally. The age-old Palestinian family tradition of harvesting olives and maintaining the trees for the next generations is desecrated annually. While the olive tree has become a symbol of Palestinian steadfastness, the Israeli occupation has in turn become characterized by its destruction.

Later that same day, a Jeep full of soldiers waited alongside us as we picked olives in another grove not too far from Susya. Under the tree, a middle-aged man shook his head as he looked at the soldiers. He pointed at the olive trees and explained which ones are owned by and depended on by which families. “They planted so we can eat, and we must plant so they can eat,” he explained.

This old way of life is alien to the average city dweller but it is a vital lifeline for many people in the West Bank. Due to Israeli political policy, which seems intent on unofficially annexing Area C of the West Bank, in which Susya is located, this means of subsistence is fast disappearing.

Petition: Stop uprooting Palestinian trees

To sign this petition created by Mona Said of the International Women’s Peace Service, click the headline above, or go to Stop uprooting Palestinian trees in Action Alerts in left-hand colum on JfJfP homepage

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