The trees of Wadi Qana

This weekend I had the chance to spend 48 hours in the village of Deir Istya, in the West Bank. I went there thanks to the mediation of the Sanghaseva Being Peace group, a wonderful organization which has been carrying out some very good work in the area. As I am posting this, I still haven’t unpacked my bags, because I feel the urge to write about this experience, and to invite those who are interested to get to know the particular situation that people in Deir Istya are going through.

I recently became aware that the Israeli Government decided to uproot 1400 trees in the area of Wadi Qana, which is a fertile land not far from the village itself, where farmers have been growing oranges, lemons and olive trees for centuries. The farmers received notification simply through a piece of paper which was attached overnight to their beloved trees. The trees were ordered to be relocated as soon as possible, as the planting allegedly violates the law of the Nature Reserve which has been established in the area encompassing Wadi Qana. The uprooting was scheduled to take place on May 1st, but so far the bulldozer haven’t come yet. If the farmers will not relocate the trees on their own will and means, they face legal consequences and they will be billed for the demolition expenses.

The Palestinian families, who have been victims of trees uprooting in the past, expect the Israeli Forces to proceed by surprise visit, in order to avoid a possible confrontation. Therefore, people have been sleeping in the fields, in fear that their trees may be taken away early in the morning. The uprooting will affect 1400 trees belonging to 9 families, whose income is directly dependent on agriculture, in particular olive farming. No need to say that no compensation has been offered.

The claim of the Israeli Government is that since the occupied area has been declared a Nature Reserve (by Israel), no planting of new trees is allowed in the fields. While this may be a legitimate claim, the reality is more complex. The valley which is object of the contentious is a beautiful green area surrounded by well established Israeli settlements, some of whom have housing units (as many as 127) falling directly within the premises of the nature reserve itself, and therefore illegal under the same law which is being used to evict Palestinian trees. Although this violation has been brought to the Supreme Courts with the help of several NGO organization, it is very much likely that the trees will be relocated much faster than any settler’ house, if ever. What is saddening, is that the notion of Nature Reserve is clearly being manipulated in order to separate more and more Palestinian families from their privately owned land. Besides, the heavy populated settlements who have been created around the fertile valley are sending their sewage directly into the Nature Reserve, therefore accelerating the pollution of the same area that Israel claims to want to protect.

One of the trees which is under threat, with the owner and his family

One of the trees which is under threat, with the owner and his family

If anyone feels to want to take action, there is a petition to the Israeli Government which have been started by IWPS (International Women Peace Service), and which has gathered almost 5000 signatures worldwide:

http://www.change.org/petitions/stop-uprooting-palestinian-trees

Personally, I am not an activist, I am not belonging to any NGO group, but I think that it is possible to connect to the cause without any political overlay. Actually, If you live in Israel and want to pay a visit to the farmers, to hear their story and bring some solidarity, feel free to do so, as Deir Istya is located in an area where Israelis are legally allowed to go (area B). You won’t be committing any crime by going to see with your own eyes. It is a fact that Palestinian and Israelis live in separate, almost parallel realities, and are practically unaware of the daily life and problems of the other side, if not through the media. The majority of Israelis (especially the new generation, since the separation wall has been established and transit has become increasingly difficult) have few chance of a direct encounter, which mainly happens during the Army service, under the very restricting role of “Occupier” and “Occupied”, a duality which does not allow for much dialogue or understanding. I am not sure if even settlers living in their super-protected enclaves are aware of what is actually going on downhills.

During our stay there, we did see some settlers coming down from their settlement to the springs located in the Wadi Qana: some were even friendly enough to address the Palestinians directly and ask about wild plants, of which the farmers have wide knowledge (some are thought to have strong medicinal powers). Others were busy mountain biking or simply pic-nicking, ignoring the nearby children playing and the women sorting out weeds or making tea. We saw a group of settlers pic-nicking on one side of the stream, with bikini, guitar, a dog and a very big rifle thrown across bare shoulders. On the other side of the stream, some 10 meters away, a group of Palestinian boys were quietly sitting on the rocks and watching, without any kind of reciprocal interaction. It would have made a wonderful picture, but I was so amazed by this strange sight that I could not bring myself to take a shot. I just walked by, keeping with me the many questions which arose, and wishing that more people could walk through this stunning, both unexplored and over-discussed side of the world.

Image

Palestinians taking shade under a tree within the Wadi Qana nature reserve. On the hilltop, private buildings from an Israeli Settlement overlooking the valley.

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