Plant a Tree: Masafer Yatta

The work of the Stop the JNF Plant a Tree project identifies areas of need by working closely with Palestinian farmers. The area of Masafer Yatta will be a focus for the coming year.

Communities of Masafer Yatta

Masafer Yatta is in Area C of the West Bank and is subject to full Israeli military control. Today large swathes of Masafer Yatta have been declared a “Firing Zone” by Israel. This means the inhabitants will be forcibly evicted, supposedly for military purposes. However, in recently revealed Minutes of a secret 1979 meeting, the then Agricultural Minister, Ariel Sharon, said:

“As the person who initiated the military fire zones in 1967, they were all intended for one purpose: to provide an opportunity for Jewish settlement in the area.”

And indeed, illegal colonies, peopled by fundamentalist settlers, are rapidly expanding, as is the violence perpetrated against Palestinian farmers by Israeli Occupation Forces and the settlers, who work hand in glove. Settler violence and state violence are one and the same thing as B’Tselem shows clearly.

  • The Palestinian communities of Masafer Yatta are at risk of forcible transfer by the Israeli army, comprising 288 homes and 545 women and men, and 569 children. At risk structures include 4 schools, 4 clinics and 3 mosques.
  • In the 1980s Israeli authorities designated a part of Masafer Yatta a closed firing zone.  Since then residents have been at risk of forced eviction, demolition and forcible transfer.
  • Two villages, Khirbet Sarura and Kharoubeh, no longer exist after they were demolished by the Israeli occupation forces.
  • Approximately 20% of the West Bank has been designated as “Firing Zones”, affecting over 5,000 Palestinians from 38 communities.

Israel’s illegal occupation, violent settlers and the JNF

Since 1967 when Israel occupied the whole of historic Palestine:

  • the state of Israel has appropriated for its own use over 2 million dunums of Palestinian land (200,000 hectares)
  • well over a million olive trees, some of them centuries old, and fruit trees, the staples of Palestinian life, have been uprooted, burnt or otherwise destroyed
  • some ancient olives have been transplanted into illegal colonies to provide an illusion of connectedness to the land
  • alien trees are planted, damaging the environment – since 1901, the JNF boasts of having planted 240 million trees in Palestine, uprooting Palestinians to plant forests which prevent the Right of Return and seek to conceal ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages
  • the seemingly mindless vandalism of the state and its illegal settlers serves a political purpose – the erasure of Palestinian agriculture and with it, the people sustained by the land.

Hajah Fatima Al-Huraini’s story

The life of Hajah Fatima is a case study in “sumud” – the Palestinians’ determination to resist Israel’s relentless settler colonial project and hold on to their land. Planting and nurturing trees is an important component of that resistance.

Hajah Fatima died on July 25, 2022 at the age of 95. She is well-known as an icon of popular resistance in Al-Tuwani, Masafer Yatta (South Hebron Hills). 21 years older than the State of Israel, Hajah Fatima’s life is one of a relentless struggle and persistence to stay on the land against all odds.

Her struggle to maintain an indigenous connection to the land started in 1948 when the Zionist gangs invaded Al-Qaryatain, a village located south of Hebron and ethnically cleansed its residents. Hajah Fatima passed down her first-hand experience of the Nakba orally to her grandchildren. Sameeha Huraini, Hajah Fatima’s granddaughter narrates that “my grandmother used to recall how the Zionist gangs committed massacres against Palestinians in neighboring villages. This has forced her grandparents to leave their village. My grandmother was pregnant with her first son in 1948; she along with their cattle had to walk for days until they reached a safer place.”

Hajah Fatima lived in Al-Tuwani after the Nakba of 1947-49. As a Nakba survivor, Hajah Fatima fully recognised that the land is a crucial site of struggle for Palestinians. Like so many older Palestinians, Hajah Fatimah embraced her role as a transmitter of Palestinian history, traditions and values to the next generation. By so doing, she ensured that youngsters know their people’s story and can frame that knowledge politically, an act which is itself a defense against the coloniser.

Hajah Fatima led by example. She was a fighter against the Jewish National Fund’s invasion of her land in the 1980s. The JNF tried to take over the land belonging to Hajah Fatima by planting pine trees at the beginning of the 1980s. Hajah Fatima confronted them, removed the trees and replaced them with native Palestinian trees.

Hajah Fatima nurtured, with her own hands, the land she sought to protect. As her granddaughter Sameeha, a grassroots organiser, says:

“My grandmother was a fearless fighter against Israeli settlement expansion. Cultivating the land was a key weapon to protect the land, for her. She would spend her days either planting new trees or cleaning the undergrowth around the trees.”

Come sickness or harsh weather, Hajah Fatima’s dedication to tending the trees of her land never slackened. Sameeha recalls how sickness was never a reason to stop Hajah Fatima from tending the land. “Last year, she was infected with COVID-19 and had to stay in bed for 24. Once she got better, she asked me to help her get up and cultivate the land.” Her motto in life, Sameeha adds, was that “a waste land attracts greedy settlers.” 

Her motto in life Sameeha adds, was that “a waste land attracts greedy settlers.” Sameeha said that she could see, “the history of resistance inscribed on the land by my grandmother [reflected] in the wrinkles in her face and hands. She is an inspiration for us all.”

One key political legacy of Hajah Fatima is embodied in the resistance group, Youth of Sumud, established in 2017 to protect the land of Masafer Yatta. As Hajah Fatima used to tell the next generation, “I am an old woman now: now, it’s your turn to defend the land. You are my hope. Resistance is an idea that exceeds our limited bodies because we die, but an idea never dies. The Israeli occupation can control our bodies and what we can physically do by arresting and killing us – but they will never be able to confine the mission of resistance and sumud.”

Plant a Tree in Palestine

Settler colonialism has at its core the “logic of elimination,” as Patrick Wolfe said. It seeks to go beyond the colonial model of many empires of seizing control of other people’s land, exploiting the natural resources and the people as a workforce, for the benefit of a “mother country”. The settler colonial model towards which Israel strives is more akin to that of the USA and Australia – the erasure of the indigenous people and their replacement by settlers.

Evicting Palestinians from their land, destroying their agriculture and traditional ways of living on the land, is an attack on the very existence of the people of Palestine.

The work of the Stop the JNF Plant a Tree in Palestine project identifies areas of need by working closely with Palestinian farmers. The area of Masafer Yatta will be a focus for the coming year.

We can support the Palestinian drive in that area to cultivate and maintain their rightful hold on the land by donating to Plant a Tree.

Regular donations, however small, give stability to the work. A one-off donation is just as welcome. Please also spread the word and get friends and family involved.

DONATE to Plant a Tree in Palestine