Israel’s colonisation of Palestinian land involves not only the confiscation of Palestinian land but the destruction of the agriculture by which Palestinians sustain their livelihood on their land. Israel’s colonisation follows the pattern that has characterised settler colonialism in the Americas, in Australia and north Africa: to remove the indigenous people, requires undermining their method of cultivating the land and the natural environment that sustains it.
By destroying the Palestinian rural economy based on small scale producers, Israel aims to expand its land mass and the scale of Israeli agribusiness, regardless of the environmental and human costs. The diversion of water resources from Palestinian rural communities, the military check points that prevent Palestinian farmers marketing their produce, the settler attacks – aided and abetted by the Israeli army and police – on their machinery, water supply and crops are part of the wider Zionist project to degrade and eventually erase the Palestinian presence. A key aspect of Israel’s attack on Palestinian livelihood has been to destroy its olive trees, which as well as being a symbol of the people’s historic connection to the land, forms a vital part of the Palestinian rural economy.
- Between 80,000 and 100,000 families rely on the cultivation of olive oil trees
- 48% of agricultural land in the West Bank and Gaza is planted with olive trees; this accounts for 70% of Palestinian fruit production and contribute 14% to the economy
Since 1967, Israel is estimated to have destroyed over 1 million Palestinian owned olive trees, some of these are hundreds of years old. Particularly fine specimens have been uprooted and transplanted in illegal settlements in a vain attempt to suggest a deep connection with the land.
In recent years, settlers have mounted an increasing number of attacks against Palestinian farms mainly in Area C of the West Bank, 60% of the West Bank, which – according to the Oslo Agreement – was supposed to be gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction but has remained firmly under Israel’s military control and is the focus of illegal Jewish settlement expansion.
For the month of January 2022, the Palestinian Farmers’ Union reported sixty acts of violence and incitement to violence against Palestinians in Area C. These consisted of:
“8 instances of physical attacks on Palestinian citizens by Israeli settlers, 5 instances of attacks on Palestinian farmers’ livestock, 3 protests organised by settlers (calling for the death of Palestinians and Arabs), 4 attacks on Palestinian water springs, 3 instances in which Palestinians were run over by Israeli settlers in their cars (2 Palestinians were murdered in these attacks), 2 cases in which settlers would throw rocks on Palestinians in their cars, 2 houses were attacked by Israeli settlers who trespassed into a Palestinian village, one case of destroying farmland by the spilling of sewage by Israeli settlers, one case of olive trees living uprooted from Palestinian land by Israeli settlers and army.” https://www.pngo.net/?p=3903&lang=en
This list is a mere snapshot of the violence inflicted on Palestinian famers in a single month only; none of this is remarked upon by western media.
In this context, Palestinian projects to plant trees assume an enhanced significance, both in economic and symbolic terms. The seemingly simple act of planting trees is a key component of the Palestinian struggle to defend their land and resources. If land is “uncultivated” for a period, it is confiscated by Israeli authorities who claim it is not being utilised. This is regardless of the barriers which settlers and other Israeli agencies put in place precisely to prevent cultivation.
As other settler colonialisms before it, Israel consolidates settler supremacy by destroying and removing the livelihood of the indigenous people. The Zionist end goal is to remove the Palestinian people altogether.
In defiance of this, Palestinians continue to resist this attempted erasure of Palestinian agriculture – for instance, one of our partners, Stop the Wall, work on grass roots campaigns which plant trees and build agricultural co-operatives. We can all play a part. One important way we can support the struggle of Palestinian farmers to stay on their land is by supporting their tree planting programmes.
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