ENVIRONMENT OVERLAP CONFLICT ASPECT
©Luke Powell, 1997
Many products are extracted from the olive tree, these include, olives, olive oil, olive wood, and olive based soap. In fact, olive oil is the second major export item in Palestine; and Olive production contributes to about 38.2% of the fruit trees production income.
Traditionally in Palestine, harvesting the olive trees was a joyous time. However, over the past two years restrictions by the Israeli army and harassment by the settlers have made harvesting almost impossible. Today the Arab Israeli conflict has affected not only innocent human beings but also the environment. The olive tree, a universal symbol of peace has become the unfortunate casualty of war.
In Palestine, the olea europaea, or the Olive tree is prized for its historical presence, its beauty, its symbolism and most importantly economic significance.
Middle East, the Fertile Crescent, North Africa, and the Mediterranean all share
the presence of the beautiful olive tree. “Wherever you go there are olive
trees-rows and patches of them-on farms, around our homes, even in the streets
and on the pavements” (Asmar).
Olives have been a significant part of the region since ancient times. "The Greeks believe it was Athena, goddess of wisdom and war who gave mankind the divine fruit. The Romans also coveted the precious crop, and later the Venetians shipped it around the Mediterranean from Palestine to Morocco and Spain." (Moseley)
Olive trees grows at a rate of 1-2 feet each year, reaching a height of 20 – 40 feet after about 40 years. They generally live for about 400 years, but many are known to be 700 or 1000 years old (Wildlife and Plants of the World)
Historians date the first olive trees in Palestine to 4,000 years before Christ. A Palestinian farmer may look outside his window on the hillside to view olive trees that were planted 1,000 years ago that still produce olives. Another farmer may point to trees that were planted by his/her farmer 100 years ago (MacAskill).
The olive tree has great importance for the Palestinian culture and identity. One man states, “the olive tree is part of our culture, heritage and identity. It has existed since time immemorial and has come to speak of a boundless entity that has stayed with us since the dawn of history.” (Asmar.) For many Palestinians, the olive tree resembles them, “it is a symbol of their nation. It is seen as embodying the qualities of rootedness and durability, attributes Palestinians say they believe have preserved them during years of struggle with Israel" (Lynfield.)
The olive tree is a major part of the Palestinian identity. Palestinians say
“to seize an ancient olive tree is like a confiscation of memory”
to describe their injured land (Rooted To the land). “for centuries the
ubiquitous tree, with its characteristically gnarled trunk and stately branches,
had given muted and predictable color scheme to Palestine’s terraced highlands.
Today it had moved from the countryside to grace paintings, book covers, university
logos and even websites” (rooted to the land). The uprooting of trees
therefore hurts Palestinians in a number of ways.
“According to Muslim tradition, the olive tree is blessed by God,”
(Lynfield.) Nadi Farraj, an agricultural engineer from Bir Zeit University,
said “The olive is mentioned 16 times in the Bible and 12 times in the
Koran” (Devi, Sharmila)
The irony here, as the Morning Star explained, Olive trees supply the traditional oil which light the lamps over the birthplace of Christ in the Church of the Nativity. (Morning Star)
Olives and their oil have a spiritual significance throughout the Middle East, the oil mentioned in the bible 140 times, the Qur’an and Torah also recording it as symbol of peace, life and fertility.
The olive tree is known around the world for it's symbolism of peace and tranquility. The expression "to hold out an olive branch" means to seek harmony and peace. The fact that the Arab-Israeli conflict has caused tremendous damage to this peace symbol shows the extent of the conflict in the region.
Olive trees are a major commercial crop for Palestine, and many families depend
on it for their livelihood. This “humble olive tree has real practical
worth as the tree of wealth, protection and security, of shelter and sustenance,”
(Rooted to the land) because form it oil is extracted for lighting, soap is
made for cleanliness, and olive are extracted for nutrients. Many products are
extracted from the olive tree, these include, olives, olive oil, olive wood,
and olive based soap. In fact, olive oil is the second major export item in
Palestine; and Olive production contributes to about 38.2% of the fruit trees
production income (Olive Press Overview.) Therefore, olive trees are important
for the livelihood of the Palestinian farmers. Therefore, even if “a peasant
has put a small piece of land, he will still plant five or ten olive trees.
Much of Palestinian peasant culture centers on the cyclical rhythms of planting,
pruning and harvesting of olives” (Rooted to the land). (talk more about
olive trees preserve almost 936 thousand dunums (a dunum is 1,000 square meters) or 51% of cultivated area, and 78.5% of fruit trees area in 1999/2000 agricultural year which has a tremendous contribution to the social and economic well being of Palestinians (Olive Press Overview).
Olive harvest account for about 15 – 20% of the total agricultural output in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, about 4.6% of the GDP. (Palestine Monitor, olive harvesting season)
Not only is the olive tree important for producing money, it has nutritional values. All olive oil contains some natural acid called oleic acid. Oleic acid is a type of fat, but unlike most other fats, "eating small amounts of olive oil is considered to be good for you." In fact, Oleic acis is believed to help "prevent the clogged arteries and heart attacks often caused by bad animal derived fat" (Wildlife and Plants of the World.)
What is happening to the olive trees?
The Arab-Israeli conflict encompasses more than human casualties, it has created environmental disasters. One of these tragedies is the uprooting of the historic olive trees. The Israeli Defense Force has historically uprooted olive trees to “build settlements, expand roads and lay infrastructure,” (End the Uprooting of trees) recently, or since the start of the Intifada the uprooting has occurred more frequently and has targeted many Palestinian villages. Centuries-old olive trees have been uprooted which has caused tremendous losses for the farmers in many ways.
The Israeli Defense Force has uprooted thousands of trees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In addition to the uprooting they have set these olive trees on fire, set up complete blockade of commercial movement between the Gaza Strip and each of the West Bank and Israel and vice versa. Exports from Gaza and the West Bank to the rest of the world were also blocked.
The bulldozer policy:
Olive groves along most of the road networks have been declared security zones, preventing farmers from tending their crops. Groves within 200 meters of the roads have been bulldozed in many areas to prevent them being sued as cover by Palestinian soldiers (Palestine monitor/BBC.)
On October 22 of 2002, the Israeli press reported that the Israeli army prohibits Palestinian farmers from harvesting their olive crops in the West Bank, claiming that they cannot protect the olive pickers from attacks by Israeli settlers. (Palestine Monitor, Urgent appeal).
Setting trees on fire, and chopping them down:
On October 23, 2002, the Washington Post reported that hundreds of olive trees
in Palestine were set afire by Jewish settlers. In addition, down the road about
100 other trees were sawed to the ground. (Anderson).
Restrictions on Farmers
Restrictions to harvesting come in many forms, including:
The curfew that has been placed in many cities caused tremendous destruction to the agricultural products as well as to the farmers’ economic well being. Since the curfew placed on many cities, the Israeli army has prohibited the farmers from cultivating their lands and from collecting the fruits.
The Israeli procedures, especially the closure policy and delaying the establishment of the safe passage for over four years, noticeably weekend Palestinian domestic trade. Security closure and economic siege, which the Palestinian economy had been subject to since 1988. the closure, which continued even after the singing of Oslo Accords in 1993.
Gaza International airport has been closed since February 2001 and the “safe passages” between Gaza Strip & West Bank closed since Oct. 2000. (Oslo Accords forbid its closure). There are frequent lengthy closures of the bridge to Jordan, the border with Egypt, and the entrance to Israel. (Palestine Monitor Fact Sheet).
Professor Hasan Abu-Libdeh, head of the PCBS told BBC News Online that “olives could not be harvested because the groves were declared security zones by the Israelis and farmers were being shot at by Jewish settlers.”
There are laws that ban Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza from entering Arab Jerusalem and also laws that ban West bank residents from entering Gaza and vice versa. These have caused tremendous damage to the Palestinian agricultural sector, and especially to the historic olive trees.
Attacks by settlers
Israeli police confirm that Jewish settlers repeatedly have harassed Palestinians gathering olives or interfered with their work since the start of the olive harvest season this year.
Above: "Yasmin Khayal stands chained to
olive trees in the path
of an Israeli military bulldozer at work expanding the Israeli settlement
of Yakir in violation of international law and cease-fire agreements.
Yasmin was part of a protest to stop the destruction of the orchard
belonging to the Palestinian village of Dir Istya in the occupied West
Bank. For her action, Yasmin spent time in Israeli women's prison"
Reasons for uprooting:
According to the Israelis
The Israeli security establishment is divided over the destruction
of the trees.
There are those who view the trees as the enemy, because stone throwers and gunmen hide behind them while carrying out attacks on Israelis, and there are those who do not. Previously, the Israeli Defense Force had uprooted trees “to build settlements, expand roads and lay infrastructure, or, as in recent months on lands in areas alongside roads, form which gunmen and stone throwers allegedly seek cover when throwing stones or firebombs or shooting at passing vehicles.” (End the Uprooting of Trees.)
The army commander, Col. Eitan Abrahams, says that “owners of groves are to blame when their trees are uprooted. IF the owner of the grove, whom I assume knows the sniper or the petrol bomb throwers, does not take the measures he must take, then his grove will come down-but not in a violent or aggressive way.” The tree removals “are for the safety of settlers…No one should tell me that an olive tree is more important than a human life.” Colonel Avrham added (Lynfield 1.)
On the other hand, there are those who say that uprooting trees is at odds with the Zionist ethos of greening the land of Israel (Lynfield 2) Yoni Figel, an adviser to Israelis Coordinator of Activities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip said we were educated not to uproot a sapling, and for us as Israelis, this has a band taste (Lynfield 2). In addition, he stated that destroying trees increases Palestinian resentment.
According to the Palestinians
The Palestinians give another reason for uprooting of olive trees.
They believe that the Israeli government realizes the importance of the olive
tree to the Palestinian economy, and it is therefore specifically targeting
the olive trees. They believe that the Israeli government “is actively
trying to destroy the Palestinian economy’s main pillar, agriculture.”
(Israeli Aggression Against Palestinian Agriculture.) Basically, the Palestinians
feel that “Israel has chosen to wage war against the Palestinian people
not only in the battlefields but also in the olive fields.” (Israeli Aggression
Against Palestinian Agriculture.)
This type of economic warfare has happened in many different
places and at different times, for example the way the American army targeted
the Native American’s Buffalos in order to attack their economic base
(See Buffalo Case) .
Other Palestinians believe that Israelis have taken advantage of the current situation in order to expand settlements (Jabr). They believe that Jewish settlers are using security concerns as a cover to plunder their olives and force them from the land. (Palestine Monitor-The Guardian)
B’Tselem an Israeli human rights groups states that the
“lack of enforcement creates an atmosphere of disregard for the lives
and property of Palestinians and encourages the continuation of such phenomena”
(Palestine Monitor-The Guardian.) Palestinians feel that there is no military
necessity for the uprooting of the trees. They feel that the penal measures
against them are just away of seeking more land.
In June 2001, 443 Palestinian farmers filed complaints to the Palestinian Ministry
of Agriculture. 95% of the total complains were against incidents of uprooted
olive trees. In addition, the ministry stated that direct losses from September
28, 2000 June - 2001 reached approximately $280 million. The ministry said that
some 374,030 trees were uprooted in various areas of which 108,951 trees were
olive (Palestinian Agricultural Losses.) Other important trees include citrus
Data collected by many different organizations indicate that the agricultural sector in Gaza and the West Bank has endured great losses. Olive oil is the second major export item in Palestine. The total quantity of pressed olives in 2001 was 22,154 tons, of which 23.8% were in Hebron, followed by Jenin Governorate and Tubas district with 18.5%, then Tulkarm Governorate with 11.4% of the total.
The distribution of the quality of pressed olives and extracted olive oil is seen from the graph obtained from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
Results show that there are 262 olive presses in the Palestinian territory
in the year 2001, of which 194 were operating while, 68 were temporary closed
(PCBS). This affected the quantity of pressed olives and olive oil. “The
quantity of extracted oil is affected by quantity of pressed olive where quantity
of extracted oil was 5,443 tons in 2001, compared with 27,062 tons in the 2000.”
(PCBS.) The olive tree is not only important to the agriculture and economic
sectors, but to the Palestinian identity as a whole.
Due to this fear, some Palestinian farmers chose to harvest their olive crops twenty days in advance. This resulted in a decline in production and loss of olive oil. Others have not attempted to collect their olive harvest, which leads to further losses.
The current harvest, which lasts from mid – October to the end of November
is thought to be particularly important to farmers due to the extremely difficult
economic situation brought about by the current curfews and closures in the
According to the BBC, the olive output, one of Palestine’s most important agricultural products was reduced by more than 80% in 2001, mainly due to Israeli military action. Figures released by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics show that the amount of olives pressed in the Gaza Strip and West Bank fell from 126,147 tons to 22,155 tons. (Palestine Monitor/BBC).
The PCBS statistics also show the number of operational olive presses fell by 20% in 2001 to 194 less than half the number of ten years ago (Palestine monitor/BBC)
“some of these presses are located in areas difficult to reach and some owners were not able to maintain them because of import restrictions” said Mr. Abu-Libdeh. .(Palestine monitor/BBC)
According to the Jerusalem Times, Palestinian farmers began collecting their olives earlier than the date the Ministry of Agriculture specified, fearing that the Israeli siege would become tighter.
Estimates vary over the uprooting of the olive trees. They range between 112,000 and 30,000.
This graph from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics shows the Quantity of Pressed Olive and Extracted Oil by Year, 1997-2001. It shows that when the uprooting occurred in 2001, the quantity of olive oil and pressed olive dramatically decreases.
Palestinian farmers are usually stuck between two tough decisions,
“either they leave the crop as is, which is doubtful as it is their main
source of income, or they risk their lives trying to collect it defying, in
the process, the Israeli imposed curfew which makes the villagers a moving target.”
(Israeli Aggression Against Palestinian Agriculture.) Palestinian farmers in
general were prevented by either Israeli army or the settlers form harvesting
their olive crop especially in the districts of Nablus, Salfeet, Tulkarem, Qalqilia,
Jenin and Rammallah. As a result, the farmers “can’t get to their
lands and work them. The settlers chase the farmers, shoot in the air, threaten
their lives, confiscate their ID cards and damaged the crops” (B’Tselem).
One farmer said “it seems that we are going to pay with blood for each olive oil drop. The Palestinian olive oil this year is going to be mixed with the blood of its owner.” (Israeli Aggression Against Palestinian Agriculture.)
It is for this reason that the destruction and uprooting of an olive tree “inflicts pain that is almost as searing as the pain for human causalities” (Levy). As a Palestinian man by the name of Abu Hilwan explains, the tree is “like raising a child for 12 years and suddenly he is gone, someone killed him.” (Levy).
Farmers are deprived of their economic livelihood, causing people who base their sole livelihood on farming to find another occupation with out warning. Farmers go for months trying to find another job in order to take care of their families. Uprooting trees is therefore seen as an attack on the Palestinian economy. In addition, the uprooting also affects the culture of the Palestinians, as mentioned the olive tree is a major part of the Palestinian identify, uprooting the tree is seen as a form of crushing the Palestinian culture and eliminating their voices.
A Palestinian olive farmer by the name of Ahmed Kasem “enjoys curling up for a nap in the shade of one of his trees. When he is not dozing, he wanders around the olive groves, as he has done for most of his 76 years, watering the trees or tucking a little more earth round their roots to protect them from the sun” (MasAskill). For him “being with the tree is like being in heaven. I am not crazy but I open my heart to the trees. I think of the trees as I do of my family. I speak to them when I have troubles” (MacAskill).
In December 2001 the Israeli army and Jewish settlers living uprooted the olive trees in his village of Huweaarah. “It was four in the morning. A neighbor knocking on the door. I rushed out almost naked. They had gone by the time I got there. The field was churned up, the trees lying all over the place.” Mr. Kasem said. Mr. Kasem lost 20 of his olive trees when the Israeli army bulldozed his olive grove. Sixty other olive farmers in the same village suffered losses, which estimated at 2,500 olives. Mr. Kasem planted those trees when he was only twenty years old. Fifty-six years later he saw them being destroyed. To remember the fifty-six years he took care of the olive trees, Mr. Kasem took the remaining roots home and placed them in the yard. “ I look at them [the roots] everyday. I say to them I spent half my life nurturing you. I will keep the roots to remind my grandchildren what they [IDF] did to me and to them” (MacAskill).
Unlike Mr. Kasem who at least has some other trees remaining, Ayash Abu Hilwan, a farmer from the village of Beit Dejan, east of Nablus, lost all his trees. Mr. Hilwan planted his olive trees twelve years ago on the rocky hillside that overlooks his home. “He tilled the soil, cleared the rocks and pruned and irrigated the trees” for twelve years. Ayash had not gained the fruits of his trees because in the rocky soil of Beit Dejan it takes an olive tree more then twelve years to produce a fruit. The farmer “waited patiently and believed that his children would harvest the crop, just as his father had left him olive trees” (Levy). One day, the Israeli army began cutting and uprooting the trees in the village of Beit Dejan. “They cut and uprooted, sawed tree after tree, not sparing a single one.” Abu Hilwan stated with eyes moist that “it is like raising a child for twelve years and, suddenly, he is gone. Some killed him” (levy). As Mr. Kasem and Mr. Hilwan have noticed, the uprooting has affected everyone. For people like Mr. Kasem and Mr. Abu Hilwan, who grew up with these olive trees, who depend on these olive trees for their livelihood, an uprooting of even one tree causes tremendous pain, and uprooting of all trees causes unexplainable grief.
Legality of the uprooting:
Violates the Paris Protocols:
According to the World Bank, the uprooting of olive trees violates
the trade policies of the Paris protocols of 1954 which calls for “free
access for Palestinian goods to the Israeli market and vice versa.” The
curfews and the uprooting are a clear violation of this clear security (West
bank and Gaza Update.)
Violates the Hague Convention:
In addition, the uprooting and the closures are a clear violation of Article 23 of the Hague convention, Which makes it clear that it forbidden to destroy or seize the enemy's property, “unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war;” which the Israeli defense force has not shown (The Hague Convention.) The uprooting of olive trees are illegal under international law for many reasons, “the destruction of private property is permitted only when clearly dictated by military necessity. The current situation does not constitute such a case.” (End the Uprooting of Trees.)
In addition it states that “All seizure of, destruction
or willful damage done to institutions of this character, historic monuments,
works of art and science, is forbidden, and should be made the subject of legal
proceedings,” (The Hague Convention.) Uprooting is a clear destruction
of a historic monument, and of livelihood of the Palestinian people.
Violates the Geneva Convention:
Land Leveling and property destruction carried out by the Israeli occupying forces violate the Fourth Geneva Convention and is a war crime under the convention and the protocols additional to the convention.
Article 33 prohibits collective punishment, and land leveling
and property destruction carried out by Israeli forces are collective punishments.
The article states: “No protected person may be punished for an offence
he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all
measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.”
“Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.”
Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention provides that “any
destruction by the Occupying power of real or personal property belonging individually
or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or other public authorities
or social or cooperative organizations is prohibited, except where such destruction
is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.” (pchrgaza, but
look for website for Geneva convention) look at the page 1 of 1 for the laws.
Colonel Dov. Tzadaka, has acknowledged that security forces have crossed the line between legitimate self defense and collective punishment and economic warfare against innocent civilians. He says “have we been excessive in certain places? To be honest—yes. Of course. Of course. You give permission to uproot 30 trees, and the next day you come and see that they’ve uprooted 60 trees. (Rabbis for Human Rights).
Israeli government has failed to prove the necessity of uprooting the trees.
Article 147 of the Connection considers “extensive destruction
and appropriate of property, not justified by military necessity and carried
out unlawfully and wantonly” as a grave breach of the Convention and thus
constitute a war crime.
In addition, the uprooting of trees is a form of collective punishment, which is illegal under international law. “Landowners who did not necessarily participate in stone throwing or shooting are the chief victims of this policy.” (End the Uprooting of Trees.)
This is demonstrated by the fact that in some instances when the army found out that the stone throwers came from a specific village, they went to that specific village and destroyed their trees (Lynfield). The army denies meting out collective punishment and says it “uproots trees solely to boost safety on the roads.” (Lynfield.) In addition, the Israeli Defense Force uproots trees without warning, and without enabling the farmers to go to court to appeal the decision. In addition, when their trees are uprooted the farmers never receive any compensation for their losses.
Violates the Covenant on Economics, Social or Cultural
Uprooting and Land leveling also contradict the international covenant on Economics, Social or Cultural Rights. Article 1 of the Covenant states that “in no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.”
Article 5 does not give any state, group or person any right to “engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights or freedoms recognized herein..”
Who is speaking out against this?
People from across the world are speaking out against this. In fact, many people from around the world have started or joined campaigns to protect olive farmers from the Israeli soldiers or settlers by harvesting with them or by escorting them to and from their olive fields. Some of the groups include, International Solidarity Movement, Grassroots International Protection for Palestinian People, Rabbis for Human Rights, Ta’ayush Arab Jewish Partnership group, Gush Shalom, to name a few. For example, Rabbis for Human Rights have spent a year raising money for the olive tree effort in the US and abroad. (Cleveland Jewish News.)
In addition, far from the violence, Israeli and Palestinians met at a world environment conference in the Caribbean, and agreed on one matter, “the conflict is damaging their venerable olive trees, as well as their land, water and wildlife.” (Planetark.) This brings hope to an area stricken with violence. The olive tree, or the environment can be a uniting factor that brings both sides together.
Above: a delegation from Jews for
Peace in Palestine and Israel helps
to replant olive trees that were
uprooted by the Israeli army in the
village of Abboud.(JPPI)
Region: Middle East
Israeli Defense Force, Palestinian Farmers, and Israeli Settlers.
A. Type of Environmental ProblemDeforestation.
The conflict is creating an environmental problem. When Palestinians try to harvest the trees, Israeli Settlers sometimes attack them personally, or attack their precious trees. The settlers reasons is that Palestinians are throwing stones. Because of the alleged stone throwing the IDF uproots many trees. The conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis is being played out in the olive fields.
Applied Research Institute Jerusalem
B'Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights
Environment Systems Research Institute
Palestinian Ministry of Environmental Affairs
Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics
Palestine Trade Center
Palestinian National Authority