olive trees sold to rich Israelis
By Alan Philps in Jerusalem
28 November 2002
Israel's Defence Ministry is investigating reports
that Palestinian olive trees uprooted to make way for a security
fence are being sold illegally to rich Israelis and town councils,
sometimes for thousands of pounds each.
The illegal trade in olive trees has flourished
as Israeli contractors, supported by armed guards, clear Palestinian
agricultural land where an 80-mile electronic fence is being built
to seal off the West Bank.
Thousands of olive trees have been dug up to make
way for the 150-ft wide barrier and security zone. Its route usually
passes inside Palestinian territory, not along the old pre-1967
border, and thousands of Palestinian farmers say their livelihood
is being taken away.
Sale of the olive trees emerged after the owner
of a contracting company offered two reporters from a popular
Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, 100 large olive trees for
The reporters found one enormous tree, said to be
600 years old, on sale at an Israeli plant nursery for £3,500.
They said the trade was conducted with the complicity of an official
in the civil administration, the Israeli military government in
the occupied territories.
Olive trees are extremely hardy, can live for hundreds
of years and will often stand transplanting. Gnarled old specimens
which are claimed, with some exaggeration, to have been alive
at the time of Jesus are much sought after for gardens of the
rich or city parks.
The Defence Ministry, which is in charge of the
security fence, said it had launched an investigation. "The
ministry pays contractors for uprooting and replanting and, in
their contract, there is no clause that allows for trade in the
trees. If there is such a trade, it is a criminal activity,"
Some contracts require the olive trees to be relocated
to areas suggested by their owners outside the Israeli-declared
security zone. But Yael Stein, researcher for B'tselem, an Israeli
human rights organisation, said: "We have never seen any
relocation. The contractors cannot just sell the trees. That is
While the trees may be ornaments to Israelis, olives
are the lifeblood of Palestinian agriculture, almost the only
crop which grows on the stony hillsides of the West Bank without
irrigation. Most Palestinians are unemployed after two years of
violence and their staple diet is bread and olive oil.
About 11,000 Palestinian farmers will lose all or
some of their land holdings to the fence. Sharif Omar, from the
village of Jayous, near the Israeli town of Kochav Yair, said:
"I have lost almost everything. I have lost 2,700 fruit and
olive trees. And 44 of 50 acres I own have been confiscated for
His village lost seven wells, 15,000 olive trees
and 50,000 citrus and other fruit trees. "This area is the
agricultural store for the West Bank. They are destroying us,"
Israel is offering compensation for confiscated
agricultural land but Palestinians are unlikely to apply, as they
still hope to get their land back.
The Palestinian Agriculture Ministry says 200,000
olive trees have been destroyed by Israeli soldiers and settlers
in the past two years to provide security for settlers.
The £90 million fence will prevent suicide
bombers infiltrating into Israel. But some Israeli border communities
say depriving Palestinians of their livelihood will make for worse,
not better, neighbours.