Palestinian leaders have accused Israel of a war crime after military tractors destroyed around a thousand olive and almond trees belonging to local farmers on the grounds that they were illegally planted on state land.
Stunned farmers were at the targeted hillside Friday, aghast that nothing remained of their 5-10 year old trees except a few stumps and some olive tree branches. “They didn’t leave me anything,” said Sabri Manasra, who said he and a cousin had lost 800 trees. “This is damage no one will forget, not my children, or my children’s children. It’s damage to our heart. I don’t understand how people can do this.”
The uprooting operation, the largest of its kind in the southern West Bank in three years, was carried out on Thursday by what farmers said were five military vehicles on land the farmers say they own. Three years ago, Israeli authorities posted signs saying that the land belongs to the state, farmers said.
The authorities say the operation was law enforcement. “Today was carried out the eviction of an illegal invasion of around 1,000 olive trees planted illegally without permits on state land in Wadi Fukin,” the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), an Israeli governing body, told The Independent. “The eviction was carried out after the enforcement process was completed and orders were delivered.”
The famous on Israel-Gaza
The famous on Israel-Gaza
1/21 Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem
Oscar-winning married actors Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem signed an open letter accused Israel of "genocide". They said: "Gaza is living through horror these days, besieged and attacked by land, sea and air'.
2/21 Zayn Malik
The One Direction singer was bombarded with Twitter death threats after posting #FreePalestine to his 13 million followers. The tweet collected over 130,000 retweets, but it soon became apparent that not everyone agreed with his opinion.
3/21 Mia Farrow
Mia Farrow, the actress and Unicef ambassador, said on Twitter: 'We can passionately protest Israel's assault upon Gaza without descending, even remotely, into the hideousness of anti-Semitism'.
4/21 Katy Perry
Way back in 2011, Katy Perry faced a slew of angry responses from Palestinians and their supporters after she tweeted to her fans, asking them to 'Pray for Israel'.
ABC via Getty
5/21 Massive Attack
Massive Attack spoke of their ‘love and commitment’ to supporting the plight of young Palestinian refugees after the band visited the Bourj el-Barajneh refugee camp in Lebanon.
6/21 Selena Gomez
The former Disney child star caused a stir when she posted an image on her Instagram account than began: 'It's about humanity. Pray for Gaza.' Joan Rivers responded to the TMZ celebrity news website: 'Oh, Selena Gomez, yeah, that college grad. Well if Selena said that...let’s see if she can spell Palestinian'.
7/21 Russell Brand
Russell Brand is currently caught up in an entertaining spat with Fox News anchor Sean Hannity. Brand uploaded a video where he accused Hannity of terrorism after his agressive behaviour in an Israel-Gaza debate. Hannity, who is famously right-wing and pro-Israel, asked Yousef Munayyer if he was 'thick in the head'.
Rihanna tweeted, then deleted, the hashtag #FreePalestine after eight minutes. She claimed its publication was an accident.
9/21 John Legend
The singer waded into the debate on Twitter when he wrote: 'So sick watching our Secretary of State have to grovel so hard to tell Israel how much he loves them while Israeli cabinet shits on him'.
10/21 Bar Refaeli
Leonardo DiCaprio's former girlfriend added to the debate when she posted a quote on her Instagram account, which she attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Unfortunately it was actually taken from a Lincoln figure encountered by Captain Kirk and Spock in Star Trek, season three, episode 22.
11/21 Bill Maher
Bill Maher received a storm of criticism after he compared Hamas to a 'crazy woman trying to kill you'. 'You can only hold her wrists for so long before you have to slap her,' he tweeted.
12/21 Jon Voight
The actor and father of Angelina Jolie unleashed a rant on Fox News. Reading from a script, he criticised Obama’s actions over the current unrest in Israel and Gaza.
13/21 Joey Barton
Despite already getting into a dispute with Yossi Benayoun over comments on the Israel-Gaza conflict: Joey Barton has continued to deplore the violence in Gaza, tweeting the hashtag '#stopisraelkillinginnocents'.
14/21 Howard Stern
When a caller attempted to blame Israel for the war with Hamas last week, SiriusXM radio host Howard Stern told him to'“F*** off!' before launching into an impassioned defense of Israel, saying: “If you’re anti-Israel, then you’re anti-America”.
15/21 Wonder Woman
Otherwise known as Gal Gadot: the Israeli actress took to Instagram, writing: 'I am sending my love and prayers to my fellow Israeli citizens. Especially to all the boys and girls who are risking their lives protecting my country against the horrific acts conducted by Hamas, who are hiding like cowards behind women and children'.
16/21 Piers Morgan
Piers Morgan was branded 'Zionest scum' for his stream of tweets about the Israel-Gaza conflict. He declared various opinions such as 'I like Jews. I like Arabs' and 'Same nonsense made Northern Ireland a murderous tinderbox for 30 years'.
17/21 Joan Rivers
Joan Rivers didn't hold back when she was interviewed by TMZ; likening Israel's position to that of New York if it was attacked by New Jersey. Asked where she thought civilians caught up in the crossfire were supposed to go, she replied: 'I don't care, they started'.
18/21 Dwight Howard
NBA star Dwight Howard 'did a Rihanna' - tweeting '#FreePalestine' before quickly deleting it and spending the rest of the day apologizing for the 'mistake'.
19/21 Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban
Nicole Kidman uploaded a short video to her Facebook page, featuring Keith Urban with their daughters Sunday Rose and Faith Margaret, captioned: 'Keith, the girls and I are joining Reba McEntire to #PrayForPeace. xxNic'.
20/21 Simon Cowell
X Factor boss pledged almost £100,000 to the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces at a US fund-raiser in Beverly Hills in 2012. The gala brought in more than £12million for the organisation, which helps to provide welfare services for IDF soldiers and their bereaved families. So far, however, he has only commented on the conflict to say that he is "praying for peace".
21/21 Brian Eno
Musician and producer Brian Eno condemned the Israeli action in Gaza as 'ethnic cleansing' in an open letter on David Byrne's website.
But Palestinian leaders say it is the Israeli move that is illegal, and that it violates international legal strictures on the destruction of property on occupied territory. “This is occupied territory and international humanitarian law and the Geneva Convention apply,” said Wasel Abu Yusuf, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization. “This is the land of the Palestinian state and any colonialist settler building or expropriation of land or cutting trees is a war crime against the Palestinian people.”
State land declarations are often the precursor to expansion of the settlements, which are considered illegal by the international community. With about 1,200 residents who depend on agriculture for their livelihood, Wadi Fukin is situated in a valley between the expanding West Bank settlement of Beitar Ilit and the town of Tzur Hadassah, just inside of Israel’s internationally recognized borders. The tree uprooting took place near Tzur Hadassah.
It follows almost a year after Wadi Fukin lost another 250 acres to a state land declaration that also severely impacted on other nearby Palestinian villages and which settler leaders said at the time would enable expansion. “In the future we will be an island with the settlements all around us, like a jail,” said Wadi Fukin mayor Ahmed Sukkar.
Davidi Perl, a local settler leader, in remarks to The Independent, said the government is right to remove trees planted on state land. ‘’There is no justification for uprooting trees without reason,” he said. ‘’But if they invaded state land and put trees there of course it’s justified to uproot them and transfer them to another place. It’s the obligation of the state to guard state land and if it’s invaded, you have to make sure it remains state land.”
Mohammed Sukkar, who lost twenty olive trees Thursday, said his father and grandfather grew wheat on the land and that it has belonged to his family for ‘’more than hundreds of years.” He shifted to olives so that he could make oil, he said. Mr Sukkar, a relative of the mayor, said his trees were just ‘’beginning to grow olives we can use.” he said.
Israeli authorities say that state land declarations are made only after completion of a thorough check to make sure the land is not privately owned.
Mr Manasra said that five years ago he cleared his land with tractors and brought in soil so that he could plant the olive and almond trees. He said he had purchased the land from an uncle and that it had belonged to his family for more than a hundred years. “I planted the trees so that my family could live from them. We have a family of more than twenty people. How will they live?”
The destruction of the trees was condemned by Hagit Ofran, who monitors settlements for the dovish organization Peace Now. “Unfortunately this is part of Israeli policies in the occupied territories meant to limit the Palestinian presence and expand the settlements,” she said. “I think this harms the Israeli interest and takes us further from getting to peace and a two state solution.”