Civil Administration uproots 135 olive trees on privately owned Palestinian land in Wadi Qana – part of Israel’s efforts toward its de facto annexation

Published: 
21 May 2017

‘Abd al-‘Aziz ‘Aqel, one of the landowners, holding an uprooted seedling. Photo by Abdulkarim Sadi, B’Tselem, 3 April 2017On 3 April 2017, Civil Administration officials came with bulldozers to Wadi Qana, in the Qalqiliyah area. They uprooted 135 olive tree saplings on land belonging to the ‘Awad family from the village of Deir Istiya.

Wadi Qana is one of the tributaries of the Yarkon River. The central section of the wadi, to the east of Qalqiliyah has several fresh water springs. The land in the wadi in this area is owned by Palestinians, mainly residents of the nearby village of Deir Istiya, who use it for farming and pasture. Farmers used to rely on the springs for irrigation, but in the 1970s and 1980s, several settlements were established on the hills overlooking the wadi. As the settlements discharged their wastewater into the wadi, contaminating the springs, farmers were forced to switch to crops that require little irrigation, such as olives.

In 1983, the Nature Reserves and National Parks Unit of the Civil Administration established the Nahal Qana Reserve, declaring a nature reserve on an area of roughly 1,400 hectares along the valley floor of Wadi Qana and its surrounding slopes. Under the Oslo Accords, signed about a decade later, the reserve was designated Area C, land which Israel treats as its own territory. The declaration of land belonging to local residents as a nature reserve means an absolute ban on planting trees and farming, and the loss of an important source of income.

In addition, Israel plans to use the Separation Barrier to cut off Wadi Qana from landowners in Deir Istiya, with Israel taking over a great deal of additional land that would also be made inaccessible to Palestinians. While the Separation Barrier in Wadi Qana has yet to be constructed, Israel already treats the wadi as its own for all intents and purposes, and imposes restrictions on Palestinian use of the area. In contrast, Israeli authorities turn a blind eye to illegal activities by settlers in the nature reserve, such as massive construction, building roads, and discharging wastewater into the wadi. Some 100 homes in the settlements of Yaqir, Nofim, and Karnei Shomron were constructed within the area of the reserve and, in 2014, master plans were submitted for them which include rezoning areas from a nature reserve to residential.

The 1.2-hecatre olive grove uprooted was owned by the ‘Awad family of Deir Istiya. The family’s patriarch, Muhammad ‘Awad, passed away in 2004 and his children, who inherited the land, began planting olive trees there in 2006. Several years later, in 2012, the Civil Administration uprooted the trees. In 2013, the heirs replanted their various plots, planting 135 olive trees in all. On 6 February 2017, Civil Administration officials served the landowners with an order “to evacuate the Nahal Qana Nature Reserve/National Park, wherein you are unlawfully present… Description of obstruction: Olive plot”. The village council contacted Palestinian Authority officials and the local DCO on behalf of the family, but to no avail.

One of the plots where the olive trees were uprooted. Photo by Abdulkarim Sadi, B’Tselem, 3 April 2017
One of the plots where the olive trees were uprooted. Photo by Abdulkarim Sadi, B’Tselem, 3 April 2017

Israeli actions aimed at displacing Palestinians from Wadi Qana and de facto annexation of the land are composed of a variety of methods, similar to those employed elsewhere in the West Bank. What these practices have in common is the way in which they harm Palestinian residents and promote Israeli interests, including the settlement enterprise. In the case of Wadi Qana, these practices include declaring a nature reserve, designating land as Area C, the planned route of the Separation Barrier and settlement expansion.

Like other Palestinian villages, Deir Istiya is plagued by high rates of unemployment, partly the result of the many restrictions imposed by occupation authorities. Most of the village’s land is situated in Area C, and Israel forbids use of the land for development, industry or commercial purposes. Farming, both in and outside of Wadi Qana, constitutes one of the few sources of livelihood available to the residents.

Israel’s declaration of a Palestinian area as a “nature reserve” is hard to credit as being motivated by purely environmental concerns, as can be clearly seen when one examines the enforcement of rules protecting the reserve: when it leads to Palestinian dispossession protection is promoted, and relaxed when it accommodates the agenda of settlement expansion. In any event, nature conservation in the West Bank ought to serve the Palestinian public, yet Israel mostly declares natural reserves in order to exclude Palestinians from their land, while allowing settlers to make use of the land. Israel has declared tens of thousands of hectares - 14% of Area C - nature reserves or national parks. Israeli authorities then restrict Palestinians’ use of the and do not allow them to build or develop there, just as Israel does elsewhere by declaring firing zones and state land.

Map of the area, with Wadi Qana marked in green

Muqbal Muhammad Shehadeh ‘Awad, a 44-year-old married father of three, lives in Deir Istiya. He spoke with B’Tselem field researcher Abdulkarim Sadi on 3 April 2017 and recounted the following:

Muqbal ‘Awad. Photo by Abdulkarim Sadi, B’Tselem, 3 April 2017 My father passed away in 2004 and left me a 0.6-hectare plot in Wadi Qana. Each of my three sisters inherited 0.2 dunams in the same area.

I started cultivating the land in 2006. I planted olive trees, but in 2012, the Civil Administration uprooted them. I planted olive trees again in 2013 and we’ve been tending to them ever since.

On 6 February 2017, the Civil Administration raided the wadi and handed out orders for uprooting the trees. We informed the Deir Istiya Council and the Palestinian DCO so they’d handle the matter and to have them follow up with the Israeli authorities.

On 3 April 2017, I got a phone call from one of the villagers who told me that military forces had blocked the entrance to Wadi Qana and that they had a bulldozer with them. I started calling the village council and other farmers, to see if this was really what was going on. I went to the wadi with the head of the Deir Istiya Village Council, Mr. Sa’id Zidan, but the military had blocked the entrance with rocks, and soldiers who were standing there wouldn’t let us through - until the Civil Administration finished uprooting our trees.

At around 8:00 A.M., after the military and Civil Administration left the area, I went to my plot and my sister’s plots with the head of the council. We were shocked to see that not only had the Civil Administration uprooted all the trees I had planted in 2013, it also confiscated them. On my plot, about forty olive trees were uprooted and confiscated.

The olive trees don’t harm the reserve in any way, they add to its beauty. The Civil Administration didn’t just uproot the trees, it stole them too. That can’t be legal.

The stone wall in the ‘Aqel family’s grove - before and after demolition
The stone wall in the ‘Aqel family’s grove - before and after demolition

‘Abd al-‘Aziz ‘Abd al-Qader Mahmoud ‘Aqel, a 57-year-old married father of five, lives in Deir Istiya. He related the following when he to B’Tselem field researcher Abdulkarim Sadi on 3 April 2017:

My wife, Basemah ‘Ahed Shehadeh ‘Awad, inherited a plot of about 0.2 hectares in Wadi Qana from her father, who passed away in 2004. After ownership was transferred to us, my wife, my kids and I started cultivating the land. We planted 40 olive seedlings, tended them, and cultivated them until the Civil Administration and the Israeli Nature Reserve Authority cut down and uprooted all the trees in 2012.

My wife, the kids and I decided to plant olive saplings again, and we did in the winter of 2013. We planted 40 saplings in place of those uprooted in 2012. In January 2017, I built a stone wall, a meter high and 25 meters long to protect the grove from sheep and goats and from wild animals. On 6 February 2017, Civil Administration personnel suddenly showed up and left orders telling us to uproot the trees and take down the stone wall. I immediately informed the Deir Istiya Council to have them follow up with the relevant agencies, including the al-Quds Legal Aid Center.

This morning, Monday 3 April 2017, military and Civil Administration forces suddenly showed up with a bulldozer. The bulldozer uprooted all the trees in our plot and the plots of the rest of the family, and tore down the stone wall. They uprooted a total of 135 trees, and confiscated all of them.

When I got to my plot it looked like an empty desert. Not a single olive branch was left. I think whoever uprooted the trees confiscated them to hide the crime they had committed.