Israel’s CA uproots hundreds of fruit trees and ruins crops on privately owned Palestinian land in the Jordan Valley

20 Jun 2017

Over the past two months, Israeli forces have raided two Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley, uprooting and confiscating olive and date palm trees, and ruining fields of melon and fakus [Armenian cucumber], all on privately owned Palestinian land.

The uprooting and confiscation of some 70 olive trees belonging to Ahmad Embaslet in Ibziq

At around 9:00 A.M on the morning of Tuesday, 16 May 2017, officials from Israel’s Nature Reserve Authority and the Civil Administration arrived at Ibziq accompanied by the military. Without presenting any orders, they uprooted and confiscated about seventy olive trees planted there by the landowner some three years ago. 

In testimony he gave to B’Tselem field researcher ‘Aref Daraghmeh the same day (16 May 2017), Ahmad Embaslet spoke about the destruction of his olive grove:

Ahmad Embaslet. Photo by 'Aref Daraghmeh, B'Tselem, 23 May 2017

I live in Tubas and I work as a shuttle-taxi driver. My family and I have 30 hectares of land in Ibziq. It’s registered in the Tabu [the land registry] under my father’s name. He’s no longer alive. I inherited 0.5 hectares of this land. Until recently, we had planted wheat there and had no problems. About three years ago, I plowed the plot over and planted seventy olive saplings, which I’d received as a donation from the agricultural aid office. 

I put a lot of money into my grove. I even hired a farmhand to tend it. Today, one of the shepherds, a resident of Ibziq, who was in the area, called me and told me people with bulldozers had come to the plot and uprooted the trees. By the time I got there, it was over, and I discovered they had uprooted and confiscated the saplings I’d planted.

I received no notice or order from the Israelis to clear the area. If I had, I would have contacted them right away and showed them the deeds [kushan] that prove ownership of the land. I contacted the Palestinian DCO right after the incident and informed them of the uprooting and confiscation. I said I didn’t know why the saplings had been uprooted. I haven’t received an answer yet.

I planted the olive trees so I could live in dignity and provide for my family and my children’s families, who worked with me in the grove. I’ll ask the agricultural aid office for saplings again, because I want to replant trees in my land. 

The uprooting and confiscation of 370 date palm trees and the destruction of crops on 0.4 hectares of land owned by Saleh Daraghmeh and his brother in Um al-‘Ubor

At around 9:00 A.M. on the morning of 5 April 2017, Civil Administration officials with a military escort arrived at the community of Um al-‘Ubor, located east of the town of Tammun. The community is the permanent home of four families and is surrounded by farmland owned by Palestinian residents of the Jordan Valley and leased to local farmers.

The forces uprooted and ruined crops on land owned by Saleh Daraghmeh, a resident of Tubas, which he had leased to local farmers: 370 date palms planted in May 2016 by Muhammad Zubeidat, from Um al-‘Ubor, on land he was leasing from Daraghmeh; 17 date palms and a melon and fakus field covering 0.4 hectares, planted by Jum’ah Darwish, a resident of Marj Na'jah, who has been leasing land from Daraghmeh for the past ten years.

Video: Melon field ruined by the Civil Administration

In testimony he gave B’Tselem field researcher ‘Aref Daraghmeh on 17 May 2017, 70-year-old Saleh Daraghmeh spoke about the damage he had sustained:

My family is originally from Tubas, and is part of the a-Daraghmeh clan which lives in the area. I’ve been a farmer my whole life. My family owns 300 hectares of land in different parts of the Jordan Valley, mostly around al-Khazuq, Um al-‘Ubor and a-Deir.

We had arranged with the family of Muhammad ‘Abed Zubeidat, a farmer who lives north of our land in Um al-‘Ubor, that they would plant date palms on our plot. We signed a contract with one of his sons, Fuad, that they would plant 370 saplings on a 3.5-hectare plot. It’s a partnership. We provide the land and the water, and the farmer covers the other cultivations costs, like fertilizer and tilling the soil. The date palms were planted in May 2016. In October 2016, we suddenly got an evacuation order from the Civil Administration and the military, telling us we had to prove ownership or remove the trees – even though we had planted them long before and no one had said anything to us during in all that time. We went to the Palestinian authorities with the order and our ownership documents and asked for help. They referred us to the al-Quds Center, but we have yet to receive any answers. 

On the morning of 5 April 2017, while I was farming in my land in the al-Khazuq area, about 2 kilometers away from Um al-‘Ubor, the farmers called me and told me bulldozers were wrecking the date palms. I hurried over, and saw two bulldozers and lots of Civil Administration personnel and soldiers destroying the saplings, uprooting them and loading them onto a truck. I went up to the officer in charge and told him it was our land and that we had the deeds, but he ignored it. They uprooted and confiscated all the trees. They even bulldozed and wrecked the water pipes. 

Two days ago, Civil Administration officials came to me and said they wanted to show me the boundaries of our land. They gave us maps, which showed that the area where they had uprooted and confiscated the saplings belongs to us. They saw it too and said nothing.

We’ve lost more than NIS 300,000 [approx. USD 85,000], in what we paid for cultivation costs, saplings, farmhand pay, not to mention water.

What can we do? That’s the occupation. If we hadn’t kept up a presence in the land and planted trees there, they would have taken it over long ago. It’s our land. My brothers and I have official ownership documents which we inherited from our father, may he rest in peace.

Saleh Daraghmeh. Photo by 'Aref Daraghmeh, B'Tselem, 17 May 2017
Saleh Daraghmeh. Photo by 'Aref Daraghmeh, B'Tselem, 17 May 2017

In a phone call with B’Tselem on 13 June 2017, Daraghmeh added:

For the past ten years we’ve been leasing another plot to Jum’ah Darwish from Marj Na'jah. It’s a 0.4-hectare plot, where he grows melons, fakus and date palms. The troops uprooted all of these crops, even the melons, which had been planted in January and were nearly ripe enough to be harvested.

Muhammad ‘Abed Muhammad Zubeidat, 59, whose family was leasing the land from Daraghmeh and had planted the date palms, spoke with B’Tselem field researcher ‘Aref Daraghmeh on 4 May 2017 and recounted the following:

Ahmad Zubeidat. Photo by 'Aref Daraghmeh, B'Tselem, 5 April 2017

I’ve lived here, in the a-Zubeidat area with my family – my children and brothers, for decades. We do all kinds of farming. 

North of a-Zubeidat, there’s land in an area called Um al-‘Ubor, which is owned by the Daraghmeh family. There’s a water well there too. We leased about 4 hectares of land, west of Route 90, from the landowner, Saleh Daraghmeh, and we agreed that he’d supply the land and the water, and we would supply the date palms, the labor and everything else. My sons and I started planting date palms there in May 2016. 

First, we prepared the land. We laid down the water lines and then planted the trees. We managed to plant 370 trees. We constantly tended them, and hired some farmhands to guard them. We put a lot of money and effort into planting these trees, but on 5 April 2017, the occupation forces came and destroyed the saplings.

They destroyed our hopes. The shock and helplessness made our wives cry. We had put everything we had into those date palms. My married sons even took out loans to cover the costs. We had pinned a lot of hope on those trees, and we watched them grow. These trees were supposed to provide for more than 30 people and we were all waiting for them to grow and start bearing fruit. 

There was no reason to uproot the trees and destroy our hopes, and our partners’ hopes. I don’t understand why they did it. The settlers plant thousands of trees in the settlements near where we live and along Route 90.

A bulldozer hauling date palms uprooted by the Civil Administration. Photo: 'Aref Daraghmeh, B'Tselem, 5 April 2017
A bulldozer hauling date palms uprooted by the Civil Administration. Photo by 'Aref Daraghmeh, B'Tselem, 5 April 2017

Over the years, Israel has seized control of more than 75% of the land in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea, by declaring vast areas as closed military zones or nature reserves and thousands more hectares as “state land”. Israel did this by cynically exploiting the law that applies in the West Bank and issuing new military orders. Israel prohibits Palestinian use of any of these areas, and has placed the vast majority of them, some 150,000 hectares, under the jurisdictions of settlement regional councils. Israeli action against the local population has been stepped up in recent years, with measures intended to expel Palestinian communities, many of which have been living for decades in areas Israel had taken over. Only a minute portion of the land in the Jordan Valley now remains in Palestinian hands, yet the uprooting of groves and destruction of crops demonstrate that Israeli harassment extends even to those landowners.