By the ISM Media Team
On Friday the 22nd June, Two human rights workers (HRWs) were alerted to a fire in part of the olive groves near Tel Rumeida. The size of the affected area is approximately one hectare and belongs to a local Palestinian man. According to one TIPH worker, the owner is one Ferial Abu Haikal and her husband (not sure of his name).
A local Palestinian fire crew dealt with the blaze, and perhaps half-a-dozen Israeli soldiers plus some locals were at the scene assisting.
When the HRWs arrived at approximately 12:15, the blaze was almost entirely extinguished, but flames continued to flicker in places and there was still a substantial amount of smoke. In general, the trees in the grove did not appear to be too badly affected, but the entirety of the surrounding area was turned to a black carpet of scorched grass. At least three trees were seriously damaged.
At 12:30, the Israeli soldiers asked the human rights workers to leave the immediate area; the HRWs agreed to the request, but stayed in the area to monitor the situation.
Having left the scene, the HRWs spoke with a relative of the owner the land. The relative explained that four years ago the Tel Rumeida settlers had set the same piece of land alight. Tel Rumeida settlers have also previously set alight ancient olive trees, which are of particular value to local Palestinians.
At the present time, the nature of the blaze is unknown, though there is footage, filmed by the Abu-Heckel family, of Israeli settlers standing in front of the fire when it first started. Israeli soldiers said that the fire started with the sun.
Later, at 3:00, a group of internationals were doing a tour through the olive groves when the discovered an olive tree still on fire. They called Israeli soldiers to put out the fire, but when the soldiers arrived they told the internationals to go away because it was too dangerous. Two internatioanls then ran to their home to get bottles of water, but when they returned the Palestinian firefighters were present with a fire hose. The internationals assisted the firefighters and helped put out the fire on the tree. This tree, and one other was seriously damaged by the fire and not have a chance to survive. One other tree was moderatly damaged.
In speaking with Jamil Abu Hekel, he confirmed that he was able to film his family’s land on fire. He advised that the land is shared between 6 family members, and that the piece of land which was burned has been burned down now every year for the last 5-6 years. in previous years, there used to be grapes on the field but they were burned down some 10 years ago.
One of the trees that were burned was over a hundred years old, it has been burned a lot of times, but somehow it has always managed to survive.
In real terms the cost of Palestinian land is set by how many Olive trees there are on it, however this doesn’t take into consideration the sentimental and emotional attachment many Palestinians feel towards the Olive trees as part of their cultural heritage and history. The burning of these trees attacks not just the financial capacity of Palestinians in the area but also attacks their culture and history.