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Army harassment at peaceful tree-planting in Qaryut

8 January 2010

An overwhelming force of Israeli military soldiers converged on farmlands outside Qaryut today as villagers attempted to replenish their endangered lands with water and new olive trees. Despite the overbearing army presence, residents’ convictions were strong enough for them to stand their ground and finish work for the day.

Villagers entered the Qaryut’s eastern farmlands following the midday prayer, carrying 200 baby olive trees donated by Palestinian Agricultural Relief and the Ministry of Agriculture. Facing the busy Nablus – Ramallah Road 60 route, and the Israeli settlements of Shilo and Eli behind them they set to work planting the new trees in the land oft neglected by farmers from fear of settler or army reprisal.

As residents worked the land, others began clearing the large earth mound that had been constructed across the small dirt road serving as Qaryut’s sole link to Road 60. Residents reported Israeli bulldozers shifting the earth mound in to place on January 6th, a repeated attempt of the military to block farmers from their land. The villagers’ work alerted the attention of Shilo settler security, who were sighted on the hilltop overlooking the farmland, photographing the proceedings.

Israeli Occupation Forces arrived soon after. One hummer carrying 20 soldiers immediately entered the area, shouting aggressively at the Palestinians that they had no right to be working their own land.

“I decided to approach the captain,” said Rayed, resident of Qaryut and co-organiser of the event. “He started to yell at me in Hebrew and I told him, this is Palestine. We don’t speak Hebrew here, we speak Arabic – or maybe English.”

The captain became enraged, but switched to English and informed Rayed that he and the villagers must return to their homes within 5 minutes, before the soldiers “started their work.”

“I said to him, what work?” recounts Rayed. “What is your work? To kill us? Well, he became very angry at that. But I told him that we will keep planting our trees, this is all we came here to do. The security of Israel will not be compromised by us planting some trees.”

By this time 11 more military jeeps had arrived, comprising a force of some 50 soldiers in total who quickly surrounded the farmland where the villagers continued to work. The trees planted successfully in the ground, the villagers prepared to leave as once again the soldiers became aggressive.

“They started shouting at us for leave, to go home,” says Rayed. “We were already on our way, but we didn’t need them to yell at us. They looked like they were about to attack. The captain approached me and demanded that we not intefere with the roadblock. I told him that the roadblock prevents tractors from accessing the crops, and that it is obvious the purpose of the roadblocks’ location is to make it easier for the settlers to conquest the land. If it was anything else, they’d put it directly at Road 60.”

The roadblock has been an ongoing impediment to Qaryut’s residents freedom of movement, and preventing farmers from accessing their lands. Several successful demonstrations were held last year when international solidarity activists joined hundreds of local protesters in removing the roadblock by hand, only for military bulldozers to rebuild it the following day.

“As we were leaving, I told the captain – OK, we are going now. But we’re coming tomorrow. And he asked me, what time are you coming? I’ll be here waiting for you. And I asked him if he why he was coming, to protect us? He said yes, to protect you – I’ll bring a tank of water for you,” laughs Rayed. “So I said to him in Hebrew, you will do us a favour if you bring us the water. But I don’t think he will.”