12 February 2010
Following the beginning of construction of a new watchtower at the site of the former military base, this week, residents of Beit Sahour and international volunteers gathered at the surrounding farmlands, on Friday, to cultivate the land, planting 250 olive trees.
The former military base at Osh Grab was abandoned by the Israeli military in April 2006, and part of the site was transformed into a public park and centre for the residents of Beit Sahour by the town’s municipality. The land private land reverted to its original owners, including the sites worked on today.
Part of the site has remained abandoned, though, as it falls inside of zone C, as designated by Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, also referred to as Oslo 2, signed in 1995. Part of the accords divided the land in the West Bank into 3 sections; areas A, B and C.
Area A is under the control of the Palestinian Authority, and amounts to 17% of the West Bank. Area B is shared between the PA and the Israeli military, and amounts to 24%. Finally, area C is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Israeli military, known as the Civil Administration, and accounts for the remaining 59%.
It is worth noting that 55% of Palestinians living in the West Bank live in area A, i.e. In 17% of the land.
Due to this land being under the control of the Israeli military, the municipality of Beit Sahour has been prevented from converting the area into a children’s hospital, as was their original intention.
The site has remained highly contested, with settler’s groups, such as Women in Green, lobbying for the construction of a new settlement in the area, to be named Shdema. The groups have been active in lobbying and protesting, including regular gatherings to cultivate the lands with tree planting session of their own.
The residents of Beit Sahour are suspicious that the watchtower is a precursor for further construction in the area. Speaking to IMEMC, earlier in the week, Dr. Mazin Qumsiya, resident of Beit Sahour and member of the Popular Committee to Defend Osh Graib, had the following to say,
“They claim that it’s about a watchtower that they want to construct, but the map of the watchtower is a different map to this area; it has nothing to do with this bulldozing. My fear is that they are either going to get back the military base completely, or that they are going to have a settlement.”
Today’s activities were organized by Popular Committee, in co-operation with the Joint Advocacy Initiative and the Reclaiming The Land Project. The JAI launched their Olive Tree Campaign in 2002, with intention of planting 50,000 olive trees, to replace some of the near 600,000 trees that have been destroyed by Israeli attacks, both by the military and by settlers.
To date the project has planted 62,000 trees, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and have secured a further 1,200 to plant this season. Olive trees have the capacity to last for hundreds of years, but take upwards of a decade before they will begin to bear fruit.
The olive is vital to the Palestinian economy, with the fruit being sold to eat, to be turned into olive oil, or to be turned into soap. Furthermore, when olives have been pressed for their oil, the stones inside are crushed, and can then be mulched for fertilizer, or dried into briquettes to be used as a source of heat.
Speaking to IMEMC, the owner of the land, Tarib Jubran, expressed his gratitude to the organizers and volunteers, both local and international, for helping him secure safe access to his land and for their hard work in planting so many trees. He continued, “I will continue to cultivate, and care for my land. Olive trees are tough, they survive in tough environments. They have deep roots in the land, like Palestinians.”