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Planting olive trees as an act of resistance

21 January 2024 | International Solidarity Movement | Umm Safa

Maher Sabah, a village leader, holding an olive tree during the day of work in Umm Safa. Credit: ISM.


On January 20, ISM volunteers joined with Israeli activists to work alongside villagers of Umm Safa, a village 30km north of Ramallah, planting olive trees and vines on part of the 200 dunums (50 acres) of the village’s communal land. Replacing some of the many olive trees destroyed by settlers is both an economic necessity and an act of resistance, clearly saying this is our land and we intend to stay on it.

As the day progressed and we came in view of the illegal settlement, Israeli occupation forces (IOF) turned up to disrupt this challenge to the Zionist settler colonial project. Immediately, they started pushing people around, shouting and pointing their weapons, demanding everyone leave the area, declaring it a “Closed  Military Zone”. They seized gardening tools, uprooted some of the newly planted trees and seized mobile phones when they could.

After another jeep full of soldiers arrived, it became apparent they were going to escalate their violence. As we moved back, volleys of tear gas were fired at us whilst a military drone hovered overhead collecting intelligence (fortunately it did not eject a cloud of tear gas as we have experienced at previous confrontations). To avoid more serious violence from the IOF (like use of live ammunition) and/or arrests, the village leaders decided to stop the work and return to the village.

Umm Safa is one of the many Palestinian communities at the sharp end of ethnic cleansing. It is subject to regular violent attacks by armed illegal settlers – backed up by the IOF- from the nearby settlement of Ateret and its outposts.

The villagers’ land is being stolen from them in front of their eyes. Only one week ago, 14 dunums (around 3.5 acres) of land cultivated with olive trees was seized and cleared by settlers with IOF in tow, with the apparent intention of establishing a new outpost. Further pressure has been put on the community since 7th October, with the Israeli army blocking the village’s only access road to the main road network with a locked gate and impassable earth mounds.

Despite the premature end to the day, the community had made a clear statement of resistance. Most of the olive trees had come through the confrontation unscathed, the tools and phones seized were left behind by the IOF, but, most importantly , the community’s determination and right to stay on their land had been unambiguously asserted.

Existence is resistance.

A video of the disruption caused by Israeli army can be found here.