Destruction of Olive Trees in West Bank Is an Attack on Palestinian Sovereignty, Activists Say

The vandalism comes at a time when Palestinian olive oil production is being threatened by Israel’s steady acquisition of territory in the West Bank.
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Aug. 12, 2020
Pia Koh

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The olive tree – a sym­bol of Palestinian iden­tity – is under attack by Israeli set­tlers, argues Burhan Ghanayem, co-chair­man of Voices for Justice in Palestine, a human rights orga­ni­za­tion.

According to United Nations mon­i­tors, more than 4,000 olive trees and other tree crops have been burned or removed by Israeli set­tlers and sol­diers since the start of 2020.

The objec­tive is, okay you destroyed 100 trees, we’re going to plant another 100. It’s just, we’re not going to let go. It’s a form of resis­tance.- Burhan Ghanayem, co-chair­man, Voices for Justice in Palestine

The most recently recorded episode of van­dal­ism in Palestinian olive groves came last month when roughly 30 olive trees were burned near the city of Nablus, famous for its his­toric olive oil soap pro­duc­tion indus­try.

Ghanayem told Olive Oil Times that olive trees, for Palestinians, are not sim­ply a source of income, but also indi­cate own­er­ship over the land.

See Also:Despite Challenges, Soap Production Continues in West Bank

I know that what we own now was grandfather’s olive trees and land, and my father inher­ited it,” Ghanayem said. My grand­fa­ther used to tell me that he inher­ited it from his father, so I can know for sure that my great-grand­fa­ther, grand­fa­ther and my father are the own­ers of our olive tree orchard.”

The van­dal­ism comes at a time when Palestinian olive oil pro­duc­tion is being threat­ened by Israel’s steady acqui­si­tion of ter­ri­tory in the West Bank. Palestinians have also accused Israel of attempt­ing to under­mine the Palestinian olive oil mar­ket.


The destruc­tion of olive trees in the West Bank is noth­ing new. In a 1974 speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Palestinian polit­i­cal leader Yasser Arafat stated that ter­ror­ism fed on hatred and this hatred was even directed against the olive tree in my coun­try, which has been a proud sym­bol and which reminded them of the indige­nous inhab­i­tants of the land, a liv­ing reminder that the land is Palestinian. Thus they sought to destroy it.”

Since the time of Arafat’s speech, it is esti­mated that Israeli set­tlers, in efforts to develop set­tle­ments, build roads and con­struct new infra­struc­ture, have uprooted or burned more than a mil­lion olive trees.

Israeli author­i­ties have argued that some of these olive groves rep­re­sent a threat to local secu­rity. One Israeli Defence Force com­man­der, Colonel Eitan Abrahams, said that olive trees are removed for the safety of set­tlers,” claim­ing that the trees pro­tect Palestinian gun­men or stone-throw­ers.

No one should tell me that an olive tree is more impor­tant than a human life,” Abraham said.

However, Ghanayem sees the destruc­tion of Palestinian trees as a way for Israelis to try and erode Palestinian iden­tity and force them to cede more land to Israel.

Palestinians plant around 10,000 new olive trees in the West Bank each year, most of which are of oil-pro­duc­ing vari­eties.

My fam­ily has planted thou­sands of trees in the last 10 to 15 years,” he said. The objec­tive is, okay you destroyed 100 trees, we’re going to plant another 100. It’s just, we’re not going to let go. It’s a form of resis­tance.”


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