Palestine Center Brief No. 322 (December 11, 2018)
By Mohamed Mohamed
According to an internal report by the Israeli Civil Administration, which is an Israeli government entity that handles bureaucratic affairs within the occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank, Palestinians are promoting a nefarious “ploy” to “seize land” by planting millions of olive trees – on their own land.
Israelis referred to this tree-planting effort as a “land grab” tactic meant to “set facts on the ground” and initiate a Palestinian “agricultural takeover.” How so? According to Israel’s Land Law, which also applies to the West Bank, continuous processing of land allows a farmer to legally claim ownership of that land.
This law is one of the legal mechanisms whereby Israeli settlers can seize Palestinian property simply by planting and maintaining trees or crops on the land. Considering that Israeli settlers enjoy the full protection of Israeli military forces, it is very easy for them to do so without any resistance from Palestinians, and since unarmed Palestinian farmers have no effective way to drive off the aggression of settlers, they often lose their lives while trying. Ironically though, this system is now backfiring on Israelis.
The audacity (or chutzpah) of Israelis complaining about Palestinian seizure of their own land or creating “facts on the ground” is mind-boggling, if not unbelievable.
In 1948, more than 750,000 Palestinians and their families were expelled or forced to flee from their land during the Nakba (or “catastrophe”) at the hands of invading Zionist forces. In the process, Zionist terrorists also executed many civilians and other non-combatants. Most of the people who made it out alive were never able to return to their homes, including my grandparents and other members of my family.
The newly-formed Israeli state seized the land, bank accounts, and all other property of Palestinian refugees, which became under the control of Israel’s “Custodian of Absentee Property.” So, to add insult to injury, Israel not only denied Palestinians the right to return to their homes, it also labelled them as absentees, as if they were away on vacation. Despite this severe injustice and the fact that Israel was established at the expense of the indigenous Palestinian population, it was quickly recognized as a legitimate and sovereign state by many other countries.
The events of 1948 were bad enough, but almost 20 years later in 1967, Palestinians suffered yet another devastating setback when Israel invaded and occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. This time, there was an overwhelming global consensus that Israel illegally occupied these Palestinian territories. Under international law, Israel has no right to even one square inch of these lands.
But more than 50 years later, Israel continues to militarily occupy and control East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and it maintains effective control over Gaza through its ruthless assaults and siege of the strip. Furthermore, since 1967, Israel has established more than 200 settlements with over 600,000 settlers on tens of thousands of hectares of Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Despite all of this, Israel portrays itself as the victim when Palestinians plant olive trees on land that is rightfully theirs. One member of an Israeli right-wing pro-settler organization said this:
“The planting of more than one million trees by the Palestinians should be seen as a million warning signs to the State of Israel, which has turned a blind eye to the illegal Palestinian takeover.”
Imagine if someone took over your home or land or other property, and then accused you of stealing it when you try to use it. It would be outrageous, but this is exactly how Israel behaves.
Israel is quick to criticize and accuse others of violating UN resolutions, yet it continues to violate many itself, including UN General Assembly Resolution 194 of 1948 and UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967. It possesses nuclear weapons but does not want others to have them. It has imposed more than 11 years of near-total siege on Gaza and killed thousands of civilians, then snipes the people inside who are protesting this situation, accusing them of terrorism. And when Palestinians plant trees on their rightful land which Israel is eyeing for confiscation, it accuses them of being thieves.
Despite many UN resolutions condemning its numerous violations of international law, Israel has yet to face any meaningful punishment or sanction. On the contrary, it continues to be rewarded with generous military and economic aid from the US, and it benefits from strong economic and political ties with European powers. It is frustrating and disappointing that Israel’s behavior will continue as long as there are no consequences to its actions.
Mohamed Mohamed is the Executive Director of the Palestine Center.
The views in this brief are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.