“When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city?” Deuteronomy 20:19 (The Israel Bible™)
While knives, car rammings, and bullets are often seen as the modern weapons of choice in Palestinian terrorism against Israel, according to agriculturalists and Israeli NGOs, trees could be the greatest threat to ensuring the future of Israel.
According to Regavim International Division Director Naomi Kahn, Israel is being blocked out of its own land in a “silent conquest.” The Palestinian Authority has been illegally planting trees in Area C, land under full Israeli control, with millions of euros financial backing from the European Union (EU) and a Norwegian NGO, which has affiliations with The Popular Front for the liberation of Palestine (a terrorist organization as described by Israel, the United States Canada, Australia, and even the EU itself).
“This is done in a strategic method to surround Jewish settlements and create territorial congruity for a future Palestinian state, cutting the settlements off from Israel proper by using the tree planting project to create facts on the ground, ensuring that Israel won’t be able to reclaim public land,” Kahn told Breaking Israel News.
Regavim has documented the agricultural land grab and has gone to court against the Palestinian Authority for over a decade with “some successes and some failures,” as agriculture is difficult to pinpoint and identify, often resulting in a longer process with the civil administration.
“Since 1999, there has been a massive, heavily funded Palestinian campaign to seize land in Area C,” Kahn said.
She explained that the most recent iteration of this is the Fayyad plan, a campaign created by Salim Fayyad, the former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, to develop construction initiatives in Area C as a means to establish a de facto Palestinian state, creating congruity through construction and other methods, and circumventing the need for negotiations with Israel.
“Trees are used as pawns to hold onto territory,” said Kahn. “Under the anachronistic laws that exist from Ottoman rule, when you can prove you’ve used a piece of land for a couple of years, especially with agricultural use, the land gains legal protection and the state cannot claim it back. It becomes privately owned because it was used for agricultural purposes. And Israel cannot just change the laws, because it runs into various political and international-diplomatic problems when it tries to change laws over the Green Line.”
She said Palestinians do not get permits and come to these areas with heavy machinery and plant illegally.
“The EU is funding it, and has stated clearly in literature that they are supporting agricultural use of Area C in order to create facts on the ground and gain control for the Palestinian Authority, in violation of EU charter and Oslo Accords, which they are witnesses to,” she said.
Kahn called the situation “absurd,” maintaining that the land grab is “very clearly orchestrated and politically motivated and “the EU is in clear violation of own charter and law.”
While the tree planting is still in the early stages, Kahn explained, “two-to-three years down the line, when people claim [the areas with Palestinian trees] are private land, Israel won’t be able to do anything about it. This will likely come to a head in the next few years.”
Until then, Regavim is working to see that law is applied universally and equally to Israel’s national lands.
“Jewish construction is treated differently than Arab, and foreign entities are treated completely differently,” she said. “This needs to stop. Israel is a sovereign democracy.”
But Dov Lipman, former member of Knesset (Yesh Atid) and director of public diplomacy for the World Zionist Organization’s Department of Zionist Relations, is not as concerned as Kahn about Israel’s security and stability, despite the Palestinians planting in Jewish areas.
“I feel that the more we settle and establish roots in the land, the more we establish ourselves here, but we have already done that,” he told Breaking Israel News. “It’s not necessary to plant more to secure Israel’s future. It was very important in the early stages, but I don’t see it as a necessary strategic maneuver [anymore].”
Even so, Lipman maintained that the Torah views trees as an establisher of life and representation of man. He also sees various Biblical prophecies coming true in the land, related to agriculture.
“In the Bible, it says that when we are exiled from the land it would remain desolate, but God will remember us and we will return,” Lipman explained. “All the prophets talk about the re-flourishing of the land when we return, and that’s exactly what happened.
“Re-flourishing is a significant symbol of these Biblical prophecies and god’s involvement in our return to the land. Through the State, we see the flourishing, because God promised that will happen.”
Nonetheless, Lipman cautioned that the Jewish people in Israel need to be careful – in as much as the Palestinians do – of establishing territory by agricultural force. He said, “There is no need to break into areas that are controversial and not yet established and create tension for either side– that is an abuse of the situation.”
Lipman maintained that “the entire land is the Jews’ Biblically,” in a potential future peace agreement with the Palestinians, he would be “painfully willing to give up parts of that land if it’s for the sake of a real peace and protecting our sons and daughters.”
Not everyone agrees.
Amnon Sugbeker, who plants olive trees and grape vines in Bat Ayin in Gush Etzion, says that planting trees is necessary for the future of Israel and especially to the areas of Judea and Samaria.
“The trees hold the land,” he told Breaking Israel News. “It’s necessary to plant trees in Israel because they are our roots. When people plant trees, the trees make roots and slowly become strong.
“Our trees not only give organic food, and make Israel green, but they also act as a natural barrier. This is the way we keep the land.”
Sugbeker bemoaned the planting of 26,000 dunams of Palestinian trees in Israeli land in 2017.
“Israel plants much less, maybe 3,000 dunams every year,” he said. “I planted not even 10. But they come with European money, and tractors, and bring many workers.”
According to Sugbeker, the community of Bat Ayin chose to plant trees to make wine and olive oil, anticipating the coming of the geula (redemption), in which they will be taken to the Temple.
If any trees and land are required to give to the Palestinians in future negotiations, Sugbeker said, “We would ask God to help us,” rather than giving it up, as he sees the land as part of the covenant between God and the Jewish people.
“We don’t want to fight,” said Sugbeker. “We don’t want war, we want peace. But the Palestinians don’t want us here, not just Yehuda and Shomron [Judea and Samaria], but all of Israel. But this is our land and we are staying.”