by Sonny Inbaraj
(IPS) -- "Trees Sustain the Lives of People. Stop Uprooting the Trees of Palestine" reads a poster that is trying to call attention at a world conservation conference, underway here, to how precious olive trees have become a casualty in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
Thus, Razan Zuayter, a Palestinian living in Jordan who is director of the Arab Group for the Protection of Nature, is seeking help for her people to plant one million trees, in particular olive trees, in lands that were razed by Israeli bulldozers in the Palestinian territories.
She also wants to draw attention to the suffering and economic displacement that olive tree farmers are facing in Palestine as a consequence of losing this traditional source of livelihood over generations.
"The olive tree is known to be planted in Palestine for six thousand years. Now, these old trees are being destroyed in the occupation," she told a session of the World Conservation Congress, organised by the World Conservation Union or IUCN.
"Unfortunately they are not only destroying the trees, but also the history of Palestine," revealed Zuayter.
The IUCN global congress, which ended on Nov. 25, has brought together 81 states, 114 government agencies, 800 plus non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and some 10,000 scientists and experts from 181 countries.
What petroleum is to Saudi Arabia, olive oil is to Palestine. Olives are a staple crop for the rural Palestinian communities traditionally dependent on agriculture.
Olive groves represent over 40 percent of the cultivated area in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and represent almost 80 percent of the cultivated fruit trees.
Now, however, the ability of many Palestinian communities to support themselves is being seriously threatened.
According to the Catholic humanitarian group Caritas in Jerusalem, in the past four years since the second 'intifadah' or Palestinian uprising, the Israeli occupying forces have uprooted almost 400,000 olive trees with a value of over $60 million.
In all, since the 1967 Six-Day War, Israeli forces have destroyed more than one million Palestinian olive trees, the same group said.
"This systematic attack on the olive groves of Palestine constitutes an immense economic and environmental disaster that promises to impact Palestinian society severely for generations to come," said a recent Caritas statement.
Olive groves have also been cleared from strategic locations in order to open new lands for Jewish Israeli settlements. In addition, according to the Arab Group for the Protection of Nature, Israeli policies of collective punishment often target entire Palestinian communities and include uprooting trees as a means of reprimand and intimidation.
"These systematic attacks using bulldozers are rising very quickly," said Zuayter. "The razing of the land by bulldozers is very deep. They take the upper soil -- which is the most fertile and they change the whole structure of the land. Besides uprooting trees, they also uproot people and that's cruel."
The second 'intifadah' started on Sept. 28, 2000 when the head of Israel's right-wing Likud party and now prime minister, Ariel Sharon, ignored warnings and visited the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, a site holy to both Muslims and Jews, sparking violent clashes.
A 12-year-old Palestinian boy was shot in his father's arms after coming under Israeli fire on Palestinian protestors. The death was caught on film and the heartbreaking footage showed around the world rekindled another Palestinian uprising that earlier started in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1987, in protest against the continued Israeli occupation.
Since then, some 1,000 Israelis and around 3,000 Palestinians have been killed, and the death toll in the conflict continues to rise.
In the spring of 2002, Prime Minister Sharon launched Operation Defensive Shield and vowed to crush the 'intifadah.' Israel also started building the so-called 'Segregation Wall' in June that year saying it was necessary to protect its people from Palestinian attacks.
Most of its 640-kilometre length is made up of a concrete base with a five-metre-high wire-and-mesh superstructure. Rolls of razor wire and a four-metre-deep ditch are placed on one side. In addition, the structure is fitted with electronic sensors and has an earth-covered "trace road" beside it that can 'see' the footprints of anyone crossing.
But the impact of the wall has been felt most acutely in Qalqilya, once known as the West Bank's "fruit basket," which lies within a tight loop in the structure.
"It is cut off on three sides -- from the farms that supply its markets and the region's second-largest water sources. Access to the town, with 40,000 Palestinians, is only through a single Israeli checkpoint," said Abdul Latif Mohammed, project director of the Palestine Agriculture Relief Committee (PARC), a non-governmental organization working in the Palestinian territories.
"Over 30 groundwater wells in Qalqilya have been affected by the first phase of the wall, with attendant consequences for the agricultural lands relying on these wells for water," added Abdul Latif.
According to the PARC director, the phenomenal growth of Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands is seriously threatening water resources and polluting groundwater.
"Most of the settlements are built on the summit of mountains which are supposed to be catchments for groundwater aquifers," Abdul Latif pointed out.
He said in the absence of any enforcing authority in the Occupied Territories, the Israeli settlers were free to discharge toxic wastewater directly into the environment.
"This is prohibited in Israel but they are doing it in the Palestinian territories," added Abdul Latif. "And this is a real fear because it pollutes the soil and fouls up the groundwater, depriving Palestinians of an important source of domestic and agricultural water."
A recent study on Gaza Strip water resources, conducted by the Palestinian Water Authority, shows that groundwater in the area is decreasing fast.
In 1975, the amount was about 1,200 cubic metres, but in 1995 the amount dropped to 800 cubic metres. With more Israeli settlements and growth in the Palestinian population, the study predicts that the groundwater aquifer will dry out by 2020.
November 30, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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