In spite of police threats, hundreds of Israeli and international peace activists and Palestinian villagers planted olive trees at the site of a planned new settlement: North Zufin, next to Qalqilya. "We, Israelis and Palestinians, shall campaign together against the landgrab of the Separation Fence" "I warn you, this is private property belonging to the settlers, and the planting of olive trees here is a violation of the law. We shall photograph every single person planting trees" called the police officer over his megaphone to hundreds of Israeli peace activists who gathered this morning at the site of the new settlement-to-be "Zufin North", next to Qalqilya. The activists responded to his words by chanting "Police State", "Stop the Occupation" and "No soldier and no policeman - we shall not rule over another nation".
Together with residents of the nearby Palestinian village Jayyous, they began to plant hundred of olive saplings which they had brought with them to the plot of land where the bulldozers of the settlers had uprooted hundreds of olive trees last week. "In spite of the police and army assertions, we do not recognise the ownership of the settlers over this land. This land belongs to the Jayyous villagers and the company "Geulat HaKarka" which is associated with the settlers took control of it on the false assertion that it was sold to them. The matter is still awaiting legal review, and we will not allow the settlers to dictate facts on the ground, to grab Palestinian lands and to commence establishing a new settlement on it" said Advocate Wiam Shbeyta, an activist of the Ta'ayush movement and a representative of the village residents.
The hundreds of demonstrators, members of Gush Shalom, Ta'ayush, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, MachsomWatch and the Anarchists Against the Wall, came to the site in a convoy of buses and private cars from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. To the west of the Tsur Natan (inside the Green Line) they were stopped by a large force of police and army, including a team of YASSAM (special forces). The demonstrators descended from the vehicles and marched five kilometres by a rough country path, escorted by the police and army, holding olive saplings and signs reading: "Settlement behind the smokescreen of the Gaza Disengagement" "In Gaza we are disengaging, here we are settling" "Stop the land grab" "Demolish the Separation Wall", "We will build trust, not walls", "There is no peace with settlements, there is no peace without justice" and also signs displaying the joined Israeli and Palestinian flags.
At the site of the new settlement - started by the settler-owned Geulat Ha'aretz company - the actvists planted the hundred olive saplings which they had brought. The police at the site photographed the faces of the people planting the trees, but did not stop them in their work. A rally developed on the spot, where Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom (the Peace Bloc) said: "Two years ago, when the fence was built here, we had a hard time convincing people in Israel that the puurpose of the fence was not security or prevention of suicide bombings, but was erected for political and settlement purposes: first they separated the people of Jayyous from their land, preventing them from working on it. Now, everything is clearly visible: they are passing over the land over to settler possession. That is part of the plan of Ariel Sharon, to annex into Israel 58% of the lands of the West Bank and to leave the Palestinians in isolated enclaves, which means never ending war with the Palestinians and with the entire Arab world." The historian Dr. Gadi Algazy, one of the Ta'ayush activists, said: "The day before yesterday we were here on the land, and we saw the settlers uproot whole live trees in order to profit from their sale, to sell them to Israeli juppies who enjoy seeing hundred-year old trees in their gardens.
Whoever is offered an olive tree for sale had better check very well where it came from." Abu Azzam, the Jayyous residents' representative told how the Israeli military authorities registered in the Land Registry settler possession of plots numbered 788 and 786, but did not show the Palestinian landowners the maps of those plots, on which this land was marked. "Only when the bulldozers came on our land and began to uproot the olive trees we earn our living from, did we understand that these numbers refer to our land. The settlers assert that we sold our land to them. This is a lie. We never sold this land and we have no intention of giving it up to them."
From the site of the tree planting, the demonstrators marched to the "Separation Fence" where, on the other side, many hundreds of Jayyous villagers gathered, who are not allowed by the army to cross (only 7% of the village residents have been given permits to pass the fence gate and work on their land on the western side of the fence). A large force of the army and police prevented the Israelis from approaching close to the gate and make eye contact with the Palestinian villagers. Sharp alteractions broke out between the demonstrators and the army and police. After a lengthy negotiation the army allowed a delegation of three Israeli activists to approach the gate of the fence and to give the villagers of Jayyous an olive tree that had been uprooted by the settlers and which had been left on the ground by them. "This is a token act of solidarity and joint struggle of Israelis and Palestinians, a campaign that will continue and grow in strength until the walls and fences are brought down, and the settlements and the Occupation itself" said one of the three members of the deleagtion, Yafit Jemila Bisso, a peace activist who is an immigrant from Syria and resident of Rishon Le Zion.