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July 22, 2014 / 24 Tammuz, 5774
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Uprooting that which Was Planted

The fear of a Palestinian takeover of state lands in the center of Gush Etzion led Women in Green to plant trees, but the Civil Administration has issued an eviction order. The case will be heard in March.
Activist Nadia Matar

Activist Nadia Matar
Photo Credit: Nati Shohat/FLASH90

Unfortunately for those executing Fayyadism, their plan ran into a not-so-small snag, known as the Women in Green organization. At the head of the organization stand two tenacious women, Yehudit Katsover and Nadia Matar, who carry on the daily – and often Sisyphean – battle for the lands of Netzer. The organization, with the support of the Local Council and the assistance of people who hold the matter dear to their heart, plant as many trees as they can on the state lands of the area. The Jewish resistance, conducted by Katsover and Matar, is the novelty of our story.

Not privately owned land

In order to understand the activity in the area, a few basic concepts must be clarified briefly: the land in Judea and Samaria is divided into 3 main categories – survey lands, state lands, and privately owned land. Survey lands have no known claims of ownership over them and are therefore suitable to be declared state lands. In order to “upgrade” survey land to state land, the Civil Administration carries out a thorough examination, including inspection of aerial photos from different time periods, in order to confirm that the land had not been cultivated or settled upon in the past. If no such evidence has been found, the Administration turns to the local mukhtar (Arab mayor) and asks him to advertise the intention to declare the land as state land. Anyone with a claim to that land must turn to the appeals committee and provide testimonies to the claim that it is, in fact, privately owned land. In every case where an appeal is filed, the examination process is started all over again in order to double-check the facts.

Privately owned lands are lands regarding which some evidence of their having been cultivated has been found. According to the law, the examination is meant to check the last 3 years, but in realitythe Administration is rigorous and checks for cultivation up to 10 years back and more. If evidence of such cultivation is found, the land is immediately declared as privately owned Arab land.

And back to Netzer. Large portions of the land there are defined as survey lands in the process of declaration. Meaning, there is no claim to private ownership of the land, but it has not yet been declared as state land. That is the background for the activities of Women in Green in the area, as Yehudit Katsover reminisces: “Before beginning to plant, we checked the maps for the state lands and worked only on those. We continuously made sure that we were not even brushing against the edge of land that was defined as privately owned by Arabs.” The goal of these two activists is one: “to prevent the Arabs from taking over the land. We’ve witnessed in the past how Arabs try to take over state lands that had not yet been planted on by us. Sometimes we caught on in time and rushed to plant in those plots, but some places we were too late and the Arabs were able to plant undisturbed on state lands, right next to the fences of the Jewish communities. We know beyond all doubt that if we do not plant on state lands, the Arabs will.”

Katsover and Matar tell of the many difficulties their plantings in Netzer have run into: “Despite the fact that we have only planted on state lands, the Arabs refuse to tolerate our presence in the area. They cut the watering pipes, destroy saplings and tear up Israeli flags that stand on state lands.”

Katsover and Matar tell of one case that truly illustrates the Sisyphean aspect of the job they have taken upon themselves: “We arrived about 3 years ago to plant olive trees in the area. After we finished planting and each went our separate ways, Arabs invaded the plot and tore up the olive saplings. We decided to plant larger trees in response, so that they wouldn’t be able to uproot them, and we did so that very night. Unfortunately, the Arabs somehow managed to uproot these plants as well.”

Nonetheless, the duo did not despair. “We ordered five very large olive trees from the Galilee, so that they would be harder to uproot. We planted them on Saturday night, deep in the ground, so that it would be very difficult to get them out. But on Sunday we discovered that these trees had also been uprooted, and we were back to square one. We came back to plant large trees in the area, this time covering almost the entire tree with earth. Today, five out of nine olive trees that we planted are still standing there.”

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The fear of a Palestinian takeover of state lands in the center of Gush Etzion led Women in Green to plant trees, but the Civil Administration has issued an eviction order. The case will be heard in March.

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