Arab farmers planted a massive grove of hundreds of olive trees along the northern border of the Dagan neighborhood of the town of Efrat, some of the planting taking place secretly overnight.
Efrat is situated in Gush Etzion, just south of Jerusalem.
The olive saplings hug the border of the town’s northern neighborhood of Dagan, essentially blocking its future development.
A local authority official who arrived on site Thursday determined that the lands were not privately owned by the farmers, had no known ownership, and were designated to be declared state lands. The land is in Area C, under full Israeli control.
One resident told TPS that the trees were planted right next to the fence surrounding the neighborhood, and while the state has plans to build in the area illegally appropriated by the Arab farmers, but “if there are trees there will be no roads.” Another resident joked that the Arab planted the trees in time for Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish holiday when trees are normally planted, except during the Shemitah (Sabbatical) year.
Later in the morning, residents of Efrat and Gush Etzion went down to examine the new olive grove from up close, and noted that the Arab workers in the area called in to report their presence. What is believed to have been an inspector from the Palestinian Authority soon arrived and began to observe and track the Jewish residents.
A spokesperson for the Efrat Municipality told TPS that Efrat Council head Oded Ravivi “is aware of the illegal tree planting and is acting against it. In this context, he contacted the relevant law enforcement agencies in the Civil Administration and the IDF. They explained to him that due to operational constraints they will take care of the matter in the coming week.”
Revivi thanked the residents of Efrat who “showed vigilance, reported, photographed and asked to take action.” He further “expressed confidence in the military that they will take care of the matter as they have previously mobilized to demolish illegal structures near Efrat.”
Most of the illegally built homes surrounding Efrat have not been demolished and construction on them continues.
It is unclear if the Palestinian Authority or European entities are behind this specific attempt to illegally seize the land, as is the case in other areas in Judea and Samaria.
Regavim, an organization that combats the PA’s illegal construction and takeover of the land in Judea and Samaria, has been warning of the organized PA takeover of open spaces in Judea and Samaria, also through massive planting in open areas situated at strategic locations.
According to Regavim’s data, between the years 2019-2021, the PA guided the agricultural takeover of 7,125 dunams of land under Israeli control, reaching a total of 93,071 dunams seized in the past decade.
Agricultural activities include cultivating huge areas, planting hundreds of thousands of trees annually, paving agricultural roads at an annual volume of tens of kilometers, and digging water cisterns for irrigation. When continuous agricultural cultivation is carried out, the land actually passes into the hands of the Arab farmers.
The data further shows that the European Union has shifted its support for the PA’s illegal activity from construction to agricultural takeover, which occupies the maximum area with minimum investment.
“The Palestinian Authority is shaping the borders of the Palestinian state with its own hands and setting facts for Israel on the ground. This is a first-class strategic event, which the recent Israeli governments have responded to with inaction,” Meir Deutsch, CEO of Regavim, has warned in recent months.
JewishPress.com News Desk contributed to this report.