Palestinian group launches tree-planting program to halt Israeli building
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Palestinian group launches tree-planting program to halt Israeli building

Union of Agricultural Work Committees says it will plant thousands of trees in East Jerusalem and West Bank areas under full Israeli control

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Palestinian officials along with Israeli and International peace activists plant trees near Beit Al Baraka compound as part of a protest against the land being taken over by Israeli settlers on April 9, 2016. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Illustrative: Palestinian officials along with Israeli and International peace activists plant trees near Beit Al Baraka compound as part of a protest against the land being taken over by Israeli settlers on April 9, 2016. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

A Palestinian group launched a project on Sunday to plant thousands of trees in strategic locations in East Jerusalem as well as Israeli-controlled areas of the West Bank in an effort to prevent the seizure of their lands for settlement expansion.

In a press release announcing the project, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), said the program is a response to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and Israeli building plans announced for the city in the wake of the decision.

The effort will “strengthen Palestinian steadfastness on the ground and preserve the lands in danger of seizure and confiscation,” the group said.

The Ramallah-based NGO, which is roughly equivalent to the Jewish National Fund, works with Palestinian farmers and agricultural professionals on a host of programs and activities in the West Bank.

The UAWC said the project would target East Jerusalem, where the Israeli government is planning on building 6,000 new units as part of a broader project to build 14,000 homes around the city that was launched by the Housing Ministry following Trump’s December 6 decision to recognize Jerusalem.

Illustrative: Palestinian volunteers plant olive trees near the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 31, 2016. (Flash90)

The UAWC also said it would plant trees in a number of places in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli control under the Oslo Accords and require special Defense Ministry permission for any Palestinian agricultural activity.

These include the E-1 area between Jerusalem and the Ma’ale Adumim settlement, the Jordan Valley and outside the West Bank village of Qusra, where Palestinian man Mahmoud Za’al Odeh was shot last month by an Israeli settler chaperoning a bar mitzvah hike that came under attack by Palestinian rock-throwers.

Israeli officials have looked in the past to build in the E-1 corridor in order to link up the large settlement of Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem, but Palestinians and others have vociferously opposed building there, saying it would make a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank impossible.

The group also announced plans to plant trees in lands surrounding the settlements of Tekoa and Beitar Illit in the Gush Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem due to what they alleged as settler attempts to prevent Palestinian farmers from reaching their fields there.

The Civil Administration, the Defense Ministry body that authorizes construction and planting in the West Bank said it is aware of the program and “will act against every invasion of state land quickly and decisively.”

Responding to the report, Regavim, a right-wing NGO that monitors Palestinian construction, lamented what it viewed as the failure of the Israeli government to enforce the rule of law against illegal Palestinian building.

“While the Palestinian Authority is rushing forward with the help of European funding, the Israeli government and the civil administration, which is in charge of enforcement, are standing up and abandoning the land,” Regavim said in a statement.

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