A permit to plough

By EA Alex H, Northern West Bank.

“It’s shameful for a Palestinian man to cry. I have cried twice in my life: once when my mother died, the second time when I came here and saw that the settlers had cut down my olive trees.”

Nabeeh Al Deeb, former chair of the Palestinian Olive and Oil Council, stands on the Old Nablus Road in the northern West Bank directing a team of tractor drivers who are ploughing his 85 dunums (8.5 hectares) of olives trees. “It will cost me over a thousand dollars to pay these men, but I am happy because they are doing a good job.”

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Ploughing under Nabeeh’s olive trees [Photo: EAPPI/Alex]

In 2001 settlers from the illegal settlement of Itamar expropriated Nabeeh’s land and cut down 720 of his olive trees. It took him five years of legal action through the courts to regain control of his fields. He was luckier than many Palestinians because his land had been registered during the Jordanian control of the West Bank (1949-1967) meaning he had a tabu, a proof of ownership document.  For Nabeeh, regaining control of his family’s land was elemental to his understanding of what it means to be a human being. “My family have been here a thousand years. For Palestinians, nothing is more important than the land. The land is our spirit, the land is our honour, the trees are our children.”

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Nabeeh Al Deeb on his land, with the illegal settler buildings visible on the hill top [Photo: EAPPI/Alex]

To gain access to his land, Nabeeh, like all farmers in Area C of the West Bank, has had to apply for permission to plough under his olive trees. Ideally, he explains, the land would be ploughed once and again in 10 days time, but the permission he has been granted by the Israeli authorities allows for just two consecutive days of cultivation. This restriction on access means the tractor drivers will double plough today. “It’s incredible,” says Nabeeh, “I need permission to see my trees. I need permission to plough under my trees. I need permission to harvest my trees.” This restriction on freedom of movement is in breach of Article 13 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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Breakfast break [Photo: EAPPI/Alex]

Settlers have taken over Nabeeh’s neighbour’s field (a breach of Article 55 of the Hague Regulations which states that an occupying power must safeguard agricultural estates in the interests of the occupied people) and a rich green crop of wheat is growing there. “They let their cows graze under my olive trees and have erected a fence and put in a cattle grid to keep the cows from eating the crops they have sown,” Nabeeh explains. “The cattle eat the lower branches of my olive trees resulting in a 30% cut in fruit yield. We say here that if a cow breathes on an olive tree, it won’t fruit.”

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The settlers’ fence and cattle grid designed to keep their cows on Nabeeh’s land [Photo: EAPPI/Alex]

As he speaks, armed settler security guards in a large white 4×4 wind their way down the track from the illegal settler outpost above Nabeeh’s olive trees. They reach the bottom of the hill and link up with another white 4×4 containing staff from the Israeli District Coordinating Office, DCO, which is part of the Israeli administrative body that controls the occupation in the West Bank. The DCO truck moves on and drawing level with Nabeeh, it stops. A DCO officer, automatic weapon slung over his shoulder, talks to Nabeeh then drives away. Four Israeli soldiers watch the ploughing from the shade of a tree growing on the slope beneath the outpost huts.

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Nabeeh (right) and the ploughing team (with the illegal settler buildings visible on the hill top) [Photo: EAPPI/Alex]

“My dream,” says Nabeeh looking wistfully across his fields, “is to build a small house down beside my olive trees and end my days here. I hope this will be. Inshallah.”