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Palm trees under fire
by Mohammed Al Baba
AHMAD ABU Samra, 60, points to one of his slightly tilting palm trees. "It still stands proud," he says, "despite the attempts by Israeli occupation bulldozers to uproot it like the dozens of other trees that used to grow by its side."
Over the three years of the Intifada, say locals, Israeli occupation forces have tried to eradicate this distinctive feature of Deir Al Balah, which is famous for its palm trees. The Israeli army has destroyed, leveled and even stolen dozens of trees or confiscated land on which they are planted to nearby settlements such as Kfar Darom and the Gosh Katif settlement block.
The palm tree, explains Abu Samra, is a unique agricultural landmark of the city of Deir Al Balah, taking is uniqueness from its deep roots in the land and its imposing leaves that remain unchanged over time.
The red dates of the trees are a local delicacy, and residents of Deir Al Balah largely depend on the date season, usually in this month, as a source of income. But just like Israeli bulldozers leveled the area of Sheikh Ajleen, west of Gaza, and caused serious losses to the grape harvest that the area is known for, the palm trees of Deir Al Balah, and therefore the city's heritage, have also been targeted, says Abu Samra.
The central district governorate has estimated the size of the losses incurred by the date sector at close to $3,550,000. According to a report recently released by the governorate, the total number of palm trees in Deir Al Balah alone was 16,500. Since the start of the Intifada, some 3,550 trees have been uprooted or leveled.
According to Abu Samra, who had a number of his own trees uprooted during the Israeli invasion of the eastern part of the city last month, the bulldozers even targeted the saplings. According to the farmer, the purpose of this was so that the saplings could not be moved to another area and replanted.
"As for the adult trees, the bulldozers would break them in half, so they couldn't be replanted," he adds.
In addition, Abu Samra says Israelis steal trees before their owners' eyes. Settlers from Kfar Darom, under the protection of patrolling Israeli soldiers, stole a number of trees while the bulldozers worked to destroy what was left.
"They have turned my land into a barren desert. It used to be filled with towering palms," he says.
According to the governor for the central district, Abdallah Abu Samhadaneh, Israel's goal is to break the will of the Palestinians by any means. The Israeli occupation forces, he says, are using a "scorched land" strategy by targeting the trees, the dates and, by extension, the people.
If that is the policy, Abu Samra is not deterred. "This will not break our will. Our palm trees will remain tall and as long as there is breath in our bodies, we will plant them again and water them with our blood like those before us."
Translated by Joharah Baker from Al Ayyam on November 17, 2003.
-Published November 19, 2003©Palestine Report