Illegal theft of olive trees must be stopped 20Apr11 April 25, 2011

by Maya Zinshtein  -  Haaretz Editorial -  20 April 2011

For around a decade now, illegal trade in ancient olive trees – including uprooting, stealing and smuggling them from the West Bank into Israel – has reportedly been flourishing.

The immoral wealthy have a new and tasteless toy: ancient olive trees adorning the gardens of their villas.

According to an investigative report by journalist Maya Zinshtein published in the Haaretz Hebrew edition on Monday, for around a decade now, illegal trade in ancient olive trees – including uprooting, stealing and smuggling them from the West Bank into Israel – has been flourishing.

It is a market worth millions of shekels a year, in which a single tree can command tens of thousands of shekels. The Haaretz report uncovered suspicions of criminal activities in this regard, along with an ugly greediness for pet trees that has nothing to do with the love of the land and its arboreal species.

Olive trees, one of the most beautiful and symbolic hallmarks of the land of Israel, have also become a status symbol for the upper thousandth percentile of the population. As a result, they are being uprooted from their natural surroundings, where they should have remained planted forever, ruining the landscape on both sides of the Green Line.

It is illegal to uproot and transport ancient trees without authorization. Many trees have been stolen from their owners in the territories, and in other cases, heavy pressure is brought to bear on Palestinian farmers to sell their trees, taking advantage of their powerlessness and making huge profits at their expense.

The government department in charge of enforcing the law pertaining to flora and fauna is partially paralyzed; a senior member of its staff owns a nursery, has a criminal record, and is suspected of taking bribes and of illegal trade in trees.

The state comptroller intends to soon publish a report on this department. But beyond the criminal nature of this commerce, the environmental and public aspects of this scandal cannot be ignored.

Uprooting ancient olive trees, which have been planted for centuries in public areas and have been an inseparable part of the scenery of the Galilee and the West Bank, and moving them to the private gardens of wealthy homeowners, rides roughshod over the landscape and heritage of this country.

Uprooting trees that farmers have tended for centuries and moving them to homes whose owners have no relationship to the land or to agriculture, is infuriating and improper. It is incumbent on the Agriculture Ministry and the Civil Administration to take immediate action to stop the theft of trees and the destruction of the landscape.

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