Deir Istiya’s farmers pray for their trees 28May12 May 28, 2012

by Dylan Collins  -  The Palestine Monitor  -  26 May 2012

About 30 residents of Deir Istiya gathered under an olive tree in the village’s Qana Valley farmland on Friday, 18 May 2012, for midday prayers. They were praying for a miracle.

Last month, Israel’s Civil Administration (ICA)—the deceptive title allotted to the governing body running its occupation of the West Bank—handed nine of Deir Istiya’s farmers orders to uproot over 1,400 olive trees by May 1st or face the consequences.

Nafiz Mansour, whose extended family owns most of the farmland in Wadi Qana, is rather despondent when looking towards the future.

“What can we do? We are up against the one of the strongest militaries in the world – they can do whatever they want. We are living on 22% of historic Palestine and the are taking more every day.”

During the 1993 Oslo Accords, the Qana Valley was marked as a Nature Reserve. The ICA’s recent and rather sizable tree removal order comes in connection to the 1993 accords— erroneously claiming the olive trees are not natural to the environment.

“It is clear what the Israeli authorities want,” says Izzat Mansour, one of Deir Istiya’s farmers whose trees are currently threatened with removal. “The want the entire valley and they will use any excuse to take it.”

Deir Istiya’s Qana Valley farmland is surrounded by seven hilltops, upon which sit seven of Israel’s illegal settlement colonies. The farmland is completely surrounded.

“They are like a cancer – the worst kind. It just keeps spreading,” says one of Deir Istiya’s farmers.

The Qana Valley is known for being one of the most fertile areas in the West Bank. Its rich soil and abundant water sources have allowed the village of Deir Istiya to become one of the largest olive oil producers in the West Bank. However, the valley’s plentiful resources have also made it a prime target for ICA appropriation.

Ten years ago, the ICA began pumping water from the valley’s river—Deir Istiya’s farmers’ only source of irrigation—up to several of the settlements on the surrounding hilltops. The once fertile valley is quickly being drained.

“We use to spend every day here in the summer swimming in the river,” says Amjad Al-Quadi, pointing to what use to be a wide stream whose path ran directly through the valley. The stream is now nothing but an algae-covered trickle.

What’s more, approximately five years ago, the nearby hilltop settlements of Revava and Immanuel began dumping their sewage water down into the valley and, subsequently, into the farmers’ olive and orange groves.

The ICA’s May 1st tree removal deadline came and went. Deir Istiya’s trees are still standing but its farmers are wary. “We know they are coming soon – they will most likely come at night when no one is here. We’ll wake up and they will all be gone,” says Amjad.

Friday’s gathering was the second awareness demonstration organized this month by residents of Deir Istiya. Demonstration organizers are determined to keep all gatherings calm and peaceful, as they suspect the ICA is simply waiting for the right pretext to close Wadi Qana—turning it into one of its ubiquitous Closed Military Areas—effectively and indefinitely barring Deir Istiya’s farmers from reaching their lands.

The villagers, however, are resolute in sticking to the land their families have farmed for generations. “If they take one tree,” says Abu Nafez, “I’ll plant two more. This land is my body and my soul. It is apart of me.”

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