October 28, 2009

Palestinian villager stands up to Israeli settlement, repairs damaged trees, continues olive harvest

By Amin Abu Wardeh and Rana Khmus - October 27, 2009

Nablus / PNN – Palestinian farmer Abdel Asaus has become a model of steadfastness standing in front of Bracha Settlement.

His home is in the southern Nablus village of Burin, nearby the confiscated West Bank land on which the Israeli settlement of Bracha was built.

Repeated attacks by the settlers darken the area, but Asaus is continuing to grow his crops in spite of the ever present threat.

He seemed tired while talking to PNN, saying, "What happened is a massacre; 97 olive trees have been cut and the bark stripped. This is not the first attack on our soil. During every olive harvest they target our land and our trees, burning them, uprooting, and cutting."

Asaus says that he remains undeterred. "Every year I work on the trees on land near the settlements. The main objective is to emphasize that this is our land and our right. The occupation seeks to control it all, but after they burn and cut the trees to pieces I am working on plowing."

His efforts at rehabilitation have Asaus remaining on the Burin land where some 100 olive trees were just targeted.

"I went out with my friend to land adjacent to the settlement, 300 meters away. The season is that of fruitful olive trees, and I regularly remove weeds for fear the settlers will use them to start the trees on fire."

He continues, "On the 27th of last month the settlers watched me from their place of surveillance. I did not pay much attention to them and kept working. They saw how we care for the trees and reap the harvest. The next morning we found that 97 out of 130 olive trees had been cut with a manual chainsaw. The bark was stripped to cause the most damage possible."

Asaus adds, "We will not leave the ground. I never have during all of these years of difficulty. Even as access becomes more problematic, this is our land and I will not coordinate with them in order to reach it. Even if I die between the olive trees, I will welcome it. We are not afraid of their weapons. This land has been burned three times, and every time I take care of it, giving medicine and surgery to the trees as best as possible."

He says, however, that every year is a tough loss. "Last year they cut down 200 trees and the village lost much of its territory and fruit trees. Three thousand trees belonging to the village of Burin were destroyed; this has an impact on our lives. I produce about 370 cans of oil each year and this is the livelihood for my family and extended family."

The Israeli administration is attempting to impose control on the ground by all means available, notes Asaus. "They are hunting farmers and are working to abort the olive picking season because they know of its importance to the Palestinians. The olive tree is part of our heritage and a major source of our livelihoods with which we are able to live with dignity, steadfastness and stability. It will remain one of the most important parts of our lives as long as we are alive."

As a result of practices of the settlers, says Ali Eid, President of the Village Council of Burin, the olive harvest has shrunk. "Settlers attack the land and the farmers," he says, "and actively work to prevent farmers from reaching their land."

He told PNN, "Year after year the situation is bad. Since the direct targeting of the lands, trees, and people by Israeal’s occupation at the beginning of the first Intifada, some 14-17 thousand olive, fig and almond trees have been destroyed. Since the beginning of the Al Aqsa Intifada [in 2000] more than 9,000 olive trees have been uprooted here."

Burin Village residents note the growing frequency of attacks during the olive harvest. "With the decline in the date season, the olive harvest is even more important for their livelihoods. It really is the backbone and families depend on it directly. It impacts the education of their children. College enrollment for students from Burin is down," Eid said.

"The attacks are not only on the land and trees. The settlers are trying hard to displace residents of the village and are preventing construction. Herds of animals are not safe, and the settlers are also attacking homes and citizens along the roads.

"All of this land falls within the control of the Palestinian Authority ['Area A’ under Oslo], but the settlers are not prosecuted for attacks on families, homes or crops, let alone for killing cattle and sheep and other livestock, or for burning barns," the President of the Village Council added.

There are two major Israeli settlements built on southern Nablus land; Bracha and Yitzhar that undergo continued expansion, in addition to six outposts. This renders more than two-thirds of the land of Burin Village confiscated or with prohibited access.

Eid noted, "The total land area of the village of Burin is 32,000 acres with a population of 3,500 people who have been subjected to constant attacks by the settlers."

The President of the Council of the village of Burin added that "Israel's settlement policy is one of displacement; all indicators confirm it."

Asous confirmed in his comments to PNN that he would continue to repair and replant, and that he would not be driven from his land.

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