2012 Virtual Edition: Irus Braverman

Postscript to Uprooting Identities: The Regulation of Olive Trees in the Occupied West Bank

National wars are typically associated with soldiers, with blood, and with large flags blowing in the wind. They are not associated with trees or with greening the landscape. My article tells an extraordinary story about the mundane uses of law and landscape in the national war between Israelis and Palestinians. It relies on in-depth interviews and observations conducted with military and government officials, architects, lawyers, Palestinian and Israeli farmers, and Jewish settlers. By telling the story of trees through the narratives of these different people, the seemingly static and mute landscape of Israel/Palestine assumes life, expressing the cultural, economic, and legal dynamics that constantly shape and reshape it. Specifically, the article focuses on the olive tree. I argue that the identity of the olive as a representation of Palestine is not only the result of its economic, cultural, and historical significance within this particular culture, but is also a product of the olive’s brutal targeting by the State of Israel and by certain Jewish Israeli settlers. Through their direct and indirect acts of uprooting, sabotaging, and blocking Palestinian access to the olive tree, both the Jewish settlers and the State of Israel a have vested the olive with enormous power.

Unfortunately, not much has changed since I wrote this article. Olives and other trees still serve to occupy, un-occupy, and re-occupy land in the occupied West Bank. If anything, the war over land through tree uprooting and vandalization has escalated, both in the number of incidents and in sophistication. Between 2005 and 2011, human rights organization Yesh Din monitored the police investigation of 127 separate incidents of vandalization of Palestinian trees by Jewish settlers. Over 90 percent of the complaints filed by the Palestinians were closed on grounds of “lack of evidence” or “unknown perpetrator,” others are still “under investigation,” and only a single investigation has so far led to the filing of an indictment. Overall, the number of Palestinian trees and saplings damaged by Jewish settlers in these incidents is estimated to be 9,500.[1] Between August 2011 and June 2012, Yesh Din monitored an additional 21 new cases of tree vandalization. In May 2012, for example, 300 olive trees were uprooted and stolen, a local well destroyed, and irrigation pipes stolen in the Palestinian village of Akraba. The incident is currently under investigation by the police.[2]

The struggle over land through tree cultivation and uprooting has recently resulted in a landmark ruling by Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ). In 2007, a Jewish settler occupied a parcel of Palestinian land from the village of Qadum and proceeded to put up a fence, plant hundreds of saplings, and install an irrigation system. As a result, the Palestinian owners were denied access to their land. Israel’s Civil Administration issued an eviction order, which was soon cancelled by the Military Committee of Appeals. Meanwhile, the Settlement Council, representing Jewish settlers, seized at least seven additional plots abutting the plot in question. In a petition against the Military Committee of Appeals’ decision, Yesh Din challenged the land-grabbing strategy employed by settlers throughout the West Bank. On March 20, 2012, Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled in favor of Yesh Din and issued an absolute order to evacuate the land and return it to its Palestinian owners. Although this was a victory in the struggle against the particular legal tactic utilized by settlers for occupying Palestinian lands, it still remains to be seen what type of complex legal maneuvers the Jewish settlers (and the State of Israel) will employ in response.


Courtesy of Yesh Din and Irus Braverman.

Irus Braverman is the author of Planted Flags: Trees, Land, and Law in Israel/Palestine (Cambridge University Press, 2009). Her newest book is Zooland: The Institution of Captivity (Stanford University Press, 2012). 


[1] Data Sheet, “Police Investigation of Vandalization of Palestinian Trees in the West Bank,” Yesh Din, October 2011.

[2] Updated Tree Files (August 2005-August 14, 2012), Yesh Din (e-mail communication, on file with author).