BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli settlers on Friday destroyed 100 newly-planted olive saplings and at least 60 vine trees on private Palestinian land in Al-Khader village near Bethlehem.
The coordinator of the local anti-wall committee, Ahmad Salah, said he noticed the vandalism while he was on a regular tour monitoring the town’s fields on Friday.
He approached a field belonging to Abdul-Hakim Salah in an area known locally as Mustasi or Wadi al-Shami, near the illegal Israeli settlement of Newe Daniyyel, to find out that more than 100 saplings had been cut from the root or ripped from the ground.
He added that when he entered an adjacent grape field, he discovered that more fruit trees were also cut down.
Younis Mahfouzh Mousa, the owner of the vineyard, said that as he went to his field early on Saturday morning, he found that more than 60 trees had started to wither.
When he got closer, he found that the main trunks were cut with scissors, while the trees remained on the steel support. "This vandalism is clear evidence that settlers are devoid of any human characteristic. They attack every Palestinian property including trees and stones."
Mousa alleged that the Israeli forces are complicit in the crime as they always protect the settlers while they attack Palestinian properties.
"This settlement assault against the Palestinian land in al-Khader and other places is part of a governmental plan to Judaise the land," says Ahmad Salah.
Newe Daniyyel settlement considers the surrounding lands an area for the settlement’s natural expansion, he added.
He highlighted that Israeli forces recently ordered a Palestinian citizen from al-Khader that his land, which he reclaimed recently, must not be cultivated. He was also asked to demolish a water well he dug underground.
"The Israeli government is complicit in this vandalism," said Abdul-Hakim Salah, one of the landowners.
"Weeks ago, Israeli premier Netanyahu said during a visit to the nearby illegal settlement of Efrat that the settlements in so-called Efrat and Gush Etzion are integral parts of greater Jerusalem. Such a remark is like giving the settlers a green light to practice their criminal acts."
Local farmers and international volunteers planted the olive trees, among 500 saplings, as part of an ongoing advocacy initiative to protect Palestinian land.
Sixty international activists from 10 different countries arrived helped farmers plant the field with 3- and 4-year-old olive saplings in February, in an initiative by the Alternative Tourism Group and the YMCA-YWCA.
The Olive Tree Campaign distributes over 9,000 trees annually to Palestinian farmers across the West Bank whose land is under threat of confiscation, or who cannot access their land due to Israeli restrictions.
Since 1967, 800,000 olive trees have been uprooted by Israeli forces, resulting in a loss of around $55 million to the Palestinian economy, according to a report by the Palestinian Authority Ministry of National Economy and the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem.