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Palestinian, Israeli activists detained as Israeli forces uproot hundreds of olive trees

Jan. 16, 2017 1:54 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 17, 2017 6:32 P.M.)
QALQILIYA (Ma’an) -- Israeli forces began uprooting hundreds of olive trees in the occupied West Bank district of Qalqiliya on Monday morning as part of the construction of a road connecting illegal settlements to Israel, with Israeli forces detaining a Palestinian and two Israeli activists who had gathered at the site among dozens of other protesters.

Fatah revolutionary council member Bayan Tabib told Ma’an that Israeli civil administration employees had raided private Palestinian lands near the villages of Izbat al-Tabib, al-Nabi Elyas, and Azzun on Sunday morning, with Israeli soldiers informing Palestinian farmers that plans to uproot trees in the area would begin the next day.

A local activist against the separation wall and settlements, Moussa Tabib, told Ma’an that Israeli forces declared the area to be a military zone, banning access to journalists, activists, and the landowners.

Later Monday afternoon, Israeli peace activist Adam Keller of the leftist organization Gush Shalom released a statement in Hebrew saying dozens of locals and volunteers had arrived to field Monday morning to defend the 2,000 olive trees with their bodies before the military zone was declared and the demonstration was dispersed.

Two Israelis were detained and later released, while one Palestinian was still being detained as of Monday afternoon, according to the statement.

The Palestinian detainee was hurt in the leg while Israeli soldiers detained him, and required medical treatment, the statement added.

According to Tabib, Israeli forces had already uprooted hundreds of olive trees and leveled land in the area as of Monday, and said that the process could take several more days.

He added that some of the olive trees were several centuries old.

Palestinian residents had filed an appeal to the Israeli court system to stop the confiscation of land for the construction of the road, but the appeal was rejected. Israeli forces suppressed a protest against the road earlier this month.

A spokesperson for COGAT, the Israeli agency responsible for implementing Israeli policy in the occupied Palestinian territory, responded to a request for comment on the issue on Tuesday, saying that the "Nabi Elias bypass road will serve two populations and has been approved for pavement by the Israeli Supreme Court. We emphasize that the current road is a security and safety hazard, because it intersects with the village, which causes vehicular collisions."

Bayan Tabib said that Palestinian and foreign activists would continue to rally to try to stop Israeli bulldozers from leveling the privately owned Palestinian lands and uprooting the trees.

He added that the road was only one example of Israel’s policies to limit Palestinian presence across the occupied Palestinian territory, calling the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss the appeal proof that the court was “politicized” and served the interests of illegal settlements.

Gush Shalom also argued that pressure from Israeli settlers and settler leaders influenced the Israeli government to build the new road that will be three kilometers long and tens of meters wide, while some 150 dunums of privately-owned Palestinian land were confiscated for the project.

The group expressed regret that the ongoing protests did not help prevent the 2,000 trees from being cut down, and said that are various reports that have suggested the road is only a small portion of a larger plan to build a network of settler-only roads in the area.

Much of the three villages’ lands have been slowly taken over since Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967 and the majority of homes in these small Palestinian municipalities -- located in Area C under full Israeli military control -- are slated for demolition, as residents were forced to build without the nearly impossible to obtain Israeli-issued construction permits.

The nearby illegal Israeli settlement of Alfe Menashe meanwhile has continued to expand.

Construction of bypass roads is ongoing throughout the occupied West Bank, where roads are limited for the use of settlers and Israeli military only, cutting across private Palestinian land in order to connect a vast network of Jewish-only settlements.

Al-Nabi Elyas, Izbat al-Tabib, and Azzun are already cut off from neighboring Palestinian villages by the Israeli separation wall, which completely encircles the nearby Palestinian city of Qalqiliya.

Meanwhile, Palestinian locals have limited access to Route 55 -- where Izbat al-Tabib residents have demonstrated several times before -- despite its construction across Palestinian land.

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