36,000 Trees Set Ablaze by Occupation Forces in Qaffin and Akkaba
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36,000 Trees Set Ablaze by Occupation Forces in Qaffin and Akkaba

Thousands of dunums of agricultural lands have been scorched in a series of devastating fires ignited by Occupation Forces and their settlers in the most fertile areas of Palestine. In the villages of Qaffin and Akkaba in Tulkarem District in the northwest region of the West Bank, over 36,000 trees in 4000 dunums have been burnt through five separate attacks since May 2005. Over the past three days alone, as fires continue to blaze through strong winds, 65% of Qaffin’s lands and 80% of Akkaba’s have been burnt, destroying collectively 80% of their ancient olive trees, 15% of their almond trees, and 2% of their carob trees. Villagers and Palestinian firemen have been prevented by Occupation Forces and the Apartheid Wall from putting out the fires, unable to protect areas that remain tenuously unaffected. On July 7th, agricultural lands in Ain Yaboos, Nablus, were also torched by settlers in this same manner, destroying 130 dunums.

The lands set ablaze have been confiscated and isolated behind the Apartheid Wall since 2002, and declared a “closed military zone” accessible only to Occupation Forces and the few farmers who have recently been allowed to cross. On July 24th at eleven a.m., villagers noticed their fields on fire directly after Occupation Forces left the area. Palestinian firemen attempting to access the burning fields were denied entry through the gate of the Wall, as Occupation firemen on the scene stood by watching the fires intensifying. Farmers have had tremendous difficulty caring for their lands since the Apartheid Wall was erected, yet their determination to fight for their land has been unbreakable.

Qaffin and Akkaba are situated in an area known as the breadbasket of Palestine, the heartbeat of economic and agricultural activity for Palestinians that is rapidly being appropriated and destroyed. The burning of already expropriated Palestinian land builds upon a long and elaborate racist structural system of Zionist Occupation designed to expel Palestinians from their ancestral lands. The Apartheid Wall is an integral element of this broader scheme that has unfolded in progressive stages: its construction, the annexing of Palestinian land, isolating Palestinians from these lands, and now, burning any “evidence” of Palestinian ties to the land. In doing so—as the legacy of the Occupation supports— territorial expansion can continue to be legitimated through the manipulation of old Ottoman Law that stipulates land uncultivated for three years may be confiscated and declared “state land”.

Destruction of land through its isolation began immediately after the first phase of the wall was completed in October 2003, whereby the isolated areas were declared a military zone. Hundreds of farmers have, subsequently, been unable to cross to their lands, or those who have been “lucky’ enough to obtain permission to do so have been subjected to humiliating procedures of control at the gate. In Jayyous and Falamya alone, 20,000 citrus trees dried out last year, as well as two thirds (120 dunums) of the greenhouses because farmers were denied access. This policy continues now through the burning of Qaffin and Akkaba’s trees, to isolate and, ultimately, transform once fertile agricultural lands into deserts that leave no reason for farmers to cross to their land. As Rushdi Tumeh, one of the farmers watching his land burning behind the gate in Qaffin stated, “this is proof of Zionist plans to expel us from our lands”, to burn us out of the history and future of Palestine. But this will remain an illusive Zionist dream, for despite the struggle and humiliation, the long term Zionist vision of the Wall will never succeed to sever us.