A 65 year old woman attracted international attention to the
plight of Palestinian olive farmers when she grabbed hold of the trunk
of an olive tree, refusing to allow Israeli forces to destroy it. The
woman lived in the northern West Bank's Salem Village and the
photographer who snapped her image won international acclaim
The story told by the image has occurred in Palestinian towns and villages for decades, with the olive tree having become a major victim the Israeli occupation.
The Israeli Alon Moreh Settlement was built in 1982 near the town of Salem and since then Palestinians have defended their land, with mixed results. The elderly woman in the photo's family had been exposed to land burning and confiscation on more than one occasion before and after the settlement was built, driving her to dive in front of bulldozers to save the trees that for decades she had tried to protect. Parts of the land were already confiscated for a settler bypass road, making access difficult for the elderly woman and her numerous children and grandchildren.
The Land Defense Committee reports that in 1996 a bypass road was built for the Elon Moreh Settlement, isolating 6,000 dunams of agricultural land to the east. Those with sheep grazing in the area have a difficult time reaching them, as do farmers trying to care for their crops and trees. Every year the people from Salem face problems from the settlers, including olive and sheep theft.
In 1997 then-Israeli Prime Minister Sharon invited settlers from Elon Moreh to occupy the nearby mountains. A caravan of settlers moved further into the West Bank, east of the settlement, and the Israeli military built a sniper guard tower to watch over them.
What those settlers took in that move was 40 dunams of land from Najib Salman's family, 20 dunams from Mohamad Nadir's family, and 30 dunams of land from Mohammad Mustafa's family. In all the settlement took 2,000 dunams of Salem, including 70 percent of agricultural land planted with wheat and barley, and 30 percent of ancient and high yield olive groves. In addition to committing years of attacks on Palestinian farmers, the settlers uprooted another 200 fruiting olive trees to build another settler road in 2001.
On 23 May 2002 the Israeli settlers set fire to 50 dunams of wheat and barley fields about to be harvested, but when Palestinian land owners attempted to reach their fields to put out the blaze, Israeli soldiers intercepted them. Two days later the same thing happened to 300 olive trees.
The elderly woman in the photo has been trying to stop the Israeli attacks for years, her son told PNN. Although her image is an inspiration to many Palestinians, it has yet to move the Israelis to end the occupation of the West Bank.