On Saturday March 3rd the Joint Advocacy Initiative of the East Jerusalem YMCA and YWCA of Palestine held this year’s second International Planting Day. Over 40 international participants, along with around 20 local volunteers planted olive trees on more than ten dunums of land in Beit Sahour, north of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank.The land in question is owned by Palestinian farmer, Johnny Ateek, whose family have been living and farming in this area for generations. Seven fields belonging to Johnny’s family have already been annexed by the Israeli authorities, of which seventeen and a half dunums were confiscated for the construction of the illegal Wall. Some forty dunums of Johnny’s land now lies behind the Wall.

This area is one of the closest accessible points to the illegal Israeli settlement of Har Homa. Although the settlement is roughly half a kilometer from this point, there is a tall electric fence slicing through the farmland, bearing signs declaring the land beyond it a ‘Closed Military Zone’.

After being briefed on the goals of the day’s actions, and the work of the Keep Hope Alive Campaign in the occupied West Bank, the volunteers set to work planting small olive trees on the fertile land. Although these trees will not bear fruit for some time, they will provide hope for the local community in the sense that they signify a lack of submission to the Israeli occupation. As Alice, a temporary British resident of Beit Sahour and member of staff in Applied Research Institute Jerusalem said, ‘I’m here today because I believe in environmental justice. This action symbolizes so much for the land owners- not only does the community rely heavily on the production of olives as an economic mainstay, the olive trees also have incredibly strong emotional significance. People are deeply connected with the land’.

JAI: ‘The Olive Tree Campaign seeks to replant trees in areas where they have been uprooted and destroyed or in areas where the fields are threatened to be confiscated by the Israeli Occupation Army or settlers.

The campaign goal is to replant 50,000 olive trees in the Palestinian Territories with the sponsorship of YMCAs and YWCAs, as well as churches and other groups and individuals around the world. Through replanting olive trees, Palestinians will be encouraged to keep hope alive and to reaffirm their commitment to work constructively toward peace-building.’