How a Palestinian widow and her trees are a threat to Mofaz

Arnon Regular

Haaretz

September 22, 2004

"I have nothing to say to Mr. Mofaz. Only once in the last 18 months have I visited the grove and that was a week ago. Now all I can do is pray that Allah won't let them cut it down. We are peace loving people and the grove was always the apple of my eye - and there is no justice in the decision to uproot it."

Zuheira Morshad is a 72-year-old childless widow, who lives alone in the village of Kafr Jammal, about two kilometers from the Green Line. A High Court of Justice hearing will tomorrow decide what will happen to her grove of 150 trees that, unfortunately for her are on the Palestinian side of the Green Line - and 30 meters from Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz's home in upscale Kochav Yair.

Three weeks ago, an IDF office handed an order signed by Maj. Gen Moshe Kaplinski to a shepherd the officer came across near the grove, instructing him to give the order to the owner of the grove. The order was similar to many handed out every day by the army in the territories. It said the commanding military officer had decided "on the basis of the belief that the matter is necessary for military purposes and in light of the special security conditions now prevailing in the area, to cut down the trees."

The order said the grove owner is entitled to appeal the decision and to get compensation - though as a Palestinian, she is unable to accept compensation because it would mean recognition of the legitimacy of the military decision.

Zuheira Morshad's grove is a 1.5 dunam bloc at the far end of a 12-dunam plot owned by her extended family. She inherited it from her husband, who left her, remarried and passed away in the Gulf several years ago.

The grove is her main source of livelihood and consists of orange, tangerine and guava trees. And unfortunately for her, it is next to the guardhouse built for the guards who protect the defense minister's home, part of the security fence around Kochav Yair.

The grove is located in an area known as Bir Alhuma, which is in enclave between the separation fence, which is about half a kilometer east, and the Green Line, and therefore, the Palestinian access to the enclave is subject to a very strict regime of permits to enter the area, with only residents from the area allowed in.

A small sign on the separation fence details the permits that Palestinian owners of the groves inside the enclave must have to gain access to their property and when they can enter - "From 6:30 A.M to 8 A.M., 12:30 P.M. to 1:30 P.M. , and 5:30 P.M. to 7:00 P.M." An IDF patrol comes by when the gate is supposed to be open, to check the Palestinians, but it often is late or early.

"When they finished building the fence everyone got passes and I got one and I went into to the grove with workers, but as soon as I climbed a tree to pick oranges armed guards came from the guardhouse next to Mofaz's house," said the woman. "One of them aimed a gun at me and sent me and the workers away and we haven't been back since."

Morshad doesn't bother any more to go to the district liaison office in Qalqiliyah to ask for an entry permit and she and her family refrain from going anywhere near their property.

Some of the trees in the plot have gone dry since then and some are green and bearing fruit that nobody can go pick. According to Morshad, the workers refuse to go to the plot and she is also afraid to go.

In the wake of the order, Morshad's lawyer Viyam Shavita contacted the legal advisor of the Judea and Samaria command, notifying them of her intention to appeal against the plan to cut down the grove. Shavita wrote that the destruction of the grove would be profoundly harmful to Morshad, and there is no justification for such serious harm to her property and livelihood.

Her lawyer noted that the area is under IDF supervision and that there had been no untoward incidents in the family plot during the four years of intifada. he proposed that instead of chopping down the trees, the area be fenced off - at the expense of the defense ministry - and the family would guarantee that no strangers would be allowed inside.

After that letter, Lieutenant Harel Weinberg of the legal advisor's office responded with a letter that dropped the term "cut down" and began referring to the need to "prune" the trees. "There is no intention to order uprooting the trees," wrote the lieutenant.

"The military commander decided only to prune the trees that would enable them to grow but while minimizing as much as possible harm to your property ... the trees meant for pruning are right next to Kochav Yair and the defense minister's home and the underbrush could serve as cover for potential attackers and collecting intelligence about the settlement for the purpose of a terror attack ... that threat was actualized in the past when a firebomb was thrown at the settlement from inside the grove."

But the army lawyer forgot to note that the firebomb he mentioned was thrown during the first intifada, more than a decade ago. But the lawyer did claim that "the trees meant for pruning have not borne fruit for a long time and are not being tended to," seemingly deliberately ignoring the fact the woman and her family have been banned from entering their property.

Despite Weinberg's claim that only pruning is planned, the actual order announcing plans to uproot the entire grove remains in effect. In the wake of the Shavita petition to the High Court, the court issued an temporary injunction forbidding any cutting of trees until a final decision is reached.

The IDF Spokesman's Office said last night: "The grove is near Kochav Yair and the defense minister's home in a way that could threaten the houses nearby. The trees could serve as cover for potential terrorists, a threat that took place in the past when a fire bomb was thrown at homes in the settlement from the grove.

"In light of the threats to the defense minister's life, particularly in the last half year in the wake of the assassinations of Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Azziz Rantisis, it was decided to prune a dunam and a half of dried trees.

"The decision to prune will enable the trees to grow back, and was made after examining alternatives in an attempt to minimize the damage to the landowners and to provide proper security for the defense minister's home and its environs.

"The decision was made by virtue of the authority of the commander of military forces in Judea and Samaria, which has often been ratified in the past by the Supreme Court. Despite professional assessors estimates that the trees had not been tended in several years and cannot be rehabilitated, the security authorities are prepared to compensate the landowners."