Rachel’s Grove vulnerable in Bethlehem

Abed Rabo on his way to his land, an Israeli settlement sits in the background.

The deep blue fleecy sky tells a story of idyllic holiday destinations. We are with Abed Rabo from Deheisheh refugee camp, Bethlehem, on our way to his land. With support from the Olive Tree Campaign from the Joint Advocacy Initiative, Abed Rabo has planted olive trees to send a clear message to Israel that the land it wants to confiscate for “Greater” Jerusalem is his land.

Abed Rabo walks in front us to show the way to his land which lies on the Israeli side of the projected wall around al-Walaja, within a stone’s throw from Jerusalem. The land borders a local road where the soldiers manning an Israeli checkpoint control all Palestinian movement. Abed Rabo tries to go to his land as often as possible, which is quite far from Deheisheh camp. Living in the camp with his wife and eight children, he did not receive much education, and is proud that his children have better opportunities. His wife works as a civil servant at the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Youth and Sport. Because he does not have the money to travel to his land every day, Abed Rabo quite often walks to the office of the YWCA Women’s Training Program in Bethlehem. He assists the staff as a volunteer, who in return give him a ride to his land. The land was already owned by Abed Rado’s grandfather and his father. “The day I don’t come to my land I get sick,” he tells us.

Rachel’s Grove on Abed Rabo’s land, Israeli checkpoints and settlements are close by.

Israeli soldiers have been terrorizing Abed Rado for years in order to try to make him leave. Many times they forced Abed Rabo at gunpoint to sit for hours. They came back over and over again, Abed Rabo explains, and “Every time they told me they will take me to prison. But the next morning they would find me back on my land again.” He adds, “They thought I would get bored, but instead they got bored and gave up. They have found other ways to pressure me. They have blocked the roads that give access to my land.” There is a well on Abed Rado’s land but because the roads have been closed off with huge piles of boulders, Abed Rabo can’t bring in the necessary equipment and therefore is unable to finish the needed reconstruction work.

Abed Rabo in his shelter.

Abed Rabo proudly shows us the shelter he built one year ago. He used to have a shelter close to the checkpoint, but the soldiers completely destroyed it six years ago. He has built a new stone shelter further up the hill. He invites us to have a look inside and take a picture of him. “Look, I have all I need to stay here,” he demonstrates.

The Olive Tree Campaign aims to replant olive trees in areas where they have been uprooted and destroyed, or in areas where the fields are threatened by land confiscation by the Israeli occupation army or settlers. For some years now Abed Rado has been reclaiming his land by planting olive trees, which are sponsored by people from different countries. Abed Rado is taking care of the trees by watering them and trying to protect them from deer, which sometimes eat their leaves. “Even the deer are against us,” he remarks. On his land are the olive the trees that were planted in honor of Rachel Corrie, who was killed in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on 16 March 2003 while defending a physician’s home from being destroyed by an Israeli-operated Caterpillar armored bulldozer. However, with no international party seriously acting to stop Israel from committing its illegal construction activities in Palestine, Rachel’s Grove might soon be uprooted.

Adri Nieuwhof and Amer Madi are consultants based respectively in Switzerland and Palestine. Images by Adri Nieuwhof and Amer Madi.

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