At noon on 18 March 2015, 300 olive trees were uprooted by the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) in the town of Majdal Bani Fadel, south east of Nablus. Olive trees are known for their symbolic significance for Palestinian families, as olive harvest season is often a festive family event. The trees are also known for their economic value for farmers, who often rely on traditional methods when caring for their lands and the trees contribute significantly to their annual income. According to OCHA 48 percent of agricultural land in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is planted with olive trees, while the olive oil industry is the main source of income for about 80,000 Palestinians families. Olive trees account for 70 percent of fruit production in Palestine, which in turn contributes to 16 percent of Palestinian economy.
However, farmers across the West Bank face many restrictions in terms of accessing their land and being subject to harassment and attacks by Israeli settlers. Since the beginning of the year, Al-Haq has documented the uprooting of 120 olive trees by Israeli settlers’ attacks on Palestinian orchards, in addition to the uprooting of another 300 trees by the IOF in different incidents across the West Bank.
Maher Abdel Raaouf Khatib – Majdal Bani Fadel – Nablus
Maher Khatib, 51 and his two brothers jointly own a 21-dunum area of land in Aqaba in the village of Majdal Bani Fadel, near Nablus, situated in Area C. In 2011, Maher invested over 7,000 US Dollars to plough his land and received help from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialised United Nations agency which finances agricultural development projects in developing countries, and the Palestinian Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC).
On an area of nine dunums, Maher planted 300 olive trees and surrounded them with 700-metres of dry stone walls. A well, with a capacity of 60 cubic metres of water, was also built to gather rain water from the land. Since then, Maher, his brothers and their families have looked after their trees, were present during ploughing seasons and watched the olive trees grow. They were present on their land almost every day.
At 1:00 p.m., dozens of IOF soldiers arrived on Maher’s land with two bulldozers. The IOF declared the area a closed military zone and prohibited anyone from entering it for the next four hours. During this time, the bulldozers were used to uproot the olive trees and destroy the dry stone walls. Around 5:00 p.m., after the IOF and the bulldozers left, Maher was able to enter his land. The bulldozers had uprooted all the olive tree saplings and left them on the land, whilst about 20-30 fruits bearing trees (10-12 years old) had been taken by the IOF.
In 2012, Maher found an order from the Israeli Civil Administration authorities, which had been placed under a rock on his land, informing him that he must return the land to the condition it was in before 2011, the date at which he had invested in and prepared his land for cultivation. The order was based on Israeli land laws, developed from Ottoman Laws, which state that land that is not cultivated by the owner for a period of three years automatically becomes state owned land. Maher sought legal help from the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre (JLAC) and presented two legal deeds proving his ownership of the land issued by the Israeli Civil Administration and the Palestinian Property Tax Department to the Ofer Military Court near Ramallah. About seven to eight months ago, Maher attended an appeal hearing where he presented witnesses who testified to the fact that the land had been owned by his family for generations. Following the court hearings, Maher’s lawyer confirmed that the case was going well. Having heard nothing further, Maher was therefore, surprised at noon on 18 March 2015 by the arrival of the IOF and their subsequent acts. When Maher called his lawyer, he was informed that in November 2014, the Israeli Court had confirmed the order that he must return the land to the condition it was in before 2011. This was on the basis that Maher was unable to prove that he cultivated the land prior to 2011. (Al-Haq Affidavit No. 10521/2015).
Al-Haq is extremely concerned about the systematic targeting of Palestinian farmers and their groves across the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) by the IOF and Israeli settlers. As Israel is the Occupying Power, it must fulfil its obligations under international law to protect Palestinian civilians and property. Palestinians are protected by the inherent right to self-determination under Common Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which includes the right to pursue economic development and encompasses the exercise of permanent sovereignty over natural resources. Article 11 of the ICESCR further guarantees “the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family”. This includes adequate food, housing, clothing as well as the continuous improvement of living conditions.
The denial of access of farmers to their land and different obstacles imposed on them including the Annexation Wall, restrictions of movement and restrictions on exporting their olive production to regional and international markets severely disrupt the livelihoods of many Palestinian families and affect their income, especially in Area C of the West Bank. Area C, amounting to 60 percent of the West Bank, as per Oslo Accords is under full Israeli control with regards to security, planning and construction. The destruction and confiscation of Palestinian property are clear obstacles to the realisation of their rights.
In addition, Article 46 of the Hague regulations prohibits the confiscation of private property. While, civilian property is protected under Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits “any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons” except if “such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations”. The protection provided by this article is designed to safeguard the property of the civilian populations which is essential for their welfare, and to mitigate their suffering. The uprooting of Maher’s olive trees and the destruction of the dry stone walls was not justified by military necessity and only caused economic loss and suffering to his family.
 UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/67/229, (22 November 1967); Human Rights Council Resolution A/HRC/25/L.36 (25 March 2014).
 Brilmayer, Lea. “Ownership or Use? Civilian Property Interests in International Humanitarian Law”. Yale Law School. (2008) pp.422.