Another step has been proposed to solve the ongoing conflict near the Palestinian town of Bilin, which has protested for five years over the routing of the West Bank security fence. The IDF spokesman said Wednesday that work had begun to move olive trees from the western side of the planned route to the eastern side, to an area west of Ramallah.
The IDF said the work is being carried out for the Ministry of Defense by a private contractor, in coordination with the land's owners, the Civil Administration and the IDF.
According to the controversial original routing, a lot of Palestinian agricultural land would have been "lost" on the western (Israeli) side of the fence, including many olive trees. In September 2007, the High Court ruled that the fence route near Bilin be altered and an alternative routing be proposed that would include the town's land on the eastern side.
This month, two and a half years after the court's ruling, work was begun to change the routing which would "give back" 173 acres of land to Bilin, 40% of the land west of the fence according to the original routing. This still leaves more than 245 acres of Bilin land on the "Israeli" side.
There was little excitement in Bilin over the announcement to move the olive trees. They confirmed that the work had indeed begun, but the Popular Committee, a local organization coordinating the non-violent protests, said that while all land returned constitutes an achievement, much land remains appropriated by the IDF and the recent work is purely cosmetic.
"The trees are usually damaged by being uprooted in an inappropriate manner, and each tree must be well irrigated for a year for it to take root again, if it manages at all," a Popular Committee member said to Ynet.
Another member said that the town's residents do not accept the uprooting of the trees or the changed routing of the fence. "Our position is continued opposition to the existence of the fence on our land," he said.
Arik Asherman of the human rights organization Rabbis for Human Rights said that though the court decision is being implemented late, it was still better late than never. "They should have changed the routing immediately after the court ruling, and not after a few years," he said.
He went on to explain that it should not have come to systematic uprooting of trees. "During the erection of the fence, the contractors were supposed to give back trees that were directly in the fence's route," he said.
"In my opinion, it's better to give back trees than leave them on the other side of the fence to die, but this only shows the evil of the fence. Using security as an excuse, they are sowing destruction and harming human beings," Asherman said. "I hope they manage to replant the trees successfully," he added.
Anat Shalev also contributed to this report.