An uphill battle: Women in Green

Nadia Matar talks about her battle for the land as if it is a fight to save a part of herself.

Women in Green 521 (photo credit: Seth J. Frantzman)
Women in Green 521
(photo credit: Seth J. Frantzman)
There is a refurbished stone house that sits on a dirt road between the Jewish communities of Elazar and Alon Shvut. “Here we had a big defeat.” Matar recalls that the house and its adjoining parcel of land were on state land that Women in Green, of which she and Yehudit Katsover serve as co-chairs, had competed with Arabs for planting rights. They had planted luscious olive trees next to it.
But little by little, they saw Arab residents from El-Khader, a few kilometers away, coming to it. Then the UN was there and Scandinavian activists.
The media came, as if this abandoned house was the center of the world. Eventually, she notes, the civil administration uprooted the trees and told her she would be arrested if she trespassed on the site.
Matar was born in Belgium and has lived for 25 years in Gush Etzion, where she is an activist. She views the fields between Elazar and Alon Shvut as a microcosm of the “battle to save the land.” It is like “an aquarium. You can kill the fish simply by taking out the water.
And the land of the West Bank is like the water [for the Jewish residents]. Several years ago, [Palestinian Prime Minister Salam] Fayyad started a campaign to plant 1 million olive trees. If in the old days we saw one farmer, now we see tractors and numerous people.”
She explains how land that was once empty and unused is today the site of intense cultivation and investment. The Arab residents utilize the oddities of the law in the West Bank which, according to her, specify that if they are able to plant on state land for seven of ten years, it becomes private land. “It is personal between me and the Arabs here, we know each other. I see that 80% of the planting is new; they want to choke us and use the planting to conquer Area C [the Israeli controlled portion of the West Bank].”
It is a daily routine for her, patrolling the dirt roads and checking on the areas where her group has planted. She arranges with volunteers to plant on lands that are not privately owned by Palestinians, to lay plastic piping and put down saplings or mature trees. The saplings themselves are not expensive, about NIS 60 each, but the irrigation and other infrastructure, as well as the need to replace damaged trees, is expensive.
Each small parcel that her volunteers plant has its own story, sometimes in celebration of a bar mitzva or commemorating something else. And each has a sordid tale of misery. “We planted saplings here and they were torn up twice by Arabs.”
She points to several older olive trees they also planted, and shows how they were uprooted and their branches chainsawed.
“Our farmers are attacked,” she says as she shows a picture of man with blood on his elbow and face.
But Matar is proud of her achievements. “Several years ago, the PA sent buses out here and their agriculture minister came to give a speech and plant.” For her, it was recognition that the PA views the work of Women in Green as a threat to their aspirations.
Matar is sentimental about the overall victory she foresees.
Standing next to an excavated mikve from 2,000 years ago, she says, “This was our land, and this is our land.”