Success stories of Palestinian achievers from all over the world

Lina Saleh

Personal Info

  • Country of residence: Palestine
  • Gender: Female
  • Age: 0
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Driven from the historic town of Jaffa by the Israeli invasion of 1948, then fleeing with her family to Jordan and finally France, Palestinian peace activist Lena Saleh, is now at the forefront of a campaign to support her people in an attempt to replant some of the 12 million olive trees that have been cut down by the occupying forces of Israel.

"Olive trees have become a casualty of war," says Lena, and though expansion of Israeli settlements, access roads and the "security fence" are continuing to uproot groves of olive trees that have sustained Palestinian life for thousands of years, "the people of Palestine will keep their roots."

Olive trees have been a symbol of the Palestinian people, culture, heritage and identity since biblical times. "To pass on an olive branch is to pass on peace," says Lena, reminding us that an olive branch is used in the United Nations logo as a representation of peace. But more than just a symbol, olive trees are vital to the existence and livelihood of Palestinians, with over 51 percent of the cultivated land in the Occupied Territories planted with olive trees. Apart from the harvest of the olives and the extraction of the oil, used nutritiously in cooking, foods, or in natural soap, the seeds can also be pressed into a fuel. Traditionally the harvest months of October and November are a celebration, but with attacks from settlers and Israeli forces common, along with humiliating encounters at checkpoints to simply gain access to the olive groves, it is a dangerous and difficult time to be a olive farmer.

The Arab group for the Protection of Nature (APN) is a newly formed non-governmental organization working to save and regenerate the environment in Jordan and Palestine. They have already replanted over 100,000 olive trees as part of their "One Million Tree" campaign, and work closely with counterpart organizations in Palestine, supporting villages that have lost their groves to Israeli chainsaws or had their trees isolated by the path of the security fence. "Losing a tree is as painful as losing a child," laments a villager who lost his trees to one of the armored bulldozers that can raze scores of olive trees in a matter of minutes, "I tried to sleep in front of the bulldozer to stop them, but I was driven away by the tear gas and grenades."

Lena remembers Jerusalem as an old and beautiful city, yet now describes the concrete settlements perched on the hills around it as looking like "fortresses." Although the destruction and seizure of land, along with collective forms of punishment such as the chopping down of olive groves and the demolition of Palestinian homes, violate both Hague and Geneva Conventions, "nothing happens," says Lena, "but by planting trees we are planting hope by keeping people rooted to the land."

Initiatives to support specific villages affected are already in place, and volunteers also help out at harvest time by providing an international presence to the farmers, deterring attacks from settlers or Israeli soldiers. The APN campaign hopes to mobilize support for Palestinians who have lost their land and olive trees, in turn giving them the "strength to resist and stay on the land."

Inspired by the endeavors of Lena and APN, Peace Boat has already formed a working team to raise funds for an "Adopt a Tree" campaign. For the sum of five dollars, donors can buy an olive sapling and tag it with their name and message of peace. Once the sapling has been planted, donors receive a photo of where their adopted tree is and how it is helping local people. The campaign will replant uprooted trees and also give the "parents" of the saplings a chance to hear firsthand about the lives of Palestinians living under the occupation. 

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