Arabs and leftists uprooted a Jewish orchard and went on to plant olive trees outside a Jewish community on the Jewish "New Year of Trees.” One left-wing activist hit a security guard with his car.

The incident occurred Saturday morning at Sde Boaz, a hilltop community in Gush Etzion located at the region’s highest point, between N'vei Daniel and Beitar Illit.

The destroyed orchard consisted of apple, cherry, pomegranate, pear, carob and olive trees. After cutting down the trees, a dozen activists made their way to Sde Boaz. They accompanied Arabs from the PA-controlled village of El-Khader and began planting olive trees adjacent to the Jewish community.

Dozens more foreign volunteers and Arabs then climbed up from the valley, where they had been waiting, and ignored IDF calls to cease until the Civil Administration could clarify the land’s ownership.

A man who said his name was Ariel, from the Ta’ayush organization, argued with IDF officers. He claimed that the fact that the government destroyed a stable that Jews had built there proved that the land did not belong to the Jews and could therefore be assumed to belong to the Arabs, even without a deed. The stable was destroyed in January 2005, just before the clashes at the Amona outpost.

Ezra Nawi, a veteran Ta’ayush coordinator usually active in the southern Hevron Hills, arrived at the scene with hundreds of olive trees and several American, Norwegian and British volunteers. Nawi drove through the community of Sde Boaz, striking the security chief with his car.

Soldiers who witnessed the incident accompanied the security chief to file charges against Nawi when the police arrived, about a half-hour later.

Nawi also screamed racial epithets at an Ethiopian Jewish soldier.

The IDF regional commander showed up with an order declaring the area a closed military zone, but declined to enforce it until two police officers eventually arrived. Only after the Arab trees were provocatively planted - some in one of the vineyards worked by Jews of Sde Boaz - did the large group of Arabs and leftists begin to make its way back toward El-Khader. Though the police stopped the Arabs from planting when they saw the negative effects on the Jewish-worked land, the commander passed on to Sde Boaz residents the word "from above" that anyone who "touched the olive trees" would be arrested.

The group of radical leftists and Arabs began planting at another plot along the road, hastily sticking the remaining trees into the ground. Residents say that plot of land is worked by an elderly Arab man who has good relations with the community.

When police and IDF soldiers attempted to arrest one of the Arab youths, the foreigners and the Arabs, directed by the radical-leftist Israelis, freed him by force. The man escaped and Ta’ayush’s “Ariel” was arrested for directing the violence.

Only after the group finally left did residents notice that the community’s orchard - in the valley below Sde Boaz, below the point of vision - was destroyed. The vandalism occurred on the very day that the trees reached the age at which their fruits became permitted for consumption according to Jewish Law. Saturday was Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish New Year for Trees, from which three years are counted before fruit is consumed.

The actions of the raucous group left local residents in shock. “It is unbelievable that these people, on their way to pull on the heartstrings of the police and IDF, telling them ‘we only want to plant these olive trees as an expression of peace,’ spent what had to be a long time uprooting and destroying a beautiful orchard on land that clearly belongs to the community,” a statement from the Sde Boaz secretariat read. “That they did this on Tu B’Shvat makes it no less than a hate crime.”

Residents also said that the provocation failed in its intention to provoke them into violence. “We somehow doubt that the news of these people brazenly destroying an orchard, hitting someone with a car and freeing an arrestee from IDF and police custody through violence will figure prominently in the headlines..." the statement concluded.

At press time, none of Israel’s state-run television or radio outlets had reported the incident.

The reporter, a resident of Sde Boaz, witnessed the incident first-hand.