The children, members of the Bnei Akiva youth movement, began to hike up a hill this past week at the industrial area of the southern Hevron Hills, between Be'er Sheva and Hevron, hoping to plant more than 5,000 pine and cedar trees.
Reform rabbi Arik Ascherman, a few other left-wing activists and several Arabs stood in their path.
The police, fearing a confrontation, told the children not to continue until authorities from the Civil Lands Administration arrived and showed Ascherman documents and permits proving that the land belongs to the regional council. Regional council official Akiva London said permits were obtained for the event.
The planting then proceeded as planned - but as Ascherman left the area, children overheard him say, "There is day and there is night." Two nights later, vandals uprooted approximately half of the 5,000 cedar and pine trees that the children had planted. Footprints leading to nearby Arab shacks indicated the source of the damage.
"How do you explain to children that Arabs uprooted trees they planted with their own hands?" London asked rhetorically. "Many of the children suffered the same disappointment two years ago, when they planted trees and Arabs uprooted them." He added that many of children's relatives had also been uprooted - from Gush Katif by the government.
The incident has embittered the children, who are educated to develop the land and refrain from violence and vandalism. Several children, saddened by the vandalism, argued that they cannot be expected to try to make peace with Arabs when they try to crush the hopes of young Jews.
One teacher said, "We have to plant again and again, and remember that we are working for the A-lmighty, who rewards us for our efforts."
The regional council has filed a complaint with police, but area residents, relying on past experience, expect that no action will be taken. "If a Jew even looks the wrong way at an Arab, the police come rushing to investigate," said one southern Hevron Hills resident, "but for something like this - nothing."
Earlier in the week, foreign leftists and local Arabs swarmed over an open field that had been sowed by Jewish farmer Yaakov Talia for the past decade. They also trespassed on his fenced farm and caused damage. The army asked for Civil Lands authorities to confirm the property rights before police could arrest anyone, but no one ever arrived and the leftists and Arabs left freely.
Two local Jewish farmers told Arutz-7 this week that an IDF officer told them Arabs are planning to attack them.
Ascherman is a known figure in the area and has been active in the past to encourage Arabs to take over land, including the attempt to eradicate the nearby Ma'on Farm, where Arabs axed to death Dov Dribben several years ago.
Ascherman was born in Pennsylvania and was active in peace groups. After moving to Israel, he lived in an Arab village, and now is a co-director of Rabbis for Human Rights.
The organization proclaims that their members "celebrate the Jewish New Year for Trees by planting trees on Tu B’Shvat, [when] we affirm the necessity for caring for trees." Their policy statement also states, "We become conscious of those who do not have the means to acquire proper nourishment, and those who do not have access to the groves and fields that they have planted."
However, he did not explain to the children why he wanted to stop them from planting. His organization considers all of Israel's Judea and Samaria as belonging to Arabs, with Jews regarded as "occupiers."
The regional council is carrying out re-planting of the trees that survived the vandalism and plans to build a fence and install a surveillance camera in the area to prevent additional uprootings.