Developer Bashar al-Masri has vowed to uproot some 3,000 trees donated by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) to the new PA city of Rawabi, to be built north of Ramallah. The trees are conifers, which are hardy evergreens and are typical to the region. They are found throughout Israel, from the forests of the northern Galilee to the Joe Alon forest in the northern Negev to the south.

Al-Masri was responding to a fiery opinion piece written by a Jewish convert to Islam, Uri Davis.

The Israeli-born convert scorned a decision by the Palestinian Authority to accept trees from a group whose mission “is the ‘redemption’ of lands in ‘Eretz Israel,’ including Israel, Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem, Gaza and beyond for Jewish settlement.” He especially slammed the selection of “typically political Zionist pinera (conifers), the most common tree planted by the JNF in the forests and recreational centers on the lands and over the ruins of Palestinian-Arab villages ethnically cleansed by the Israeli army.” He added that by accepting the donation in 2009, the PA “has implicated itself in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine alongside the JNF and the Israeli army.”

The piece by Davis, who was born in Israel, was published Monday by the Bethlehem-based Ma’an news service.

Ma’an reported the next day that al-Masri intends to replace the trees with indigenous olive trees. However, the developer also noted that there seemed to be confusion over the trees, explaining that pine trees near the site were actually in Area C, a zone under full Israeli control.

The construction of Rawabi has not been without controversy in any event: early last month, 48 Knesset members agreed to boycott 20 firms involved in working on the new city.

The companies had all signed a contract with the developer – Bayti Real Estate Investment Company -- that includes a specific clause prohibiting the use of products manufactured in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

“The Seller is prohibited from using and/or employing goods and/or services and/or resources manufactured and/or originating from Israeli settlements towards achieving any of the objectives of this Agreement, or in relation thereto,” the clause reads. Included in the definition of “settlements” are Jewish communities located in Judea, Samaria, Gaza, the Golan Heights and parts of Jerusalem restored to the capital following the 1967 Six Day War.

Developer: ‘Parents’ Generation’ Included Evergreens
On the website for Rawabi, however, there remains a section for prospective investors, business owners and residents named “Grow a Tree in Palestine.” The section, characterized by a photograph of a pine tree branch bursting with pine cones in the sunlight, symbolizes the hope for growth and optimism for the future reflected in the rest of the site.

“The Palestine of our parents’ generation was lush with fruit orchards and flowering trees – olive, oak, citrus, nut and evergreen varieties ornamented the Palestinian landscape,” explains the developer in his description. “Today, however, the natural beauty of the land is being lost to the ravages of war, neglect, development and climate change.”

Investors are encouraged to grow a tree in the area – without reference to species.