The President of the Arab Group for the Protection of Nature, Razan Zuayter, talks to Newsclick about the Million Tree Campaign (MTC) and the issue of food sovereignty in Palestine. She says that the aim of the MTC is to replant Olive trees, which the Palestinians consider sacred, all across the country. She explains how the Israeli Army uprooted about 3 million trees to symbolise the uprooting of the people of the land and argues that the real fight is about reclaiming their land. She also talks about the struggle being waged against the new tool of colonialism which convinces people of their inability to produce their own food. Zuayter says it is sad that the Indian government which had always stood by Palestine, has, of late, started normalising its relations with Israel. Underscoring the need for South-South solidarities to challenge the double standards of the super-powers, she expects a greater role of the Indian civil society in forging such ties.
Newsclick: You have initiated very interesting, something called the 'Million Tree Campaign'. Could you please elaborate a little bit on it.
Razan Zuayter: The Million Tree Campaign is a campaign that aims at replanting the olive trees which is uprooted by the Israeli army and it means to let people hang on to their land and as you know the olive tree is a very sacred and important tree. Palestine was the first country in the world to plant the tree 7000 years ago and we feel that uprooting these trees means uprooting the people from their land and it means pushing people away to a beginning of the transfer to Jordan for example, and to other Arab countries. So, at the year 2000 at the second intifada, we felt that there is a systematic approach to uprooting trees. We decided as a group of volunteers to resist in our own way by replanting the trees. We used the slogan – 'they uproot one tree, we replant ten'. And since then this was ten years ago, till now we have replanted more than one million seven hundred thousand trees. They have uprooted in that period, three million trees. So we are looking forward to replant more and even to plant the lands which are threatened by confiscation because they use a law, it's been followed by the Ottomans before. If you don't plant your land for three years, the state will confiscate the land. So we are trying to plant as soon as possible the lands which are going to be confiscated as well. So it is a war. It is an agricultural war which is going on in Palestine.
NC: You have also been doing extensive work on food security. Could you please speak a little bit about that?
RZ: We believe that the one of the new tools of colonisation is to convince people that they cannot produce their own food and we have heard this several times from the World Bank, from the
USA that the Arab world is not capable of producing its own food. So this campaign is to prove that we can produce our own food and we want to bring back our history of being the first planters of wheat in the world and we used to export wheat and even we used to export cotton and oranges and so many valuable products and this campaign is also to fight with the global efforts to achieve food sovereignty and we are a part of this global effort and that's why we are here in India. We hope that together we can achieve global food sovereignty for the people.
NC: Speaking about international solidarities, how important do you think is South-South solidarity for issues such as Palestine.
RZ: I think it is of vital importance because without the solidarity of the South, of even the whole humanity, we cannot really achieve or we cannot confront the double standards of the super powers, or the powers who are benefiting from the situations in the West Asia and the Arab world. So it is very important and we are trying to connect with the so many groups in the South and our fight for food sovereignty is part of this. Through our fight for food sovereignty, we are informing and raising awareness of our Southern friends about the necessity to help us resist and increase the resilience of Palestinians so that this crime will fall and it would fall and we will go back to Palestine, may be not now, but Palestine will be free and the South-South solidarity is not only important for Palestine, I think it is important for every movement in the South to have a South-South cooperation. It is important for the Indian farmers, for the Philippino farmers, for the Indonesians, for all of us, for Africans, specially as I said in the morning, there is a new tool of colonisation which is sustaining conflicts and wars and occupation in our very rich resource region. So by solidarity and South-South cooperation we can, may be face, this awful strategy and expose the danger of sustaining such conflicts in our regions.
NC: Finally, how supportive do you think India has been in the global South movement in Palestine.
RZ: We always feel that India is on our side. But we are a bit sad that India is normalising the relationship with Israel, specially in the settlements where they are llegal. Europe is now boycotting the produce of the settlements because of the illegality. The whole world acknowledges that they are illegal and the occupation is illegal at least for the West bank, although we think that occupation for the whole Palestine is illegal. So, we hope that the civil society of India would oppose that, and would fight it, and will, you know, help us globally to overcome.