Israel Biblical Lands Target of 'Agricultural Jihad'

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GUSH ETZION, Israel -- For many Americans, a stroll through the neighborhood park is a great way to find peace and relaxation.

Residents of the Israeli town of Gush Etzion feel the same way. Yet when they began planting trees to spruce up a local state park, they got a rude awakening from their Arab neighbors.

"The water pipes were cut by the Arabs, and the trees didn't get water…what was left of them [was] completely dry and completely dead," said Nadia Matar, with Women in Green, an organization dedicated to safeguarding Israel's biblical lands.

Netzer, a park in Gush Etzion on Israeli state land, has become a flashpoint in that struggle, with Arabs cutting down trees planted by Israelis and destroying irrigation lines, often under cover of night.

"The Arabs have a very big difficulty seeing the Jews planting on their biblical, God-given homeland, even in areas where there's no dispute at all like here [in Netzer]," Matar said.

Gush Etzion lies south of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, an area known biblically as Judea.

The United Nations, however, calls this region the West Bank and wants Israel to hand it over to the Palestinians.

Gush Etzion Mayor Davidi Peri told CBN News that Israelis are simply developing the same sovereign land where Jews walked thousands of years ago.

"We, as people who live here, want to keep the land to extend the communities and have agriculture, like trees, but the Arabs want it, too," Peri said. "And they're trying to fight through the land, they're trying to take out the trees."

Peri said Gush Etzion residents often face violence from local Palestinians.

"These Arabs live under the Palestinian government, and they have the feeling that they have to fight with us. They go out into the roads, throwing stones and firebombs," he said.

Matar calls the destruction of Jewish planted trees here "agricultural jihad." It's funded in part, she said, by anti-Israel groups and the European Union.

"All of a sudden, they have been funded so well that they go up with tractors, fancy tractors all over and steal our land, our state land," Matar said.

Further south, in Israel's Negev region, another controversial attempt to seize land is underway.

CBN News spoke to one activist who calls it "a silent conquest" by Israel's Bedouin minority. Ari Briggs is a spokesman for Regavim International, an organization that wants to preserve and protect Israel's national lands.

"The Arabs have realized they can't beat us with war, they can't beat us with tanks, with missiles, even with suicide bombers," Briggs said. "So what they're doing is, they're taking the land piece by piece. There are no tanks in this war. It's tractors, it's bulldozers."

Briggs said the historically nomadic Arab Bedouins are taking up residence illegally in the Negev, a largely desert region that makes up some two thirds of Israel's overall lands.

Although the Bedouin originally hail from Saudi Arabia and only migrated to Israel a few hundred years ago, the United Nations treats them as natives and supports their claims.

"There are Bedouin all over the Middle East and the only place that the U.N. has cast them as indigenous is in southern Israel, to the Negev," Briggs said.

Now, Briggs believes some 90,000 Bedouin have set up shop in the Negev, not far from Beersheba, one of Israel's largest cities.

Crime, poor education, and a lack of women's rights are common in Bedouin communities. Imagine such a scenario developing in the deserts outside Los Angeles or Phoenix and you get the idea.

The Bedouins' rapid demographic growth is another challenge for Israel.

"They have, on average, three to four wives, on average, 20 to 30 kids," Briggs said."The highest growth rate in the world is 5.6 percent. It means they double their population every 15 years."

Like in Netzer, Briggs said the Bedouin land grab is often funded by Israel's enemies abroad.

"They couldn't do it with tanks, they couldn't do it with missiles. Now, they're doing it with good money. Also coming in of course from Qatar, from Bahrain, from the United Arab Emirates, from Saudi Arabia," Briggs said.

Briggs believes money is also being raised in American and European mosques to support the Bedouins' efforts. He wants the Israeli government to do more to protect the Negev.

Back in Netzer, locals promise to continue planting trees despite Palestinian and international hostility.

"Hopefully, with God's blessing they will stay and they will grow," local Elie Pieprz said. "And they'll be beneficial for all those who live here, both the Jews and the Arabs who are living here."

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CBN News
Erick Stakelbeck

Erick Stakelbeck

CBN News Correspondent

Erick Stakelbeck is a sought after authority on terrorism and national security issues with extensive experience in television, radio, and print media. Stakelbeck is a correspondent and terrorism analyst for CBN News.  Follow Erick on Twitter @Staks33.