Mapping trees that are in high risk of uprooting at Shapira Neighborhood, Tel Aviv-Yafo

About two months ago, on June 12th, we woke up to the sounds of heavy machinery. Through the window we saw a bulldozer and a crane uprooting olive trees from the area behind our house. We went outside and stood in front of the bulldozer and caused its operator to stop working. The crane continued to work, so we jumped on a tree. By doing so we prevented the work for about a month and saved 1 out of 4 trees that were uprooted at that day.

We thought about our options to prevent the uprooting. We sent emails to the municipality, to the people of the JNF, and of course, to other residents of the neighborhood. We even organized a party next to the trees, in which we planted a new lemon tree to replace one of the uprooted trees.

An aerial imagery of the area after the first uprooting. This image was created with tools i learned from Jeffery Warren (Grassroots Mapping and The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science).

None of the above helped.
The lemon tree was stolen by someone. Most of the responses were laconic while the rest were just ignoring us. About a month later we faced another uprooting. This time the contractor was accompanied by a riot policeman who tried to prevent us from getting close to the trees, but we succeeded to stand in front of the tractor. The driver was a bit out of it, and was still trying to uproot the trees, even with the risk of hurting us. They shouted at us, we shouted back at them and at the end everything stopped. Some representatives of the municipality came with a ridicules paper, pretending to show a permit to take down the trees. Even though we received a very short time to read the paper we saw that the details on it were wrong. We kept insisting on protecting a tree that was uprooted while we were holding it, trying to prevent its uprooting when a police backup arrived and threaten to arrest us. The municipality worker agreed with the contractor that they will take only trees that are already out of the ground. We objected it. The tree was now in the center of this conflict . We kept hugging it while the policemen were trying to arrest us and the contractor kept his will to take it away. We expended its hole in the ground and planted it back with our bare hands. Now it wasn’t uprooted anymore. End of the discussion. A police officer came on his scooter and decided to cease the work for that day. It took some time but they left. Another contractor that came to demolish an old warehouse next to the trees completed his work.

Photo by: Osnat Ben-Dov

We went back home very upset. We do know that something wrong is happening, we know that even by “their” rules and regulations, things stink. But we didn’t find a way to prevent the next times. We sent more emails to the authorities and to “Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel” and to “Adam Teva V’Din, the Israel Union for Environmental Defense“.

An aerial imagery of the area after the second uprooting, emphasizing the most suffering area. This image was created with tools i learned from Jeffery Warren (Grassroots Mapping and The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science).

Two days later, the Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality published a permit (PDF, Hebrew) to uproot the trees. It was 2 days after the second illegal uprooting and six weeks after the first one. On the permit they wrote the last day to appeal is August 2nd, two weeks from the permit’s date. Now there was no doubt – the uprooting was illegal, even according to the municipality. We contacted the forest commissioner and appealed against the uprooting. We encouraged people to send their appeals as well. It appeared to make a slight change somewhere, since the forest commissioner, Israel Galon, set a meeting with us.

Map of the trees around Moreh Nevokhim st., Tel Aviv-Yafo
A map of the trees around Moreh Nevokhim st., Tel Aviv-Yafo (רחוב מורה נבוכים), as it was left after the second uprooting attempt. The red triangles are trees that were uprooted, gray circles are trees that were uprooted but put back in place due to our stubbornness. This map was created using QGIS and Inkscape, and with the help of Shira Hertzanu.

On August 16th, a month after the second uprooting, we met with the forest commissioner Israel Galon and Pnina Itakh (MOAG), agronomist Haim Gavriel (Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality) and landscape architect Tal Rosman. The situation was very familiar to me: Two sides meet with a “judge” to decide about the future of something. Side A represents the people who fights an evil decision. Side B represents a regime. Side A comes well prepared with documents, maps and knowledge while side B brings false truths or lack of knowledge. The “judge” listens and then says he will reply in the near future, while already prepare the excuses why he will decide against the will of the people. I truly believe that all the people we met with are good and have good intentions. But when it comes to bureaucracy and regimes they’ll give up on things they believe in. No real questions are raised.

So we came prepared. We presented our map, and told the short history of the trees. Forest commissioner Israel Galon told us that he needs to learn the material and will give a decision as soon as he’ll receive all the relevant data from the municipality.

To be continue…