ON THE GROUND: Y Care International's olive tree campaign

Scheme: To replant olive trees that have been destroyed in the Palestinian territories

Funding: The initiative is supported by Y Care International, the overseas development agency of the YMCA movement, in conjunction with YMCA projects in England, Sweden, Switzerland, east Jerusalem and the Gaza

Objectives: An ongoing campaign to grow 50,000 new trees in the Palestinian territories

Olive trees are more than a symbol of hope in the Middle East: they are a means of survival.

Each tree produces 17 litres of oil each year and since it takes six to 10 years for them to reach maturity, the effects of their loss is devastating.

For many towns and villages, oil and olives are their lifeblood. So the destruction of 112,000 olive trees in the Palestinian territories since October 2000 has led to hardship as well as sadness. It also contradicts Jewish teaching because the Torah states: "Even if you are at war with a city ... you must not destroy its trees."

Y Care International, the overseas development agency of the YMCA movement, is on a mission to restore what has been lost. It launched a campaign to plant 50,000 olives trees in April and almost six months on has raised £3,000.

Often trees are uprooted during times of conflict but some wanton acts of destruction well outside the war zone suggest they are also wrecked to increase suffering. For example, in the village of Hares, 1,500 olive trees were found destroyed - many in places far from where they could have been used for cover.

The trees to be planted are grown at a nursery in east Jerusalem run by a women's training programme at a YMCA headquarters. Many of those destroyed were more than 100 years old and since it takes six years to yield olives, it will be some time before they bear fruit.

A recent visit to England by Judeh Majaj, of the east Jerusalem YMCA, sparked media coverage for the programme on BBC World Service and Liberty Radio. Christian broadcaster Premier Radio and the Methodist Recorder have also covered the campaign.

The initiative is being supported by local landowners on both sides of the conflict and the project will run until the 50,000 target is achieved.

Juliet England, a spokeswoman at Y Care International, said: "We have been working for some years in the Middle East, particularly with young Palestinians traumatised by the conflict. The olive is a symbol of hope and peace but there is also a very real need for these trees among people struggling to make a living.

They are crucial to farmers.

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