In Palestine, Olive Trees are so Much More
October 8, 2012
When my grandfather was alive, he had two things he cherished most in this world: his family and his olive trees. He tended to those trees as if they were babies, tenderly pruning them, caring for the saplings like newborn infants and offering a respect and reverence to the aged trees for their endless giving, for the years of rich, oily wealth they bestowed upon him and his loved ones.
When he passed, his beloved olive trees remained strong and proud, just like my grandfather had been in life. His sons were sure to protect his legacy, caring for the trees which continued to offer their bounty for all the years since. To Palestinians, olive trees are a lifeline, a symbol of their love for the land and a source of pride; they are their Achilles heel too, and Israel’s settlers know it.
The olive harvest is upon us. Some Palestinians with olive groves close to Israeli settlements have already begun picking the fruit in the hopes that they may, at least this year, escape the settlers. But of course, this is too much to hope for. The havoc has already begun; settlers from Nahla’el attacked residents of Beit Illu, a village northwest of Ramallah, attacking the olive pickers and burning down dozens of trees. Palestinian sources say around 300 olive trees have been cut down in Beit Illu alone in the past month.
This is by far not the only incident. Around the year, settlers cut down, steal and burn Palestinian olive trees in the West Bank. According to the International Solidarity Movement, over half a million olive and fruit trees have been destroyed by Israeli settlers and the army since 2000. Thousands of olive trees are cut down, burned or stolen each year by Jewish settlers who steal the fruit and the trees or burn them down with the long-term goal of usurping the land.
What is so disturbing is that the Israeli army almost always arrives on the scene but it does not deter the settlers. Palestinians, who both depend on olive trees for their livelihood and are bound to them spiritually, are crushed when they are destroyed. Not only are the olive trees cut down, burned, bulldozed and sometimes sold or stolen to be replanted in illegal Israeli settlements, but the land on which they were planted is suddenly inaccessible to its owners. The land is either taken over by settlers or it is gradually fenced off and annexed to nearby settlements by way of a military order.
Without delving into the legal [or illegal] ramifications of this olive tree theft, or even the larger unjust premise of the Israeli occupation which allows and even urges on such vigilante behavior, it is the sheer cruelty of the act that must not go unnoticed. Palestinians are inherently connected to their land and to their olive trees in particular. We all understand that settlers attack the trees and the owners while they pick the fruit to intimidate the Palestinians in the hopes of driving them off of their own land. And the best way to do that is to hit them where it hurts the most. For a farmer who has tended these precious trees for years and whose fathers and forefathers have done the same, this is the heart of the struggle. This is also why Palestinians fight back so hard when their trees are attacked. It is a main source of income, true, but olive trees are also part of their identity and their legacy. Apart from their children, these trees and the land are what they love.
International solidarity groups and Palestinians from all over Palestine have for years, joined farmers during the olive harvest to pick their fruit and protect them from settler attacks. It does not always work, but the sign of solidarity is heartwarming. We do not expect the Israeli government to halt it vigilante settlers because if it were not for this government’s acquiescence with these criminals, the problem would not exist. Besides, the Israeli government has no qualms over maintaining the military occupation of someone else’s land, planting illegal Israeli settlers and extremist settlers to boot to keep the colonialist project alive and well. In addition, these settlers are determined to break the Palestinian spirit by striking at the heart of what they hold dear.
In Palestine, the death of their children and the destruction of their olive trees make grown men cry. While I am grateful that my grandfather did not have to experience either before he passed, it pains me to watch others endure this rape of their land. The question is not whether Palestinians can endure more of this same abuse – they have proven that they can – but how long the world will continue to allow it to happen.
Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy(MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.