Ravaged Olive Orchards

It is a very strange experience to walk through an olive orchard where the trees have had all their branches broken off and scattered on the ground.

What a very sad and tragic scene to witness! The trees were stark in the bright sunlight, and each tree had been reduced to its trunk, with just the stumps of former branches remaining like amputated limbs.

It seems so utterly senseless, and, random, and in it is own way violent toward those who rely on the olive trees for their life and well-being. But it also appears to be part of a larger strategy and pattern of intimidation to drive Palestinians from their land in West Bank near Israeli settlements and outposts.

Yesterday, our team was called to a field not far from our base village. (Actually, we were already in the village of Tell, south west of Nablus, talking to a man who recently had 41 young olive trees damaged on his land near his village.) We were the first internationals to respond to this new call to come to a field near Tappuah Junction (Za’tara). With directions from a local, we drove through several fields and over very rocky terrain, to find two adjacent fields with dozens of ravaged trees.

We wandered between what was left of the tress – amazed and aghast – as we looked at what, only the evening before, had been a full olive orchard laden with olives headed for a bountiful Fall harvest.

Shortly after, we were joined by one of the owners of one of the fields.

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“I was surprised this morning when I saw the trees.  There is a lot of pain in my heart,” said Yasser Shafeeg Snober, who owns the field with his seven brothers and their father.

Yasser said he had 40 trees damaged, and his neighbour’s field had about 60 trees damaged. The trees were estimated at over 80 years old.

I won’t have any oil this year,” he said with resignation.

A fellow villager who had permission to set traps in his field, alerted him to the situation. He also said that a group of settlers had been spotted on the road the night before.

When asked about the future of the trees, he said, “They will grow again, but they need another 10 to 15 years to get back to what they were before they we cut.”

I wondered why his field had been hit, and before I could ask the question, Yasser explained, “No one can see, here. It is hidden from the road. No one can see you from any direction here.”

He believes that settlers came in the night from one of the nearby Israeli settlements.

They can take their time in the dark. I think they use a jeep 4X4 to come here.”

I think we will see more of this until the harvest in October,” he added.

The 40 year old has known the trees since he was a child, and was given care of the fields from his father, who is now 74.

“If I tell my father directly, he will take a heart attack, because he loves his olive trees,” said Yasser.

He figures his family would have realized 100 litres of olive oil from the harvest.

In 1889, Paul Gaugin painted, “Christ in the Garden of the Olives.” (This painting hangs in the Norton Museum of Art, West Palm beach, FL.) It was, obviously about Jesus in anguish on the eve of his crucifixion.

Today, I wonder what anguish of soul flows from the heart of the Living Christ as he walks around this butchered mount of olives.

Do we see in His face sadness and sorrow for an extended family who relied on the orchard for one of its staples? Would He weep with sadness over a conflict and an occupation unresolved that has festered way too long? Would we see compassion, frustration, or impatience? Anger over the violent extremes? Sorrow that a part of the creation has been needlessly destroyed?

What would the Jesus, a Palestinian Jew, have to say to all involved: “The meek shall inherit the earth?” “Put your sword away?” “There is another way, here…”

O Living One, keep walking in olive gardens and orchards! Keep whispering to our hearts…

Grace and peace..

Jim 

I have been sent by the United Church of Canada to participate in the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).  Should you wish to re-post, or to publicize any of this content, I welcome your direct requests, via the comments section in this blog.

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