What truly strikes at the heart and soul of Palestinians?  

Other than any injury to their families, it’s messing with their olive trees!

There is a sacred, spiritual connection to olive trees here, whether it be a relatively young tree, or an old gnarled and twisted tree that brings to mind the forest scene from Babes In Toyland.

It is not just that olive trees produce the fruit which, when pressed, provides olive oil — a basic staple of existence here.  It’s deeper:  Olive trees survive and thrive, despite the harsh, often arid conditions.  They are tended, pruned, stewarded — and, hopefully, passed from generation to generation.

In my area, there are trees that are young and some that are literally hundreds of years old.  They are like so many of the Palestinians I have met: Rooted on the land, tenacious, patient, enduring, adapted to the conditions here.

The ancient Psalmist says, “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.  I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.”                                                                         — Psalm 52:8.

Almost every family I have met has olive trees somewhere nearby.  It may be a half dozen, or several hundred trees shared with an extended family.  

This deep, deep connection to their beloved trees seems greater than the connection we have in Clarkson-Lorne Park (Mississauga) to our whites oaks (of Jalna)  — as grand and majestic as they are, or even the years of affection I see in my wife’s extended family for the beautifully tended apple orchards of Brantwood Farms (Brantford).

They are far more than symbolic.  Olive trees mean life here! And there’s a palpable spiritual connection between Palestinians and their olive trees.  

Last week, on Friday July 20,  I had the privilege of spending a couple of days with our team of EA’s in Bethlehem.  After spending the morning on checkpoint duty at the sprawling Gilo checkpoint monitoring the movement of people on the first day of Ramadan (mostly devout families going to The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem for prayers), we responded to call from a community contact, letting us know a farmer’s olive trees had been bulldozed in the nearby village of Al Jab’a.

Mohammad Ahmad Abed Elateef, one of the farmers affected, told us that the day before he received a phone call from a neighbour at 5 a.m. to say that two bulldozers, jeeps and military cars were spotted on his land.  He was at work, and sent a couple of his sons to survey the situation.  His sons reported that about 20 settlers and 20 soldiers were already on their land.

While his sons tried to get close, they were prevented by the soldiers.  They were forbidden from taking pictures.

They were scooping the trees from their roots!  They took the trees and they were replanted somewhere else,” said Mohammad.

“They took them to replant them somewhere else!”

“Everybody had guns, except for the workers,” he added.

“After they left, we went to take a look.  They scooped them with the roots and took it with them,” he exclaimed.

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He figures he lost over 70 mature trees, and that his neighbour lost about 200 trees to the bulldozers.

“It’s very painful.  It takes time to get over it,” he says.

But with a certain resignation he declares, “I will plant again.”

He told us that he already had a court case pending in which he protested  a previous cutting of his olive trees.

On site, we walked together down the hillside.   Long ago it had been terraced to create strips of land that hug the hill.  But all we saw was rocky soil with large tread marks.  There were almost no stumps or branches left behind, just bulldozer tracks!

I was speechless, looking at what had been such a thorough job of removal!  What do you say when someone’s olive orchard has been wiped out?

Problem: Al Jab’a is near the Green Line, with Israeli settlements quite close by.

Mohammad surmises that his land may be wanted for a separation wall/security fence around his village.

In the meantime, someone has some new landscaping — an instant olive grove! Most likely in a nearby settlement.

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His neighbour Nasser El-din speaks from the heart, “These trees mean a lot!  Every year you tend your trees — every year, every year.  You get a sentimental relationship.”

Nasser says, “You are not supposed to cut it.!  Who gives you the right to cut it?  These trees are ours!  Who gave them the right to do do this! The so-called civilized countries that support them — gives them the right!”

He wants to point to the larger global political realities of the occupation of Palestine by Israel.

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“If the olive trees knew the hands that planted them, their oil would become tears,” says Mahmoud Darwish.

There is truth in those words.

And if olive trees knew the hands that uprooted them, their oil would also become tears.

Friends, if you have a chance, go savour a little olive oil.

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. Thank you! 

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