Edition 2: No. 82
Israeli Genocide of Palestinian Olive trees
Editor’s note: This article by Dr. Elias Akleh*, a twice-evicted Arab (first in 1948 and again in 1967) analyses the politics of hate contained in the Zionist campaign of uprooting Olive Trees. Akleh refers to the uprooting of Olive trees as an annual ‘terrorist harvest ritual’ at which Zionists target Palestinian agricultural harvests, notably the olive trees. In spite of massive uprooting to enable settlement expansion and the attendant building of infrastructure through the Israeli government, the olive tree is still one of the most important features in the landscape of Palestine. The olive tree may seem like an ordinary tree, maybe not even a particularly beautiful one, yet to the people of this land, be they Muslim, Christian or Jewish, the Olive humble tree is of great worth. The manifold meanings accorded to the tree, its fruits and the oil it produces changed a lot throughout Palestine’s turbulent history.
The denotation of the olive tree, or rather of the olive branch, is that of peace, a notion that goes back to the Book of Genesis where it is told that a dove returned to Noah’s ark, carrying an olive branch in its beak, which assured Noah that the water had receded from the earth. In more recent history, the olive tree still became a symbol of prosperity to many people in the region, and Palestine’s most prolific products were and continue to be made from the tree’s wood and fruits, including soap, lamp fuel, food, and of course, the precious and delicious oil itself. The Olive tree is, therefore, a spiritual symbol for the Palestinian.
Palestinians plant around 10,000 new olive trees in the West Bank every year. Olive oil is the second major export item in Palestine. For the last 45 years, over a million olive trees and hundreds of thousands of fruit trees have been destroyed in Palestinian lands. The Israel Defense Forces have been accused of uprooting olive trees to facilitate the building of settlements, expand roads and build infrastructure. The uprooting of centuries-old olive trees has caused tremendous losses to farmers and their families. At the same time, restrictions to harvesting have come through curfews, security closures and attacks by settlers.
Atyaf Alwazir, a young Muslim American argues that the uprooting of trees from Palestinian lands violates the Paris Protocols, The Hague and Geneva Conventions and the Covenant on Economics, Social and Cultural Rights. Sonja Karkar, founder of Women for Palestine in Melbourne, Australia, classifies the uprooting olive trees as contrary to the Halakha (the collective body of Jewish religious law) principle whose origin is found in the Torah: “Even if you are at war with a city….you must not destroy its trees.”
The Olive Tree is a symbol of Palestinian steadfastness. Nothing will deter Palestinian persistence from the search for freedom with justice.
It is in this context that Badayl offers readers this profound paper on Israeli genocide on the Olive Tree.
Extreme hatred of everything non-Jewish seems to be ingrained in the blood of Zionist Israeli Jews. This hatred is expressed by their warmongering politicians, their terrorist army, their fundamentalist rabbis, and their extremist civilians starting from their children up to their elderly of both sexes. They spew out this hatred against everything Palestinian; people, homes, and fields. Last few years they have developed what could be called a yearly terrorist harvest ritual where they target Palestinian harvest products particularly the olive trees.
Palestine has been very well known for citrus products on its coastal line and vine and olives on its hills. Palestinians are mainly farmers, who depend on agriculture with olive production comprising about 25% of income for almost 100,000 families. Olive trees, many as old as 5,000 years, are spread all over Palestine and keep yielding plenty of olives year after year. Nearly 48% of the agricultural land of occupied Palestine is planted with 10 million olive trees; the vast majority is in the West Bank. The yearly economic revenue of the olive harvest used to total $100 million. The olive oil industry, alone, makes up to 14% of the agricultural income for Palestinians, and supports the livelihood of almost 80,000 families. For Palestinians olive tree is a national symbol of resilience, steadfastness, and attachment to the land. For the whole world an olive branch is a symbol of peace.
Yet this symbol of peace has become the main target for destruction by every Israeli especially the religiously extremist armed squatters, who forcefully occupy Palestinian land, mainly hill tops, and build their illegal colonies/settlements. During every harvest those colonizers attack Palestinian farmers, prevent them from cultivating their land and harvesting their own crops. The Israeli military has the practice of preventing Palestinian farmers from accessing their field claiming them as military areas. While denying access to the Palestinian farmers, Israeli colonizers descend on the area, and under the protection of the army they steal the Palestinian olive crops. When done, many times, they cut the trees with gas-chain saws down to the bare trunks, spray chemicals on the trees, set the whole field ablaze, and uproot the trees with their own bulldozers.
Young Jewish thug colonizers/settlers have developed the game of torching Palestinian fruit trees especially olive trees. They would set ablaze one small field initially to get Palestinian farmers and the fire department busy in that area, then they target a larger area far away on the other side. By the time the fire engines get to the second fire, hundreds of olive trees would have burnt.
When in some areas Palestinian farmers, with the help of ISM (International Solidarity Movement) volunteers gain access to the fields and start picking up their olives, armed thugs from the nearby illegally Israeli colonies attack them causing some injuries and at times shooting dead anyone who tries to stop them. This happens under the watchful eyes of Israeli soldiers, who stand by ready to protect the assailant Israeli thugs. Many Palestinian farmers had complained to, and requested protection from the Palestinian Authority and from the Israeli police. Yet the Palestinian Authority is miserably helpless and can barely protect itself, while the Israeli police ignore most of these complaints and protect the Israeli thugs rather than Palestinian farmers. At least 90% of Palestinian complaints against settler’s thugs have been closed without any indictment or even simple investigation. Such an act promotes a culture of impunity that encourages and contributes to settlers’ continued attack.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had reported in 2011 that the number of settlers attacks resulting in Palestinian casualties and property damage has increased by 32% in 2011 compared to 2010, and by over 144% compared to 2009. The report states that during 2011 the settlers had damaged or destroyed about 10,000 Palestinian-owned trees, primarily olive trees, which significantly undermined the livelihoods of hundreds of Palestinian families. In 2012 OCHA reported that 7,500 olive trees belonging to Palestinians were damaged or destroyed by Israeli settlers in the West Bank between January and mid October 2012. In Gaza Strip the Israeli military operations had leveled 7,300 dunums of land that were previously planted with olive trees. In 2013 OCHA has recorded the damage or destruction of over than 9,400 olive trees, so far, compared to 8,500 in all of 2012. Many other settlers’ attacks go unreported.
The Israeli army had also adopted a policy of destroying Palestinian agricultural assets along with the destruction of Palestinian homes and the cold blood murder of their children. The army would select an agricultural area; mainly hill tops planted with olive trees. Then they will declare it as a military area prohibited for Palestinian farmers. The soldiers would build a barbed wire fence to prohibit the farmers from tending the land and cultivating their olive crops. Later armed extremist fundamentalist squatters bring their own caravans on top of the hill, and with time they raze the area uprooting all the olive trees in order to build their own colony. All this happens under the protection of the army.
Under the false security justification the Israeli government has built what has been called the apartheid wall/fence. Bulldozers had uprooted hundreds of thousands of ancient olive trees to clear the way for this wall. The Israeli government sends giant bulldozers to raze vast Palestinian agricultural areas uprooting thousands of ancient olive trees in order to build Jewish-only highways leading to illegal colonies on usurped Palestinian agricultural hills. The Israeli army is sent to protect the bulldozers.
One other main problem out of several Palestinian farmers face is access to water. Palestinian villages share a water line with nearby colonies/settlements, access to which is controlled by the Israeli government. During the summer Palestinian villagers are only allowed access to water 2 days a week while the illegal colonies/settlements have a continuous supply.
In the Gaza Strip the Israeli army had designated a 300-meter wide separation area along the borders. Eventually the army had sent its bulldozers to raze this area and extending it to 1000 meter wide, cutting and uprooting all the olive trees in the area. Palestinian farmers tending their land and harvesting their crops are routinely targeting by Israeli border snipers.
The Israeli hatred does not spare the Palestinian farmers, who were able to harvest their olives. The farmers face severe export restrictions of their crops. Ready for export Palestinian olive products are stored under the sun in ports and in border crossings allegedly waiting for shipping permits. Many of these products get spoiled before shipping causing high losses to Palestinian farmers. This is a deliberate practice aiming to put pressure on Palestinians so that they would sell their olive products to Israeli companies for very cheap price. The Israeli companies turn around and export the Palestinian products under Israeli names for higher prices.
The reporter Maya Zeinstein from Haaretz had exposed a flourishing industry in the theft, the smuggling, and sale of ancient Palestinian olive trees. While Palestinian farmers are prohibited from entering their olive orchards, Israeli occupying settlers would use bulldozers to uproot Palestinian ancient olive trees from the West Bank, smuggle them into Israel, and sell them for thousands of Shekels to rich Israelis and to Israeli developers, who want to adorn their homes and building with thousands old olive trees.
The Israeli hatred had turned into a genocidal campaign of stealing, cutting, torching and uprooting Palestinian olive trees after, then, the extremist Iraqi born Chief Rabbi of Israel, Ovadia Yosef (given name Abdullah Youssef) had declared an edict urging Israeli Jews to steal Palestinian olive crops claiming the theft an adoption of the Jewish faith. He claimed that rain would not come down except for the Jews, that crops would not grow except for the Jews, and thus it does not make any sense that evil Palestinians would enjoy olive crops and its oils.
It was estimated that 2.5 million olive trees have been uprooted in the occupied West Bank. From 1976 to 1999, Israel had uprooted an estimated 1,000,000 olive trees and an additional 1,405,658 trees from between 2000 and 2006 (source: Status of the Environment, Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem (ARIJ), 2007). Between 2006 and 2013 another million olive trees are estimated to be uprooted or torched due to the intensifying occupiers/settlers campaign of torching olive trees every season.
The Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture indicated that the 2013 olive season’s production will see a deficit of 60%; a deficit is even more severe than the 2012 season. This is so due to the continuous Israeli campaign of razing agricultural land planted with olive trees, in particular in Gaza Strip where the Israeli army had razed 20,000 dunums of land planted with an estimated half a million olive trees.
This uprooting genocidal campaign against Palestinian olive trees is meant to be the first step of uprooting Palestinians, themselves, from their fields and eventually from their villages. It is meant to alter the original natural Palestinian landscape to a more foreign European atmosphere more suitable for the Jewish foreigners/immigrants.
The Jewish extreme hatred against non-Jews has extended beyond hating and aggressing against Palestinians to hating and aggressing against Mother Nature itself. The Israeli myth of turning desert into bloom is actually turning the vast green olive orchard of Palestine into a desert of ugly foreign-to-the-land colonies of cold concrete.
*Dr. Elias Akleh is an Arab writer from a Palestinian descent born in the town of Beit Jala. His family was first evicted from Haifa after the “Nakba” of 1948, then from Beit Jala after the “Nakseh” of 1967. He lives now in the US, and publishes his articles on the web in both English and Arabic.