Israel, its government, army and settlers have become morbidly obsessed with olive trees. Rarely does a day pass by without a battle being waged against these trees, which turn into the number one enemy of the state at every harvest season, because they always remind it that it is occupying a land that is not its own. The stubbornness of roots that run deep makes Israelis lose their temper, frenziedly attacking to pull them out and break their branches, in a desperate attempt to erase this symbol from the memory of the Palestinians.
Ever since the late Yasser Arafat carried “the olive branch” to the United Nations, the tree has been classified as “terrorist” and it has become required to prevent it from spreading and to stop it from addressing the world.
The cycle of attacks against olive trees goes on everyday in Palestinian areas close to the settlement belt. Here are a few samples from the past week alone:
In the village of Deir Al-Hatab, inhabitants of the settlement of Elon Moreh murdered two thousand olive trees when they directed the flow of sewage water towards a grove whose owners are forbidden from visiting due to its proximity to the settlement.
And in the village of Burin near Nablus, settlers attacked farmers who had come to harvest their olives, burning the sheds they rest in, before being helped in their assault by the Israeli army, which used tear gas against the owners of the land. The outcome was the loss of 500 olive trees by burning or by having chemicals spilled on them.
In the village of Faraata near Qalqilya, settlers from Havat Gilad attacked the olive groves and destroyed 600 trees.
Settlers also resort to stealing the harvest before burning the trees, based on the religious edicts of extremist rabbis who consider Palestinian land to be “the inheritance of the people of Israel” and its fruits “their property regardless of who planted them”.
In Gaza, where occupation forces have bulldozed 130 thousand trees, the street in which the largest number of civilians was killed in a single hit (22 women and children) during the war on the Gaza Strip is called “Hayy Al-Zaytoun” (Olive Street). And the Palestinians assert that army bulldozers have to this day destroyed one million trees in the West Bank.
Settlers who attack trees are not subject to any lawsuits, and the investigations of pure form conducted by the police never yield any results, like the hundreds of complaints filed by Palestinians that know no fate but that of locked drawers.
Yet burning and destroying them is not the only way to exact revenge on olive trees. Indeed, Israeli army checkpoints obstruct movement between the villages and cities of the West Bank and prevent Palestinian agricultural production, most prominently olives and olive oil, from reaching domestic or international markets, this before the obstacles laid down by exports laws lead to a large part of this production spoiling.
This is a war waged by Israel with all of its constituents and institutions against this ancient and giving tree, which has proven that its ability to resist the occupation was greater than that of rockets being launched here and there aimlessly. Perhaps it has become the Palestinian Authority’s duty to think of adding an olive tree to the national flag, or to raise the banner of this tree in every Palestinian home, even inside Israel.
The olive tree exposes the foreign accents and hands that violate its branches and its memory. As for the land which the settlers coming from Europe and America “discovered” in the leaflets of the Jewish Agency, it waits patiently while saving the experience of centuries of resilience, and it knows that its trees will grow once again every time they are uprooted.