Bible Commentator

Special Stories

Rabbi Moshe Reiss

Special Stories #12  – Occupation – Obsession and Reality:

Occupation has a Reality:

Olive groves live for hundred of years and more than anything else represent the tradition of the Middle East. High Priests and Kings are anointed by their oil thousands of years ago and today Popes and Kings continue to be so anointed. Thomas Friedman wrote a book entitled ‘The  Lexus and the Olive Tree’ for that very reason. In the Talmud after stating that olive tree is more important than other fruit trees Rabbi Hanina tell us of his son’s death before his time as a result of his cutting down a fig tree  (B.T. Baba Kamma 91b).

Some 500 olive trees on dozens of dunams of land had been hacked limbless over a weekend in July and on Sunday the Palestinian farmers unanimously pointed an accusatory finger at their neighbors on the hilltop: the ‘hilltop youth’ of Yitzhar. It looked as if a lumberjack had run amok in the olive groves of the Palestinian village of Ein Abus, just south of Nablus.
In November 28, 2005  Settlers cut down 200 olive trees near Nablus.
Palestinians on Sunday said that settlers cut down more than 200 olive trees in the West Bank village of Salem, near Nablus. The Palestinians told the police that the settlers arrived during the night and cut down the trees using chainsaws. Police were trying to track the settlers responsible for the act.

The destruction of the trees came a day after after volunteers from the Kibbutz Movement's assignment division, headed by Yoel Marshak, helped the residents of Salem restore olive groves that were destroyed by Elon Moreh settlers a month ago.

The Palestinian farmers had not tended the groves since they were destroyed for fear of being attacked by the settlers.

This is the latest installment of an annual struggle between the fringes of the settlement movement and Palestinian olive harvesters across the West Bank. The IDF proudly stated that, as opposed to last year, it has managed to limit settler vandalism of Palestinian olive groves to only two or three incidents.

But that was not enough for Fauzi Hussein. Settlers from the unauthorized outpost of Yitzhar – dismantled in July but since repopulated – swooped down from their hilltop perch and hacked apart 255 of his olive trees, he says. The villagers only dare approach the hilltops near the settlements when accompanied by human rights groups and an IDF escort.

"I staked everything I had in those trees," pleaded Hussein, who had worked in Tel Aviv's tourist hot spot of Kikar Atarim for 23 years before the onset of the intifada. Hopping down from one of the mountain's ragged terraces to talk to a reporter, the 53-year-old Hussein said he had supported his entire family by his olive harvest, the bulk of which he sold to Saudi Arabia.

His neighbor Abdula Yusuf is too afraid to climb the rocky terraces beyond his village and see the damage for himself. "They'll kill me," he said, waving a hand at the container homes on the top of a neighboring hill. "If they can do that thing to trees as old as the Roman times, they will not hesitate to do it to me."

He stopped the car by a pile of uprooted olive trees and got out, indicating that I should do the same: 'Such trees are 150 years old - three times the age of the State of Israel,' he said, pulling out a clod of earth from the roots and crumbling it in his hands. 'Generation after generation our people have come three times a year to dress, fertilize and harvest these trees. All our life, all our traditions, are connected to such trees. But now they bring their powerful machines from the USA and destroy our inheritance in fifteen minutes. Like us, these trees have deep roots. Look how strongly these roots bond the trees to the soil! But now they are uprooted, and with or without Abu-Zeid, if the settlers get their way we will be next. Sooner or later they will expel us all. It is only a matter of time.' (Haaretz)

“The police do not handle the uprooting of Palestinians’ trees by settlers in the same way they handle Arab damage to Jewish property” (Shlomo Politis, Modern Orthodox and deputy Judge Advocate General ret. – Haaretz July 29).


Occupation and Suicide Bombing:

Hany Abu Assad wrote and directed a movie called ‘Paradise Now’. It shows a person becoming a suicide bomber. The film is a thriller about two young men who commit suicide bombing. “I chose something that in my opinion serves as an opening for dialogue, between Israelis and Palestinians and among ourselves."
He stated his recollection of the exact moment at which he understood the suicide bombers: "I was at the Qalandiya checkpoint," he says, "and an Israeli soldier decided to stand me up against the wall with several other people. We stood there, under the burning sun, for three hours. A sense of humiliation overwhelmed me, and I felt I was losing my humanity. For the hours I was standing there, I was afraid to do anything, for fear that if I just moved my head, the soldier would kill me. I felt like a coward, I began to hate myself for not doing anything. For a month after the incident I was impotent. I felt I was no longer a man. At that same moment, I understood the suicide bombers: The moment you kill yourself, together with the enemy, you kill your impotence and make them impotent. I'm only glad I have the talent to express my impotence in a different manner." (Interview by Goel Pinto, Haaretz, Nov. 11.)

Some of my correspondents have disputed by story of Olive Trees. One David Morris, asked me to state a copy of his repudiation. I do so. Given the reaction of some zealous Jews at the disengagement I personally have little doubt that Jews would do exactly what was originally stated.


Tree-Cutting "Libel" - Once Again, Jews Stand Accused
Monday, November 28, 2005 / 26 Cheshvan 5766

Once again, reports that Jewish settlers cut down Arab-owned olive trees are suspected to be a "left-wing provocation" against the Jews of Judea and Samaria.

It was widely reported Sunday, in the name of Arab sources in the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas, that Jewish settlers from the Shomron had chopped down 200 olive trees owned by Arabs. The Ynet site, for instance, wrote, "Palestinian sources reported that settlers from an outpost near Elon Moreh had cut down" the trees.

The reports were immediately followed by condemnations of the Jewish population in the Shomron and Israel's rule there. The extremist left-wing organization "Peace Now" released a statement saying that the incident was a direct result of the lack of law enforcement in the areas and the continuing "problem of the [Jewish] outposts."

However, the Yesha Council looked into the matter and said that though "we condemn all violence, including harming Palestinian property," it had found that the incident was apparently a provocation staged by extreme left-wing activists who "wish to sully their Jewish brothers, while at the same time extending their hand to terrorists."

The residents of Elon Moreh, in a statement, "wish to emphasize that we have no connection with this incident, which is based on the testimony of a single Arab."

A widely-published AP photo of an Arab woman weeping and embracing an allegedly chopped-down tree (similar photos were taken by Reuters, AFP, and others] shows that the trunk is intact, and that only the top branches are cut off - as if it had been purposely pruned. In fact, the Haifa-based Land of Israel Task Force says that this is exactly what happened.

"The left-wingers and Arabs pulled the same trick last year," Task Force head Aviad Visuly said, "and using the same method." Photos of the trees show that the branches were sawed off in a manner that is beneficial to the trees. "Why would vandals bother sawing off each individual branch? Wouldn't they just cut down the trunk?"

The branches begin growing back 2-3 months after they are cut, and grow to full size within two years. "In the meanwhile," Visuly said, "the orchard owners receive stipends from the Saudis, via the PA."

Visuly said that left-wing activists look for trees that have been pruned, and then blame the Jews for cutting them. "They have even admitted to the police that they do this," he said, "such as in the case of Ein Avus near Hawara [south of Shechem]. In that incident, they blamed the people of [nearby] Yitzhar, because Yitzhar was a convenient media target. Two Jews were arrested for five days and were then released with no charges whatsoever. Today, it's convenient for them to accuse the people of Elon Moreh. If the police had an investigator who was half-fair, he would throw the case out."

Two years ago, a similar story on Arutz-7 began as follows: "It led to anti-settler headlines, international embarrassment for the State of Israel, condemnations, and apologetics - and yet it all may have been one big bluff, or worse." At the time, international media reported as fact that Jews had destroyed the Arab trees, and President Katzav and Prime Minister Sharon issued statements implying that the Jews were responsible. Even the Yesha Council said that the tree-cutting had "defamed the entire sector of Jews living in Judea, Samaria and Gaza."

What went under-reported was that the police began to suspect that left-wing Israelis and Arabs were behind the incident. The police even asked Rabbi Arik Asherman of the Reform Movement and an Arab who filed charges against Jewish Yesha residents to submit to lie-detector tests - but it was reported at the time that the two had refused.

A Jewish National Fund expert brought in by the police concluded that no lasting damage was done to the trees, and that the tree-cutters did not "cut down" the trees, but rather "pruned" them.