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Olive trees

by: Rabbi Jeremy Rosen - Last updated: 2006-02-17

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

Whenever I read irrational, vituperative attacks on Zionism or Israel I always determine to resist writing articles that are in any way negative about Israel.

Or when I read articles by Ilan Pappe, a man so distorted by hatred that he wants to see the end of a Jewish State, I bite my tongue. Or Norman Finkelstein, whose book ‘Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History’ is so bitter that it clouds those legitimate points he does make, such as his criticism of ‘Shoah business.’

But then I pick up the Jewish Press (Jewish Distress), that organ of American Orthodoxy that makes Kahane fascism look positively Marxist, and see such ill-conceived apologetics that I think, ‘To heck with our enemies; let’s just try some home truths.’

We have just celebrated the New Year for Trees. It is supposed to reinforce our reverence for and appreciation of nature, God’s gifts. The olive tree in particular is associated with peace ever since Noah sent the dove out of the ark and she came back with an olive branch. It is one of the seven ‘elevated’ fruits and trees that are associated with the Land of Israel and require special blessings. But nowadays olive trees are bearing the brunt of hatred in the hills of Judea.

There are Torah laws against cutting down trees needlessly and very specifically those that produce fruit. In the Torah mankind is compared to the tree of the field. It grows slowly, produces, provides and nourishes and yet can be cut off in an instant. In the Talmud the famous story of Honi seeing a man plant a carob tree that will not bear fruit in his lifetime leads to the famous phrase, ‘I found a world with trees in it that my grandparents planted, so I must provide similarly for my grandchildren.’

For many years now vandals have been destroying Arab olive trees in Judea and Samaria. It’s part of a hidden war of attrition on both sides. Just as Muslims make it tough for Christians in the hope they will leave, so settlers try to deprive local Arabs of a living in the hope that they will leave. Of course each side always finds justification and provocation. But I had thought the army had it under control. So it was with some sadness that I read the following recent report in the Israeli press:

"Over the past year there have been dozens of sabotage incidents of Palestinian-owned olive groves by settlers. As recently as last month more than 1,000 olive trees have been cut down on six different occasions. Judea and Samaria District police told Haaretz that 672 investigation files were opened in 2005 for "disruption of order by Israelis against Palestinian  property.”

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz told the cabinet on Sunday that 2,400 trees were axed in a recent wave of vandalism in the West Bank by militant settlers and Israel should give monetary compensation to Palestinians whose olive trees have been cut down.

"There's a pervasive feeling of lawlessness," Mazuz said, adding, "This phenomenon is part of a wider phenomenon of a lack of law enforcement against Israelis in the territories.The excuse that there is a lack of resources is unacceptable," said Mazuz. "This is a matter of priority, it's unacceptable that Israel is unable to allocate resources for this."’

In a second story, Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz noted he has ordered the establishment of a special team to investigate the destruction of over 2,000 olive trees belonging to Palestinians in the West Bank:

‘Mofaz said in the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday that, following the findings of an investigation into the matter, he ordered security forces to increase their presence in areas where trees have been destroyed, to carry out a policy of quick and effective arrests and to compensate the Palestinian tree owners. Mofaz did not refer to the identities of those responsible for destroying the trees, but they are widely assumed to be settlers.’

The Jerusalem Post, not at all left wing, had the following report on January 13th:

"While the army plans to launch special operations to catch the perpetrators, officials on Thursday slammed what they called the police's constant failure to arrest the suspects. On Tuesday, head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) Yuval Diskin criticized the police's failure to effectively prevent settlers from vandalizing Palestinian olive orchards."

Who are ‘settlers’? It’s a general term that is applied to anyone living beyond the old 1967 armistice borders. But this covers a range of people from religious to secular, economic settlers looking for a bigger house to ideological ones, aggressive Brooklynites, spiritual, pacifist mystics, criminals and ordinary law-abiding nature lovers. Some are right wing politically and some are Left. Sadly, within this generalisation are to be found those who resist the democratic process in Israel and refuse to try to live amicably with anyone who disagrees with them, including no small number of ‘Hill Top Kids’--delinquents and petty criminals, dropouts from society who use the cover of ‘ideology’ to indulge their own antisocial neuroses. The damage they do by breaking laws and using violence in pursuit of their goals sadly was the excuse given for the brutal reaction of police and soldiers in evacuating Amona.

Now if I had seen an article excusing the work as the result of sick minds amongst a minority of the settlers I would have accepted it as at least an explanation. But this is what was written in a prominent article in the Jewish Press by Steven Plaut from Haifa University (the Alma Mater of Ilan Pappe--clearly extremes breed extremes):

‘The simple answer is that the accusations are baseless. It would be hard to find another set of baseless rumours turned into ‘news.’ Not a single Israeli settler has been convicted of damaging Arab trees [That’s like saying no one in Europe has been convicted this year of anti-Semitic attacks and therefore there have been none. –JR] and several more plausible explanations for the cutting of the trees have been  provided. A small number of trees have been cut down by the Israeli Army because they were being used by Palestinian snipers. The Israeli government has been paying compensation to Palestinians who claim their trees have been vandalized and that is why more and more complaints are being made!’

As if tight-fisted Israeli exchequers under economic pressure are going to dole out compensation for no good reason!!!

We have had a field day these past weeks with Muslim fanatics and Anglican churchmen making complete idiots of themselves. Let us not forget we have our own. Once one unleashes violence in one area it inevitably spills over into others.

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