It's Not the Olive Trees

Many of those who are shocked by the notion of the settler minority destroying Palestinian vineyards, groves and livelihood are willing to overlook the IDF's same practice.

There is something very human about these stumps of olive trees, hundreds upon hundreds of them, their amputated branches reaching skyward as if to ask for help. Last Friday, in Tawana in the southern Hebron hills, 120 trees; In Burin, south of Nablus, earlier this week, about 50 trees; another 100 or so in Burin on December 24; and 140 trees, again in Burin, on December 14.

The police have counted 733 trees that were uprooted in 2005. According to the (incomplete) list of 29 incidents of agricultural sabotage documented by the human rights groups Yesh Din and B'Tselem from March to December, a total of 2,616 trees were sabotaged: uprooted, stolen, burned, chopped, sawed. In Salem alone, 900 trees were uprooted four times. Even if those who counted the damaged trees exaggerated, both sides agree that it is Israelis who are damaging vineyards and plantations.

The accumulation over the past few months of images of trees destroyed "by unknown individuals" has been sufficiently shocking to lead the attorney general to attack the helplessness of the authorities, and for Minister Gideon Ezra to convene a special meeting during which it was decided to focus law enforcement activities "on the settlements that are recognized as problematic."

The shock, however, is selective. The Israel Defense Forces has uprooted thousands of olive and fruit trees, cultivated lands and greenhouses, and continues to do so - in order to secure the roads it uses and to increase visibility for soldiers; to build watchtowers, checkpoints and the separation fence; and in order to pave more and more roads and construct security fences around the settlements.

In the village of Qafeen alone, for example, 12,600 olive trees were uprooted for the separation fence. Thousands more trees - perhaps tens of thousands - and thousands more acres of the West Bank are trapped behind the walls and fences and buffer zones surrounding the settlements. In Qafeen alone, 100,000 trees are imprisoned behind the fence, and throughout most of the year their owners are prevented from reaching them. All they can do is gaze on the neglect from afar. The reason given is "security," of course, but for some reason security always ends up with the effective plundering of more Palestinian land for the benefit of the neighboring settlement, or in order to widen and blur the Green Line and the annexation of the land to Israel.

The people who are shocked ignore the fact that the plantations in Salem and Tawana are next to roads that are closed to Palestinian traffic, because they connect between settlements. It is the IDF that closes and blocks these roads, like hundreds of kilometers of excellent asphalt throughout the West Bank that are closed to Palestinian traffic.

The uprooting of 100 trees sabotages the ability of an entire family to support itself. Closing roads sabotages the economic vitality of the entire Palestinian people. The IDF will of course talk about the need to protect Israeli citizens. So why is anyone shocked when those same Israeli citizens continue to stretch the logic of Israel's control over the occupied territories?

According to that logic, Israel has the right to institute a double legal standard in the occupied territories: one for Jews, another for Palestinians. Unlimited rights for Jews in housing, freedom of movement, livelihood, infrastructure, and land and water use, versus an organized system of stripping the Palestinians of human and civil rights. According to that logic, Palestinians must make do with increasingly smaller "land cells" whose private ownership they can prove. The broader expanses, whose ownership is not registered with the Israel Lands Administration, automatically belongs to "Israel" and the settlers' councils.

The settlers do not set policy, they are its result. Everyone lives in peace and without prickings of conscience in the face of hundreds of impoverished communities that have effectively turned into prisons, in order to permit the IDF to continue to protect the Israeli state enterprise: to control as much land as possible, to drive out as many Palestinians as possible. A minority of Israelis are not waiting for the IDF and the state to destroy; they destroy on their own. It is easy to be shocked by a minority and to forget the responsibility of the whole.