The West Bank's 'Rotten Apples'

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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A damaged olive tree and graffiti in a Palestinian village.
A damaged olive tree and graffiti in a Palestinian village.Credit: Alex Levac
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

During the olive harvest season, the fountains of Israeli evil, cruelty and chutzpah erupt in their most concentrated form. The wellspring of this God-fearing violence does not distinguish between young and old, man and tree, between destruction and sabotage and crop theft.

It is violence that knows the soul of its government. After all, the West Bank is dotted with surveillance cameras, with the watchtowers and observation posts of the Israel Defense Forces, with military and police armed patrols. Despite all this, our destroying and sabotaging forces in the olive groves always return home safely. From the same arenas. To the same home bases.

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In the span of two weeks, from October 3 until 16, there were at least 18 Israeli assaults on harvesters and their trees. The list compiled by human rights group Yesh Din: Volunteers for Human Rights is difficult to read. On October 3, our forces struck five times: They assaulted a farmer, chopped down trees, prevented harvesters from gathering olives and on two occasions stole olives. On October 11 four similar cases of sabotaging trees and the harvest were recorded.

All the incidents were near settlements and settlement outposts that are known for frictions with the villages on whose land they are situated: Yitzhar, again and again; Maon, Beit El, Shiloh, Ariel, Havat Gilad, Avigayil. Since the beginning of the year, anonymous individuals from among us, Jews have damaged about 8,000 Palestinian-owned trees, according to United Nations figures.

Say that these are a few rotten apples. Troubled teens. “Wild weeds.” Druggies and dropouts. We’ve been hearing this refrain ever since it became clear that it is an organized, calculated phenomenon – way back in the second half of the 1990s, before and after Ariel Sharon called for settling every hill in the West Bank. Then, as now: The tree fellers, the thieves and the attackers are the messengers of the system and its dear sons, brothers in the holy cause of dispossessing the indigenous Palestinians from this land.

The immediate and embracing community of the assailants does not shun them, the rabbis do not rebuke them and its leaders’ silence is consent. Soldiers back them because the IDF has a duty to protect the Jewish citizens/settlers. The police close investigations (the few that were opened in the first place) with an efficiency that would make the racist white police in the American South in the 1950s jealous. The keyboard warriors of the State of Tel Aviv express their disgust. So what?

This ever-increasing “private” violence, which is decades old, achieves its goals. In order to “prevent tensions” with the residents of the outposts that spring up like poisonous mushrooms around the bourgeois colonies, the IDF prohibits Palestinians from accessing their land. The settlements themselves were built on Palestinian land in the framework of the organized, official robbery that is called, in order to please the ears of the members of the High Court of Justice, the “Declaration of State Land,” “Survey Land” or appropriation and closure for security and military needs.

In this manner, in a clever fabric of military law that disdains international law together with the violence of the very wise weeds, large expanses of the West Bank have been made free, or nearly free, of Arabs: Shiloh bloc, Etzion Bloc, Talmonim bloc, Ariel bloc. The northern Jordan Valley bloc. Meitarim bloc. Reihan bloc. Latrun bloc. Givat Ze’ev bloc. The seam zone bloc. Adumim bloc. The only Palestinians permitted into these zones are workers. In its great generosity, the army gives some of the farmers access to their land two or three times a year, to weed and spray. To plow and sow. To harvest. Find me one Israeli kibbutznik or moshavnik that would accept working the land only a few days each year. This prohibition, backed up by IDF bayonets and Civil Administration orders, is much more violent and effective than any physical assault.

And despite it all, the privatized violence of the embedded weeds is instrumentalized by the authorities in precisely the same places that the official violence failed to completely remove the Palestinians from their land. That is why the authorities turn a blind eye to it. That is why the tree uprooters and the crop thieves and the attackers of shepherds and farmers remain secure in their anonymity.

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