Opinion |

A Yawn — That's How Most Israelis Respond to Land Theft

As long as it’s Palestinian land. They know that sooner or later they’ll be able to buy a dirt-cheap villa with a fantastic view on that land

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Israeli settlers damaging Palestinian olive trees.
Israeli settlers damaging Palestinian olive trees. Credit: Ayed Mazalom / Rabbis for Human Rights
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

What would have happened had unidentified individuals in Iran, France or Venezuela attacked Jewish shopkeepers and forced them to close their shops? What apologies and expressions of shock our diplomats would have demanded from the European Union, the United Nations and who knows who else. And with what glee various researchers would have drawn a graph of global hatred and been interviewed at length, with grave expressions, about the worrisome anti-Semitic characteristics – so reminiscent of a dark past – of robbing Jews of their livelihood and destroying their property.

But for we Israelis, this rhetorical question has lost its power to educate, embarrass and shame. The fact that so many Israelis are involved in robbing so many Palestinians of their livelihood doesn’t even register on our seismographs. Those seismographs are calibrated only to record, say, agricultural thefts that were seemingly carried out by Palestinians. In contrast, all the actions we routinely carry out so that Palestinians will lose their sources of income elicit one big yawn. Listen, you can already hear it.

This rhetorical question isn’t aimed at Israelis, because they are the potential beneficiaries of the robbery, if not the ones already benefiting from it. Here’s a small, partial, recent example: According to complementary reports by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and two nongovernmental organizations, Rabbis for Human Rights and Yesh Din, over the past few weeks, unidentified individuals have stolen olives from more than 1,000 trees in 11 Palestinian villages in the West Bank – Azmut, Awarta, Yanun, Burin, Qaryut, Far’ata, Jit, Sinjil, Al-Magheir, Al-Jinya, Al-Khader. Moreover, unidentified individuals, who looked like Jews, assaulted harvesters from the villages of Deir al-Khattab, Burin, As-Sawiya and Kafr Kalil and drove them from their orchards.

Aside from in Burin, where the army located some of the Jewish thieves and returned the harvest to its owners, these thefts meant that an investment of time, money and effort had gone down the drain. In most of the villages, the looting occurred in areas that outposts and settlements have ring-fenced with intimidation and violence, and where the army, in response, has penalized the Palestinians by limiting their access to their lands.

This is how we ensure that in another few years, there will be vacant land on which to build another luxury neighborhood. The indifferent Israelis know that soon they’ll be able to buy a dirt-cheap villa with a fantastic view there. Hence they yawn.

There is theft ostensibly perpetrated by individuals, and then there’s state theft – in the village of Al-Walaja, for example. It’s very possible that this is the last year in which the olive harvest will take place there as it should. Next year, residents will already be subject to a permit regime in order to reach their lands via an agricultural gate in the separation wall, which will be opened only when the agricultural staff officer at Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank decides it should be opened – for two or three months a year. In the morning it will open and close immediately, and in the evening it will be open and close immediately.

Last Friday, a resident of Al-Walaja and Israeli volunteers from Engaged Dharma, who were helping to harvest his land, preferred to talk about things that are pleasant to talk about: the quality of the olive oil, the plump olives growing on the trees near the pool, the more wizened olives that had been harvested from the lower terrace, the glorious taste of the radishes and green onions that he grows between the trees. But next year, residents of the village will contend with strict conditions for getting a permit – conditions that contradict the Palestinians’ custom of working the land collectively, and which very likely won’t allow them to continue growing vegetables there.

The yawners are already hiking on Al-Walaja’s lands, which have been declared a national park for rest and relaxation, for carousels and ritual immersion by Jews. And God willing, next year, when the wall’s construction has been completed, no Palestinians – the land’s legal owners – will be seen there.

The rhetoric here makes clear why, say, a European and South American boycott of, say, Israeli agricultural produce is necessary and justified. This may be the only thing that can make Israelis stop yawning.

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