Opinion |

Israelis Who Pillage Palestinian Olive Harvesters Are Not My Brothers

Michael Sfard
Michael Sfard
Palestinians tending an olive tree in Burin the West Bank.
Palestinians tending an olive tree in Burin the West Bank. Credit: Ilan Assayag
Michael Sfard
Michael Sfard

In recent years, Israeli and Palestinian rights groups have made a breakthrough discovery that may one day earn them a Nobel Prize in physics. Their researchers have observed that along with the speed of light and the laws of gravity, nature has given us two more universal physical constants: despicable settler criminality, which surges during the olive harvest, and collaboration by Israeli law enforcement that just lets it happen.

Time may expand or shrink, space may swell or contract, but the speed of light will always remain 300,000 kilometers per second. It will never change – nor will the criminal activity of settlers. In times of peace talks or annexation conspiracy, normal times or pandemic times, times of economic growth or recession, the theft of olives, the cutting down of trees and assaults on the olive harvesters persist as always.

The bored soldier and commander who wearily roam amid the hilltop youth Klansmen as they throw rocks at the Palestinian olive harvesters show up every year, too, with the accuracy of an atomic clock.

Defense ministers come and go, commanders in the Judea and Samaria Division become generals and major generals and “alternate prime ministers,” and the olive harvest keeps bleeding. The army’s show of weakness and indifference, the prizes to the assailants and their aggression against the weak, awarded by the security forces, are also as reliable as the sunrise every morning: the paratroops or artillery or infantry brigade – Givati, Golani, Nahal or Kfir.

This code of behavior is passed down from one enlistment cohort to the next, along with battle heritage stories and fighters’ blues songs. In the midst of a major health and economic crisis, in a chaotic situation where no one knows when schools will open or when we’ll even be able to get a haircut again, the violence of these settlers and the army’s collaboration are an island of stability, a rock of certainty in uncertain times.

And so it is with this year’s olive harvest, which has only just begun. In its first nine days, the Israeli rights group Yesh Din received reports of more than 20 incidents of damage to the harvest.

In seven cases, settlers violently attacked the olive harvesters, in eight cases the olives were stolen. In nine cases, hundreds of trees were cut down, and in one instance an olive grove was set on fire. In Hawara and Na’alin, people were injured; in Jab’a, threats were made, trees were cut down and olives were stolen; in Ein Yabrud, people were attacked, and in Fara’ata and Burin, robbed.

Video footage has been flowing in to human rights activists from across the West Bank. The farmers see their property being looted and can do nothing about it. The helplessness in having to watch from afar is humiliating, but an encounter with the vandals is worse.

As one of the Jewish thugs said to the Palestinian landowners in Burqa, in an incident seen in Ohad Hemo’s report on Channel 12 News: “God gave us this land. I’m the son of God and you are his servant.”

And it’s all happening less than an hour’s drive from the center of Israel, in these places whose existence indifferent Israelis prefer to ignore, places that probably less than 1 percent of the population has heard of but where our finest sons and daughters have been sent to deepen our control for over five decades now.

Evil has roots; its appearance reflects something much deeper. Youths seethe with the hatred to tell a poor Palestinian old enough to be their father who has come to harvest his olives that they are the children of God and he is their servant. They are not lone wolves. For this to happen, it takes rabbis and parents, political leaders and spiritual mentors, who sanction such behavior or even direct it. It takes the indoctrination of a vile ideology and a community that supports it.

Indeed, it takes a village to raise a racist fascist, too. Behind every masked Jewish arsonist is an entire village of guilty people; behind every self-styled sheriff who chases a family off its land is a village of people responsible. Of course, not everyone is like that, but many are. On the Israeli side of the Green Line, too, hatred and racism are flourishing, but the mountains of Samaria, the northern West Bank, and the hills of Binyamin and Hebron in the center and south, are the real training ground for hate crimes.

That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow, the sage Hillel said, but now the nation scarred by persecution, discrimination and genocide is largely divided in two – those who belong to the circles of provocation, dispossession and humiliation, and those who don’t really care that such are the deeds of their brothers and sisters.

So, I wish to say to the gangsters of the settlements: You are not my brothers. We may share a common past, but in the present, I have more in common with your victims than with you – with Ibrahim from the village of Far’ata whose land was stolen by settlers and whose olive crop is plundered year after year, with Mohammed from Bil’in who bravely went out to defend the farmers of Hawara.

I have nothing in common with the thugs of the outposts and settlements, so don’t try to send me anyone from the Tzav Piyus reconciliation group or tell me that first we must make peace among ourselves.

No peace is possible with violent racists who abuse the weak under the protection of the army’s rifles and thus insult the memory of the victims of the pogroms and the Holocaust. No compromise is possible with those who plunder the weak, exploit the oppressed and hate their neighbor just as their own ancestors, their own fathers and mothers, were hated.

If I were you I’d sit shivah for you, because you’ve renounced the essence of Judaism and defiled the principles at its very heart. But knowing that you probably believe that Israel, even in sin, is still Israel, I’ll speak to you in a language that you understand: Repent, sinners. Repent and we will embrace you. Until then, we will do as our Torah commands: We will fight you.

Michael Sfard, a human rights lawyer, is the legal adviser to the rights group Yesh Din.

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