A few posts back (Aida Refugee Camp), I spoke about ‘M’ – the young man who was shot in the face for photographing the Israeli army shooting in his camp.
A few nights ago, his home was raided by 30 Israeli soliders and he was beaten badly in front of his family before being arrested. He is now recovering in prison hospital in a settlement in the West Bank.
His arrest is a blatant act of censorship by the Israeli government. Through being a photographer, and exposing the daily atrocities carried out by the military, he was a target. His arrest is unjust and a petition for his release is here – please sign it and share.
The concept of ‘security’ is warped in such an ironic way here. It’s the argument that Israel always uses, to justify almost everything it does. The Wall, the indiscriminate bombing of civilian populations in Gaza, the control of water resources, the torture and detention of children – that’s all only ever for Israel’s security.
To illustrate this, I want to talk about olive trees, which are often destroyed in the name of security. For me, the treatment of these trees demonstrates well the cruelty of the occupation, and invalidates the security argument in this instance.
Understanding the importance of olive trees to many Palestinians is hard for us in the West to imagine. As someone here told me, they are symbolic of the strong connection to this earth and land; they are rooted deeply, and will stay. For many centuries, olive trees have been part of Palestinian identity and culture, and almost half of Palestinian agricultural land is planted with them, some trees being thousands of years old. In 2012 alone, 7500 olive trees were damaged or destroyed1 and over 548,000 trees have been uprooted, burnt or destroyed by Israel’s soldiers and settlers since 20012.
(picture taken on a bus ride from Bethlehem to Ramallah)
Often, instead of pulling them up entirely, they just chop them at the trunk, turning ancient green groves into cemeteries. It’s such a horrific sight seeing these tree stumps, and I feel it’s worse, more cruel, than just uprooting them entirely; it leaves a memory of what was there, and is a silent threat and reminder of who’s in control.
Again, for this, the argument of security is often given by the Israelis – they say Palestinians could hide behind the trees and throw stones at passing cars. You see fields like this of olive tree stumps that stretch back kilometres (I was never good at sports that involved throwing things, but I think that would have to be a particularly powerful overhand to lob a rock that distance). An old Palestinian man on the bus next to me, as we passed these olive grove graveyards, said to me “in the eyes of the Israelis, even the olive trees are terrorists”. Occasionally, a tree is uprooted carefully and replanted in an Israeli colony. How the tree would cry if it could, like a kidnapped child.
It’s nothing to do with security. With each tree destroyed someone loses their livelihood, and a piece of history is eradicated, and with each grove desertified, the community is weakened. It’s a ritual, repetitive ploy to exhaust, upset and frustrate the Palestinians as much as possible; to destroy their morale. And this sort of thing rarely makes headlines because who, in the scale of things, cares about trees? There’s no drama – it’s just a subtle, routine, slow torture of a population, to grind them down, wear them out, and make them want to leave. It’s often hard to see what’s being done to the Palestinians, but I feel this ruthless, senseless treatment of the trees is a good indicator of what is happening, in parallel, to the people.
(Mural in Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem)
There’s a great campaign to replant olive trees in Palestine here, if you want to get involved and help plant or sponsor a tree: http://www.jai-pal.org/content.php?page=1
For more information about Palestine in general go to my other page here.
- Olive Harvest Factsheet. 2012. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs occupied Palestinian territory.
- Keep Hope Alive – The Olive Tree Campaign. 2010. Joint Advocacy Initiative.
My flat in Bethlehem is lovely. Spacious, airy and light, it is sometimes possible to forget where I am, temporarily. My flat is high up, and from my living room window I have a view out over the east of Palestine and towards the Jordan Valley – on a clear night, you can see the lights of Jordan behind. However, only a few kilometres away, tainting this view, is the huge Israeli settlement, Gilo – covering the hilltop on the left of this photo (which is illegal under international law as it is build on West Bank, Palestinian land).
From my kitchen window, I can see the Wall – 8 metres tall – which blocks out the sunset every evening, sadly, and to the left of that Aida Refugee camp is just out of my view.
Sunday was a hard day.