In case you didn’t notice, olive trees in Judea and Samaria are under attack. The alleged culprits are Jews living there. UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry called it “terrorism.”
Will this “crime against humanity” be on the agenda of the UN? Will NGOs demand this “Holocaust of the trees” be prevented? Will the EU lavish funds to make up for the poor harvest, a result of intense heat waves and lack of rain? Will the International Court of Injustice condemn this as a “violation of international law”?
By the way, where are these fervent “guardians of the trees” when Jewish fields are torched and Jewish vineyards ripped up by Arabs, assisted by “peace activists”?
At any rate, to whom, precisely, do these endangered trees belong? Well, that depends on whom you ask. Palestinians claim them “for generations,” though there are no deeds, or indications of ownership, and most are recent plantings.
Maps of the disputed areas during the British Mandate show that Arabs have encroached on state land, planting and building; uncontested, they claim legal possession.
In recent decades this encroachment has become widespread, and planting olive trees has become one of the most widely used methods by Arabs to assert legal claims and acquire land rights.
Why olive trees? Olives are in high demand and the trees are easily maintained; they require no irrigation and little care, except for occasional pruning, which helps new growth the following year.
And pruning can, when convenient, look like destruction – perfect for making a case against “settlers” and garnering media attention and compensation.
Arabs also plant olive trees in disputed areas near Jewish communities, often with help from Peace Now and NGOs, to check the growth of settlements and provide cover for terrorists who seek to infiltrate and murder. In the struggle over property rights olive trees serve as signs of ownership, as boundary markers, and are valuable forward positions for asserting strategic advantage.
True, both sides play this game, as Jewish communities expand as well. Only one side, however, gets condemned, and the poor olive trees are caught in the middle. But the questions persist: Who has a right to plant, who has a right to harvest, and to whom do trees (whose lineage and ancestry cannot be traced) belong?
And, of course, who owns the land?
Arabs and much of the international community claim Jews have no right to live in areas conquered by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. But when the UN in 1947 proposed dividing Palestine (a two-state solution), the idea was rejected by the Arabs. Five Arab armies invaded Israel in 1948; an armistice in 1949 left Israel in control of one part of what had been called Palestine, Jordan in control of Judea and Samaria, and Egypt in control of the Gaza Strip.
No one proposed a separate Palestinian state alongside Israel, nor did Palestinians consider themselves a distinct people.
Egypt never claimed the Gaza Strip, which is now the first Islamist state of Hamas, and Jordan relinquished its claims to the West Bank in 1988. Both countries have signed peace treaties with Israel. Legally, therefore, sovereignty over these areas should revert to their original status – part of “the Jewish National Home,” the State of Israel.
One of the few places in the world whose status is disputed and undetermined, the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) is embroiled in a struggle over political and national rights. It is important, however, not to forget the forest – Israel’s survival – for the trees, olives and others.
Metaphors for conflicting claims and sources of contention, olive trees can also nourish mutuality. Robert Serry’s exaggeration is one more indication of what is wrong with the UN and its hostility toward Israel – and an example of what, by encouraging extremism and misunderstanding, prevents true peace.
Moshe Dann is a writer living in Jerusalem.