Olive tree resistance: Qusra farmers replant crops after settler arsons

Israel/Palestine
on 19 Comments
Qusra
A Palestinian in the village of Qusra holds the broken branch of an olive tree. (Photo: Associated Press/Nasser Ishtayeh)

Located in the hills south of Nablus, Qusra has been making headlines on a regular basis over the past few years. Tucked in between highway 60 and the Jordan valley it is a rural community that would happily go on living without outside attention. Unfortunately for the farmers and shepherds that populate these hills their land is coveted by a cluster of settlements to the south and west of the village.

Qusra is the largest of a small bunch of Palestinian villages and as such it has been the target of a seemingly endless wave of attacks by religious fanatics. In the summer of 2011 everyday brought a new story of sectarian violence. Olive trees were torched or chopped down, houses and cars were vandalized, shepherds and their livestock were attacked by knife or gun wielding settlers. This violence culminated in the month of September when international attention was focused on the Palestinian statehood bid in the United Nations. On september 23rd 2011 when the world was listening to Abbas and Netanyahu’s speeches in New York City a villager was fatally shot during clashes in between settlers and villagers who stood at the entrance of their town.

Two years later I am back in the Nablus area and the villages are in the news again. On Monday August 12th settlers attacked the neighboring town of Jalud and set fire to fields on a hill above the village. On Tuesday I call a contact in Qusra and arrange to visit.

Tareq is a Palestinian farmer, he lives a traditional lifestyle following in the footsteps of many generations before him. His house is located above a shop where he slaughters and sells chickens. In his backyard he keeps a half dozen beehives. Down the road, in a small stone hut his sheep find shelter from the hot sun. He has a small herd which he uses mainly to make cheese and yoghurt. They also provide manure to fertilize his olive groves. Living off the land is tough in this arid mediterranean climate so he pieces together an income from all these small ventures. His family buys potatoes from Israel, they wash them and package them for sale in Palestinian shops. The village is surrounded by olive trees. These are the pride of every palestinian farmer. They grow slowly and give a steady yield of fruit and oil every year. They fear two predators. the gazelles who eat the leaves and rub their heads against the trunks, damaging the younger trees, and the settlers who burn and chop down entire rows of trees, young and old. Most trees will recover on their own from the superficial wounds inflicted by the gazelles, but only the farmer’s determination and hard work can save the olive groves from the racially motivated violence.

Tareq receives me with the typical generosity of Palestinian villagers. We wait out the hottest hours of the day in his house eating cookies and drinking sweet hot tea. He tells me that things have been quiet for the past three months in Qusra. The incessant settler attacks brought international attention, peace activists and observers. This prompted the army to set up in between the village and the settlements. Not to be deterred, the settlers focused their attention on the next village down the road, hence the arson attack in Jalud on Monday.

Tareq has suffered directly from the attacks. He has lost trees, his house has been targeted by angry mobs and he has been taken to hospital three times for settler inflicted injuries.

His son and nephew are busy gathering hoes and buckets while his daughter brings us an old coca cola bottle full of gasoline. We throw the equipment in the back of a busted up subaru stationwagon, pour the content of the plastic bottle into the tank and take off for the hills.

On the way up Tareq points to a patch of scorched earth. Amid the ashes you can see small olive trees shooting up. In the nearby groves olives ripen on the mature trees. Settlers burnt down entire patches but the villagers replanted almost immediately.

We stop near the top of the hill. Tareq’s reaction to the violence has been to redevelop land that his grandfather used to farm. There are small trees growing on recently cleared land. Above us the land is still a mess of stones and thistles. Below us olive trees cover the land until the houses begin.

In the cold months Tareq brought up his entire family to clear stones and plough the thick ochre dirt. He planted rows of trees, no more than a meter tall. Mature trees don’t require much maintenance, some ploughing in the spring so that the wild grasses don’t drink up all the water or feed wild fires.

Young trees however need a little help making it through the hot months. This is why we are up here this afternoon. Tareq, his son and his nephew get to work digging small moats around each trunk. During breaks they fill me in on the situation in the village. Although the area is surrounded by settlements, there is only one visible from where we are sitting. By the entrance of the village, off the main highway sits the neatly planned community of Migdalim. Do they cause problems ? “No! They are good people”. What ? “Yes, they come and shop in our supermarkets, they are normal people”. Tareq has made it clear up until now that he only has issues with the religious fanatics that vandalize his livelihood and assault him, still I am shocked to hear that he has good relations with settlers living so close to his village.”When there is peace they will get money from the israeli government and relocate inside the green line”. I express my surprise again and he confirms that settlers have told him in so many words that all they are waiting for is the government’s relocation package and pay off in order to pack up and leave. Until then they are happy living on Qusra’s land and shopping in their supermarkets. Unlike other settlements they allow the farmers to tend to the trees all the way up to the security fence that surrounds the community. This may seem like a small concession but to the farmers of Awarta, Beit Furik and so many other villages in the Nablus area this is huge. In these villages the Palestinians watch their trees from beyond the no man’s land and coordinate with the Israeli Army to harvest in a few days land that requires weeks of labor.

An antique Massey Ferguson workhorse pulls up with a tank of water in tow. It’s time to irrigate the moats before covering them up with dirt to prevent evaporation and ensure that the trees soak up all the precious water.

When the cold months return Tareq will clear more land and plant more trees. In defiance of the settlers, in resistance to the ongoing Nakba and as an act of survival, he will continue to redevelop the land that his father left him so he can pass it on to his own children.

I came to Qusra expecting to see signs of violence, instead I found a community using ploughs and olive shoots to fight for survival. I found incredible tolerance from the people most affected by sectarian hatred. I found optimism and hope in a territory where depression and despair are thick on the ground. 

This article originally appeared on Gilbert Carlson’s blog.

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19 Responses

  1. Daniel Rich
    August 27, 2013, 1:19 pm

    Anyone who has grown anything [in his/her garden/balcony] knows that nature can be both amicable and resentful/disastrous at the same time.

    So, why destroy and/or uproot olive trees?

    There has to be a very good reason.

    Personally, I cook using extra virgin olive oil for enhanced flavors. Having a bit of knowledge about the ingredients I use, I’m also aware of the fact that ‘under good conditions and modern irrigation systems, olive trees take at least 10 years before they are mature enough to yield a satisfactory harvest. The peak production years for an olive tree are between 30 and 70 years old.’ LINK

    So it makes a lot more sense for ‘settlers’ to go after those trees, instead of flushing toilets down the vineyard.

    No s**t.

  2. LanceThruster
    August 27, 2013, 4:53 pm

    How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can’t scare him – he has known a fear beyond every other. – John Steinbeck

    • just
      August 27, 2013, 8:53 pm

      It’s beyond inhuman to destroy one of the most beautiful and bountiful of nature’s gifts that have been carefully tended for generations, while at the same time obstinately denying freedom to the very people whose history is interwoven with the gifts of the land, the sea, the sun and their hard labor. It’s fitting that out of the ruined and burned ashes that new trees are planted and tended with love. The Palestinians will not be vanquished.

      May the care and tenderness of these generous people who honor their earth, water, sun and the fruits of their labor not ever go unnoticed. Let those that attempt to destroy this spiritual outpouring of energy, hope and tender care know that their efforts are truly in vain. You quote Steinbeck very fittingly. “The Grapes of Wrath” is my personal favorite.

      “How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past?”

      “and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”

      There are so many more words of truth in all of his amazing stories. I watched the movie again the other night — it is so relevant to the situation that so many face, including the indigenous Palestinians.

      • bintbiba
        August 28, 2013, 5:51 am

        just, thank you for this beautiful, tender,humane post!

      • LanceThruster
        August 28, 2013, 12:38 pm

        Beautifully expressed, just.

        Saw this here…

        link to prosebeforehos.com

        So I put this here –

        link to raisingkidswithoutreligion.net

        I thought it also spoke movingly about how we could live together if we actually put our efforts into that and not in brutalizing each other.

      • just
        August 28, 2013, 8:56 pm

        What incredible thought and words. Thank you LanceThruster.

        Can you even imagine the potential for sustainable good that we have if we would only work together for peace and justice– it’s not impossible, nor is it unrealistic. All people yearn to live free, secure and with hope. Nobody, at their core, is different from another. But greed and power have proved to be the most omnipotent of motivators– it enslaves us and our leaders. I don’t think that we have even begun to explore the possibilities of seeking out our similarities. Rather, we humans seem to only focus on our ‘differences’.

        It’s painful & difficult at times to walk in another’s shoes, but the rewards are a softening of the heart and an opening of the mind. Empathy is worth seeking and much of what is missing.

  3. DICKERSON3870
    August 27, 2013, 4:55 pm

    RE: “Olive tree resistance”

    DOCUMENTARY: The Color of Olives (El Color de los Olivos)
    2006 NR 97 minutes
    Life is anything but ordinary for Palestinian Hani Amer and his family, whose home lies in the path of a long wall being built by Israel to keep suicide bombers out of the country. Armed militia, an electrified fence and locked gates now separate the Amers from their farm, providing a reminder that an age-old battle is clearly not over. Filmmaker Carolina Rivas’ pensive documentary relies on natural light to lend peace to a war-torn environment.
    Director: Carolina Rivas
    Genres: Foreign, Foreign Documentaries, Mexico, Arabic Language, Foreign Languages, Foreign Regions
    Language: Arabic (Subtitles in English, Spanish, German, French, Hebrew, etc.)
    Netflix format: DVD
    Netflix listing - link to dvd.netflix.com
    El color de los olivos [trailer] (VIDEO, 02:11) – link to youtube.com

    Internet Movie Database - link to imdb.com
    Storyline
    Like many Palestinian families, the Amers live surrounded by the infamous West Bank Wall where their daily lives are dominated by electrified fences, locks and a constant swarm of armed soldiers. Through director Carolina Rivas’ sensitive lens, we discover the private world of all eight members of the family. As their dramas unfold, we catch a glimpse of their constant struggles and the small, endearing details that sustain them, including olive trees, two small donkeys and their many friendships. Constructed with a combination of verité scenes and re-enactments, this poignant and richly crafted film offers its audience a much needed opportunity to reflect on the effects of racial segregation, the meaning of borders and the absurdity of war. Written by Alex Williams

  4. Walid
    August 28, 2013, 2:59 am

    Isn’t it a sacrilege for Jews to cut down a fruit-bearing tree? Helloooo Shmuel, where are you?

    • talknic
      August 28, 2013, 5:21 am

      @ Walid Deuteronomy 20:19

      • Walid
        August 28, 2013, 6:15 am

        Does it mean that if a Jew does not need to eat of its fruit or that he may not need to, he can then cut down the fruit-bearing tree?

      • talknic
        August 29, 2013, 1:39 am

        @Walid
        link to biblehub.com
        Is the tree of the field a man, that it should be besieged by you?
        Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you?
        Are the trees people, that you should besiege them?
        Are the trees your enemies, that you should attack them?
        A tree in the field is not human that you should besiege it!
        …. thou shalt not cut down the trees that may be eaten of, neither shalt thou spoil the country round about with axes: for it is a tree, and not a man, neither can it increase the number of them that fight against thee.

      • just
        August 29, 2013, 7:08 am

        That’s what Deuteronomy ‘says’. I wonder why killing a tree is more calamitous than killing a man/woman/child.

        “Nevertheless, the prohibition of cutting down fruit trees is stricter than the prohibition of destroying other objects of value.5 Since man is compared to a fruit tree,6 it is particularly harmful for a person to destroy a tree, for the act unleashes negative spiritual energies.7 In fact, the Talmud tells us that Shichvas, the son of Rabbi Chaninah, was severely punished for chopping down a fig tree. 8″

        link to chabad.org

        “The Torah says, “When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them, for you may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down” (Deuteronomy 20:19). From this verse we derive that we may not uproot or cut down a fruit tree if we do not have an acceptable reason to do so.1

        What exactly is considered an “acceptable reason”? The answer is not so clear. Some halachic authorities say that only the wanton destruction of a fruit tree is prohibited, but if we need the place it occupies, then it is permitted. Others prohibit cutting it down for the sake of just having open space to stroll, but permit doing so when the space is needed to build on. Others are even more stringent, and say that needing the place is not justification enough. They argue that only if the tree is damaging the ground, and thus also the surrounding trees or vines which are more valuable, is one permitted to cut it down.2 ”

        link to chabad.org

        My guess is that “but if we need the place it occupies” is the nugget in this debacle. It’s the Occupation– tradition and heritage be dam*ed. And, oh boy, somebodies are in big trouble.

      • talknic
        August 29, 2013, 7:22 am

        … and Deuteronomy 20:15 is how Israel treats what remained of Palestine, as envisaged by the prophets of Israel … link to pages.citebite.com … despite the territory belonging to a state.

        There’s nothing religious about the Zionist colonization project

      • just
        August 29, 2013, 7:40 am

        No there isn’t much that is “religious” at all– perhaps why so many Jewish people are actually turning away from Israel now. Thanks, talknic.

        From your link:

        “WE APPEAL – in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months – to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.

        WE EXTEND our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East. ”

        If it wasn’t all so sad and disingenuous, I would laugh out loud with sarcasm.

      • Walid
        August 29, 2013, 8:24 am

        “If it wasn’t all so sad and disingenuous, I would laugh out loud with sarcasm.” (just)

        That song has been working for 60 years and will probably continue for another 60. For some mysterious reason, it’s working mostly on Americans. What is most sad about it is that now many Arabs are starting to believe it too; you could tell by the redundant Arab Peace Initiative that in spite of Israel not giving it the time of day, the Arabs are nonetheless proceeding ahead with normalization. As always, the big losers are the Palestinians.

      • just
        August 29, 2013, 9:02 am

        ” What is most sad about it is that now many Arabs are starting to believe it too; you could tell by the redundant Arab Peace Initiative that in spite of Israel not giving it the time of day, the Arabs are nonetheless proceeding ahead with normalization. As always, the big losers are the Palestinians.”

        Completely baffling to me. For this as well, we are responsible with our continued hypocrisy and manipulations….. we have so much to answer for. I only wish we would ‘get on with it’ in my lifetime so that I could know that the Palestinians are living free as they are meant to be, and we could be an honest partner for peace.

  5. just
    August 28, 2013, 7:12 am

    It’s terrible and ironic that Israelis destroy and burn the very trees from which the proverbial “olive branch” grows. Very symbolic of the reality that they don’t seek peace, but only further destruction…..

    And yes Walid, it IS against Jewish law. But then again, so is murdering people.

    • eljay
      August 28, 2013, 7:43 am

      >> It’s terrible and ironic that Israelis destroy and burn the very trees from which the proverbial “olive branch” grows. Very symbolic of the reality that they don’t seek peace, but only further destruction…..

      But once they’ve laid waste to everything, they can “make the desert bloom” all over again…

  6. ritzl
    August 29, 2013, 12:45 am

    Semi-related… “5 Broken Cameras” was just on PBS (burning olive tree/replanting scene in it as well). That’s “The Law in These Parts” and 5BC in one week. Anyone know what’s going on there? Kathleen?

    Whatever it is, it’s good and I hope it lasts.

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