We saw field after field of olive tree stumps, 100 year old trees that once belonged to the Bedouins that had been cut down by the Israelis—insuring that Bedouins could not stay in or near East Jerusalem.Set aside the minor complication that the Bedouins in the Judean Desert don't plant olive trees, and certainly didn't a century ago. I know the field (not plural) he's talking about. Or put it like this: there are no such fields on the road from Jerusalem to Maale Edumim. A few miles further on down the same road, however, where Ratner may well also have been, there is one field that theoretically could be what he saw. I wrote about it late in 2007, here; at the time a Guardian reporter had written about the blackened olive trees, and it just so happened I had just taken the same road:
Most significantly, however, in both directions I looked at the two only fields that could possibly fit Borger's description of blackened olive trees. I stared at them, because they are indeed rather puzzling. Back in the 1970s, so far as I can remember, they weren't there at all: merely a parched and dusty hillside. Then in the 80s, as Jewish settlements were built nearby, someone planted them with some kind of desert crop - acacia, perhaps? I sort of thought it must have been the initiative of the new settlers, but maybe I was wrong. I didn't give it much thought - two fields out in the desert, nothing all that noteworthy. And then yesterday, I was struck by the fact that all the stumps look dead.Since writing that post I've learned more about how these peoples' minds work.
There was never an olive tree there, the stumps aren't blackened stumps of them, and anyway, what's the connection between Maaleh Edumim, some miles up the road, and those two fields? Maybe the acacia's all died of something? Maybe the owner, whoever he or she might be, stopped watering them and they died? Indeed, I don't know - but I do know that Borger's version is hogwash.
More than 99.8% of the settlers have never had anything to do with Palestinian olive trees, nor committed any kind of violence against their Palestinian neighbors. Along the fringe, however, there are cases of destroying olive trees (and worse). The two communities living alongside one another, however, are never reported in the media, just as there aren't many media reports of people elsewhere living near other people. What gets reported are the unusual cases; in the case of the settlers, reports that fit the template of cruel-settlers-ruining-the-lives- of-neighboring-Palestinians will always be given attention.
Eventually this consistent distortion of reality takes on a life of its own: Settlers have a policy of destroying Palestinian olive groves. So people who come to the West Bank to observe the things they've heard of so often are eager to see for themselves, perhaps as a way of inserting themselves in the story and inflating their own importance: I'm part of history! Alas, there are many Palestinian olive groves on the West Bank, but most of them are simple groves of olive trees. Not destroyed at all. If you didn't know exactly where to look, you could criss-cross the West Bank and never see a destroyed grove. Yet the purpose of the trip is to see - so the travelers invent.
Michael Ratner certainly did. He saw some Bedouins and told they're about to be evicted. He saw a road which has been constructed by the Israelis to assist Palestinian travel from Rammalah to Bethlehem and cast it as Apartheid. He saw some rotten stumps and knew they were century-old Palestinian olive trees destroyed by the Israelis.