Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Contextualizing Olive Trees

An anonymous reader wonders if I'd care to contextualize a story that appeared yesterday on Mondoweiss. I'm not particularly impressed by snide anonymous comments, but in this case it may be possible to create what President Obama might call a Teachable Moment. So here goes.

The cast:

Taayush. This is a Jewish-Arab organization, created in 2000 just when the Palestinians were launching their war against the Israelis who had just offered them a sovereign state. They are so deeply invested in the Israel-is-always-wrong-and-the-Palestinians-are-always-right narrative, that so far as I know even the NIF refuses to fund them, and that's saying something. I haven't spent much time following them, but my impression is that they're against Zionsim, meaning they'd prefer the Jews not to have a nation state. Also, from what I know of them, they're not interested in facts unless they serve their agenda. This is true of many folks, of course, but is never praiseworthy and always casts a shadow over any statement they make.

IDF troops: The film shows some IDF troops enforcing the law in the hills south of Hebron. There are about 8-10 enlisted men, a major and a lieutenant colonel. I assume the two officers are the CO of an armoured battalion and his deputy, but I could be wrong about this. The video was filmed last Saturday, October 30th; normally, on weekends either the CO or his deputy will be at home with his family; since both of them were on duty that day, the battalion seems to have known there was trouble coming, and both officers decided to stay with the unit.

An order declaring a closed security zone: Israel is the occupying power in this area (the hills south of Hebron), for better and for worse. International law decrees that this entails keeping order. One tool the military government has is to declare certain areas as temporary security zones, which allows them to limit activities which are normally not the government's business, such as freedom of movement. These decrees are used for all sorts of purposes, including keeping Israelis out of certain areas. In the film before us, such a decree has been signed and is introduced in the first scene; it relates to a clearly defined geographic area, and forbids people from walking off the roads; normally such orders last hours or a day or two.

Olive trees: the story in the film is that the IDF troops prevent some Palestinian farmers from harvesting olives, while some Jews from Taayush do their best to obstruct the army and two of them are eventually arrested. The insinuation is that the trees belong to the farmers, but this is actually never clearly said. Which is puzzling, because if it was clearly the case the makers of the film would have said so, either to the IDF troops, or to the viewers of the film, or both. They never do. Moreover, if you look at the trees, they're clearly young. Olive trees can live for many centuries; these trees look to be no older than a decade or two. Which means, they weren't there when Israel occupied the area in 1967. This doesn't prove anything about the ownership, but it does raise the question: who owns the trees, and who owns the land on which they're planted, and is it conceivable that these matters are disputed? Might it be that there are conflicting claims, and the farmers are not innocently harvesting their olives but rather participating in a dispute over ownership? Indeed, is it conceivable that Taayush, Mondoweiss, and the farmers are all trying to prejudice a legal dispute by casting it as a cruel anti-Palestinian policy of the evil Israelis?

I don't know this to be the case - but there's no indication in the film that it's wrong, and as I've said, given their record, there's no other explanation for the lack of a declaration of ownership from the Taayush people. There are two additional circumstantial pieces of evidence. The first is that there is no Israeli policy of preventing Palestinian farmers from harvesting their crops. On the contrary. The present Israeli government has taken a series of active steps to encourage Palestinian economic activity since it came to power. The second is that in previous years there indeed have been cases where extreme settlers did their best to prevent Palestinian farmers from harvesting their crops, and specifically olives; this year the IDF has made a significant effort to defend the Palestinian farmers. IDF troops have been guarding Palestinian farmers from Israeli settlers. If that's the policy, why is the policy in this particular case so different? Might it be because the farmers don't, actually, own the trees or the land they're on?

The plot:

The film opens with the deputy battalion commander, a major, explaining calmly that a specific area, defined on the map he shows, has been declared a sealed military zone. This means, he explains, that road travel is unhampered, but anyone walking off the roads will be arrested. In the next scene (after a shot of ants, which must have some poetic meaning), the Palestinians and Taayush Israelis are harvesting olives. The troops arrive, but contrary to what they said they'd do, no-one is arrested. The lieutenant colonel tells the farmers to stop working, and his deputy signs a specific order pertaining to that orchard: it's 12:07 pm, and he then announces that anyone harvesting after that time will be arrested.

A few minutes later two soldiers and the major are slowly escorting a Palestinian woman out of the orchard. No-one touches her at any point. Eliyahu Nawi, a well-known Israeli supporter of Palestinian farmers, intervenes; after some discussion the officer loses his patience with Nawi, who is arrested. The rest of the Taayush team has all along been taunting the soldiers, insulting them, and obstructing their operation. Eventually a second Taayush Israeli activist is also arrested. No Palestinians are arrested, and there is no violence throughout.

The Mondoweiss blurb that accompanies the film tells that "every detail of Palestinian life requires a permit which is unattainable." This is of course nonsense, as Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Prime Minster of the West Bank will readily tell; indeed, his entire policy these past two years is predicated on the reality that this isn't the case and that the Palestinians can build a state of their own under Israeli occupation. Also, Palestinian farmers don't need permits to farm their own lands, unless there are specific over-riding reasons. Farming doesn't require permits.

I've said in the past, and I'll say it again: by the standards of military occupations of the modern era, these IDF troops are gentle, kid-gloved and harmless. If this is brutal, what word in the English language remains for the real thing? 

Some critics of Israel like to complain when Israelis compare themselves favorably to Arab states in matters of law, human rights and so on. My question here is if it's conceivable that citizens of a Western democracy would be allowed to verbally assault their own soldiers and obstruct them as they do their jobs within a war zone. Thankfully, there are no war zones within the borders of Western democracies; but there are Western soldiers active in war zones: can anyone imagine some anti-war protesters ranting at American, British or German troops in, say, Afghanistan, or Kossovo, or Iraq?


Y Ben-David said...

Thanks for this piece. I have seen numerous propaganda pieces by these radical Left-wing groups supposedly showing Israeli "brutality" against the innocent victim Palestinians. Many, if not most, can be shown to be fraudulent. A good example was the case of the fellow in Kfar Shiloach (Silwan) whose car was boxed in and subjected to a massive bombardment of rocks while sympathetic cameramen were filming the whole thing. Bernard Avishai posted it at his site in order to show how evil the settlers were, yet several people who claim to oppose the settlers pointed out that the driver was justified in what he did. Yet the urban legend lives on about the "monster settlers" against the poor Palestinians, e.g. "everyone knows that settlers kill Palestinian children every day". The battle for truth is never ending. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

I remember a long discussion at our "beloved" Fake's blog where he peddled a video in which an IDF dog held a woman by her sleeve. The video was described at showing the dog mangling the hand of the woman while the soldiers did nothing. The closer we looked at the at first glance shocking seeming scene the clearer it became that no mangling was happening and that the complicating part of the incident was that the woman was female and the soldiers male and thus presumably not supposed to touch her.


PaulOgden said...

Ynet, the English-language website of mass-market Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonoth, carried a related item a few days ago:

Settlers: Arabs, leftists staged 'price tag' act
Palestinians, leftwing activists documented while sawing trees in bid to accuse settlers

Read the whole story at http://www.ynetnews.com/Ext/Comp/ArticleLayout/CdaArticlePrintPreview/1,2506,L-3976976,00.html

Yaniv said...

Ezra Nawi (who has been convicted more than once in a court of law) and not Eliyahu Nawi who was the Mayor of Beer-Sheva for more than 20 years.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Ya`aqov, Judea & Samaria are not "occupied" territories as you seem to think. Under international law, they belong to the Jewish National Home, juridically erected by the San Remo Conference and the League of Nations [1920 & 1922], confirmed by the UN charter [article 80], and not disrupted by the UN general assembly partition recommendation of 11-29-1947 [by the UN charter, all GA resolutions on political matters are no more than recommendations]. See at links:




The settlements are legal and there is no "occupation" legally speaking. Claims to the contrary are Israelophobic and Judeophobic lies meant to serve genocidal purposes.