Saturday, December 13, 2003

Uprooting the History & Future of Palestine

When we look out of our window in Haris, we see parallel to the settler road a flattened dirt road that grows with time as more of our neighbors’ olive trees are cut down. The army claims to be expanding the settler road; other officials claim that they are digging to build a new water system. But there is a sinking feeling of disbelief in all of us, an understanding that this is probably the beginning of the Wall in our village.

One extremely frustrating aspect of the Wall is that it’s rarely clear where and when it is coming. The Israeli government and military have been reluctant to publish official maps of the planned route, so the related land confiscation often comes as a surprise. Some farmers have never even heard of the Wall that will soon separate them from their land or their communities. Occasionally the army issues demolition orders for houses, but more often the bulldozers show up unannounced and begin cutting down trees. This way, Palestinians can’t organize ahead of time or ensure that media are present to document the events as they occur.

Sometimes the land-razing goes on for days, sometimes for weeks. Then suddenly it stops, and continues in another village far away. This strategy keeps the Palestinians guessing. Meanwhile the Wall is built in small pieces here and there that look harmless enough until they are connected. If this Wall were truly a legitimate construction, what would be the point of keeping it such a secret? Why doesn’t the government publish the planned map in Israeli and international newspapers for all to see? Up until now, the only maps widely available are estimates from peace organizations.

A week ago, villagers of neighboring Kifl Haris called us frantically because bulldozers had appeared out of the blue and were uprooting their trees. By the time we arrived, the owners were hysterical. They kept screaming “hamil!” as the ancient trees were ripped from the ground by the monstrous machines. “Hamil” is a word that can be used to describe trees during the time that they bear fruit; it means “pregnant.”

Not every olive tree can be hamil. It takes over twenty years for olive trees to begin to bear fruit. Until then, the owner must tend to the young tree, to assist it in the process of aging. Season after season, the farmer returns to the tree, nursing its wounds from storms, making sure it receives just the right amount of sun, trimming branches that block the light and nutrients that will help it mature. It is not an exaggeration to personify trees with the word “hamil”; to many families who have been with their trees for hundreds of years, generation after generation, the fruit-bearers are an integral part of the family.

I felt sick watching the trees ripped from the earth with the American-made bulldozers. Some of the trees looked thousands of years old. Their roots were so strong. By the time the Wall is completed, more than two million trees will have been uprooted since 2001.[1] Some of them may have stood during the time of the Romans, and Jesus. They are irreplaceable. Stealing them is a rape of the land, and the destruction of both the history and future of the Palestinian people.

I took pictures and had a few uncomfortable conversations with construction workers who insisted they were uprooting trees for peace. They left behind a sort ofs mass grave, with trampled olives and oil instead of blood. After they left, the families stood in shocked silence, except a few young boys sifting through the broken pieces of their families’ livelihood, picking out branches to take home for firewood. Some electric lines and water pipes had also been destroyed by the work, so the village lost electricity and water for three days.

I recently returned to Kifl Haris’s demolished groves to take more photographs. Beyond the recently leveled road visible from Haris is an enormous canyon. It’s unlikely that the road will extend into it—as soldiers claim—because of its depth. I walked through the canyon past the bulldozers and cranes and then climbed up a side of rubble near the main road. Hidden beyond the remaining trees was another bulldozer, a smaller one. I approached and found the machine clearing out a new ditch alongside the road, this one even deeper than the canyon. I immediately thought of the Wall.

The driver of the bulldozer did not yet see me, and I managed to take a few pictures before I was discovered. Within seconds two security guards appeared at my side, telling me to leave immediately. I was standing on a public street and quite sure I was doing nothing illegal so I remained. One angry guard tried to push me with his hand but I shook off his touch violently and gave him a look of warning, suprising even myself. The other guard told him not to touch me—he knew that my complaints about army abuse could reach further than those of a Palestinian. When I got tired of the guard screaming inches from my face, I began to walk away. The guards got into their truck and drove up to me. One stuck his head out the window and made kissing noises. I shivered with disgust and they drove off.

[1] PASSIA 2007.