Roots of Conflict: Felling Palestine's Olive Trees

Article excerpt

For centuries the olive branch has been offered as a symbol of unconditional peace, since olive trees take decades to produce fruit and thus can only be cultivated during long periods of stability. Ironically, these symbols of peace are a significant crop in the Middle East, where they are prized for their ability to flourish for hundreds of years despite bad soil and little water. Moreover, the widespread destruction of olive trees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since the Intifada is a microcosm of the ongoing internecine conflict between Israel and Palestine. Just as the fighting has claimed almost 3,000 Palestinian and 1,000 Israeli lives, it has also claimed an unlikely victim in hundreds of thousands of olive trees.

During 2000, the first year of the Intifada, the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture reported that some 374,030 trees had been destroyed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Since olive products are the second most profitable Palestinian export, Palestinian farmers incurred losses totaling almost US$300 million between September 2000 and June 2001.

The destruction of the olive trees resulted from defensive measures taken by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and attacks by occupying Jewish settlers. Israelis claim that Palestinians exploit olive groves as a defensive shield when they attack Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories. An IDF army commander, Col. Eitan Abrahams, explained to a Christian Science Monitor journalist that "owners of groves are to blame when their trees are uprooted. If the owner of the grove, whom I assume knows the sniper or the petrol bomb throwers, does not take the measures he must take, then his grove will come down." Eitan insisted that the tree removals "are for the safety of settlers.... No one should tell me that an olive tree is more important than a human life." Israeli settlers who occupy the West Bank and Gaza Strip have also torched and hacked olive trees to intimidate Palestinian residents. …