We’ve all read the stories. Article upon articles listing the offenses of settlers against Palestinians. The attacks cover a wide range of traumas – from physical and verbal abuse to destruction.
But the kind that we so often hear about doesn’t necessary hurt Palestinians themselves. And still, it’s what we continue to see all the time, and what I heard so much about on my trip to Palestine last year. I’m talking of course about the burning of olive trees.
The strikes can be on a single tree, a few dozen, or hundreds. But each loss of a tree is a symbolic and painful tragedy that cannot be overstated.
But why? Why should we care so much about trees? Clearly they are not as tragic as loss of human life.
But we should care, and here’s why:
Burning a Palestinian’s olive tree is a lot more than burning a tree. Those trees have been there not just generations, but for millennia. They have been the cornerstone of the Palestinian economy longer than any historian could account for. So when a settler comes and burns one down, he is burning Palestinian history. He is burning their livelihood; their pride; their national heritage; they birthright.
Each olive tree is nearly as special as the Cherry Blossom is for the Japanese. So imagine if an occupier burned down a tree of Cherry Blossoms in Japan. This would be a national day of mourning.
And so it is in Palestine.
So many times I’ve had skeptics tell me something along the lines of, “Yeah but they are just trees. Palestinians make too big a deal out of it.” But that’s because people don’t understand the gravity of what olive trees mean in Palestinian culture.
For an American, it would be like knocking down the Washington Monument multiple times over. If that happened, maybe those skeptics would understand.
That’s because Palestine doesn’t have big, fancy monuments. They are still struggling for their own independence, after all. But they do have olive trees that have stood the test of time, and represent far more to the average Palestinian than the Washington Monument means to the average American.
And that’s why settlers burn down the trees so much. They know exactly how meaningful the trees are to the locals. It’s a blatantly political move. In their minds, they want to emotionally terrorize Palestinians into capitulation. Moreover, since the olive trees are a major source of income for locals, they aren’t just burning down their pride and heritage, but also their sustenance.
Settlers are trying to erase the Palestinian’s claim to the land one tree at a time. And with each tree comes another tragedy, another sorrow. Each tear shed by a Palestinian farmer is a victory in the eyes of the settler.
It’s up to us to explain to our more ignorant acquaintances the true meaning of the olive trees to our Palestinian brothers and sisters. We must hammer home the point that each tree burnt is a direct affront to Palestinian heritage, livelihood, and claim to the land.
No longer should we stay silent and let the skeptics control the conversation. We need to stand up and demand the end to the burning of trees, just as we demand the end of burning Palestinians like Mohammed Abu Khdeir.