The olive branch is a symbol of peace, but chopped branches on the ground symbolize violence, hatred and occupation. Palestinian farmers discovered more than 450 damaged or destroyed trees during the first two weeks of this year’s olive harvest. Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) hasn’t witnessed such destruction for years. The army is successfully protecting farmers on scheduled harvest days, but isn’t preventing vandalism or theft in the middle of the night. At a meeting with senior army officers, RHR and three additional human rights organizations heard no willingness to take additional steps to stop this scourge.
How can we again make the olive branch a symbol of peace? Things have quieted, as RHR continues to press the army, and focus media and international attention on the issue. On October 15th, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said in the Security Council, “Recent and repeated destruction of Palestinian olive groves, a critical source of income for the local population, is deplorable.” She called on Israeli authorities to act. In the groves, each RHR volunteer is an ambassador of peace, olive by olive.
In my “Sukkot Thoughts,” I asked those of you with connections to Na’amat USA and Na’amat Canada to politely encourage Na’amat to allow “The Ma’abara,” to remain in a Na’amat building that stood empty for three years. The Ma’abara is the public housing activist group RHR helped create. It wishes to run a community based campaign and advocacy center. Na’amat was initially very interested, but recently informed us that they will take legal steps to evict the Ma’abrah because Jerusalem’s Mayor Barkat threatened Na’amat in some way. More urgently than ever, we now renew our call to urge Na’amat to stay true to her mandate by helping the Ma’abarah fight for single parent mothers, children and others in need of public housing.