Jews and Arabs work together to save Hevron‘s olive trees By Jerry Mazza

By Jerry Mazza
Featured Writer
Dandelion Salad
July 19, 2010

Looking for a breath of fresh air from the toxicity of world affairs, from the Mid-East to the Gulf of Mexico, Iraq to Afghanistan to Pakistan; looking for a breath that could liberate my system like a cool breeze could release me from the relentless heat of New York City, I came upon that breath, that bit of comforting shade in the Israeli newspaper Arutz Sheva, though not without misgivings.

The news seemed a parable itself. Residents of the Hevron area, Jews and Arabs were wrapping up a weeks-long battle, not against each other but to save the ancient olive trees, the bearers of the olive branch, the universal symbol of peace that sits next to the city. The ancient trees, some up to 2,000 years old, were threatened by a parasitic plant called divkon hazyit. The parasite is easily seen as war, threatening to devastate the area and its shaded beauty, if not the two-state country itself.

In fact, the trees’ danger was spotted by Noam Armon, a spokesman for Hevron‘s Jewish community, who thankfully noticed the invasive species taking root as he was hiking through the area. He called the Ministry of Agriculture and the IDF civil administration to warn them. What a good man, smart enough to see what was happening, caring enough to do something about it.

Then, Ministry of Agriculture workers were sent to the region and certified that without treatment, many trees could die. Again, a plan was created and action taken to save the trees. Would such a plan could be created and acted on to save the deaths of human beings (men, women, and children) involved in the brutal 60-year Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the same manner.

Within a matter of several weeks, not months, years or decades, volunteers mind you from the Jewish and Arab communities of Hevron went like doctors from tree to and pruned off the invasive species. Olive tree branches that were found to be infected were cut off like cancers then burned, so that the living parts of the trees could flourish.

Some trees were so badly infected that they had to be cut down completely, leaving only a tragic stump. The good news is that the olive trees are known for their resilient ability to regrow.

Experts tell us even those trees left with no branches at all will eventually, miraculously flourish again. But then will the lost human beings in the war be granted the same gift of new life, a new limb or eye, another child? I don’t think so.

And, whatever survivors remain will bear memories and, too often, the desire for revenge. So, let us save the trees, too, as a sign of what is possible and not possible and required for and from the species of man, Jew or Palestinian.

The article goes on to tell us that in spite of the focus on Jewish-Arab tensions in Hevron, “there is not insignificant Jewish-Arab cooperation in the city as well.” My fondest wish would be, beyond that linguistic hedge, for unqualifiedly significant cooperation in the city and the two states as well. Their fate is in the hands of the larger, controlling partner, Israel.

And so, without over-thinking the true meaning of the examples of cooperation given, in 2005, Arabs and Jews united in order to expel extreme-left foreign activists from the city. Hopefully that link holds truth not agit-prop.

Then, too, in 2008, an Arab sheikh prevented “extreme left-wing anarchists” from destroying the Hazon David synagogue. Hopefully, ‘extreme-left foreign activists’ was not an epitaph for oppositional “freedom fighters.” Yet destroying a synagogue in any case would not be a constructive idea. Nor would destroying mosques or many examples that could be supplied from the other side be called constructive, the latest, obstructing a flotilla carrying peaceful people bearing medicine, food, water, building supplies, to needy Gazans. The obstruction was more like a ruthless attack, tragically causing the deaths of eight Turks and one Turkish-American, wounding 30 others and denying the needed supplies trying to pass through.

The Israeli government has now condemned its own Navy for mishandling the operation. What about condemning the wisdom of those who gave orders to the Navy to stop the flotilla in the first place? It would seem that these operations start at the top to hurt Gaza’s people and can’t be swept under a condemnation of the Navy by the top, including the president and prime minister.

In other words, we must be mindful and honest with our words and claims to prune destructive thinking from Israel and then in response from Palestine and vice versa, and from the untended infestations of violence and possible death that is an outcome of less than right action. But in all fairness, the responsibility for that rests far more heavily on the shoulders of Israel, which controls almost all of the real estate. And if the pruning of the trees is the path we want to stay on, that responsibility is not to be buried in deception as it has been lo these 60-plus years. That said, the pruned path is a beautiful path bearing ageless trees and their fruit.

The third example given of Arab and Jewish leaders working together was more general, to create friendly Muslim-Jewish ties. Amen, and peace to all those who pursue that end genuinely, truthfully, with a pure heart and no other agenda. Not necessarily attacking what’s left of Palestine as was done before the 1948 partitioning and described so painfully, so accurately in Jewish historian Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Pappe, an orthodox Jew, has been called by distinguished journalist John Pilger, “Israel’s bravest, most principled, most incisive historian. “

His story (history) tells is that in 1948 the “Israeli War of Independence” involved one of the largest forced migrations in modern history. Nearly a million people (Palestinians) were expelled from their homes at gunpoint. Civilians were massacred. Hundreds of Palestinian villages were destroyed. This horror story was denied for six decades. If it had happened today, it would have been called “ethnic cleansing.” In fact, I am calling it that today.

It was Pappe’s central thesis that Israel’s founding ideology was the forcible removal of the indigenous population, a strategy that woefully seems projected to the future’s end game. Pappe’s pages and pages of vivid accounts are hard to read, at times almost redundantly painful. But they do shed new light on the origins and escalation of the Palestine-Israel conflict. Israel recently returned to settling territories designated for uprooted Palestinians. Somehow it seems more trees are going down in Palestine, as well as human beings and their homes, than are being saved in an effort of mutual respect and labor.

As to Arutz Sheva’s article, its final claim that, in April, local Jews and Arabs worked together to restore an archaeological site in Tel Hevron is a Balm in Gilead. Helping to restore a common past is of great human value. Yet these four potentially marvelous examples are followed by daily headlines whose claims depict another reality.

Ultimately, the sum total of the pummeling from Israel against Palestine has undermined the peace, stability, and survival of those still left standing, like the damaged olive trees. Let this parable help us realize, too, we form the tree of humanity, both peoples born and sustained by a genetic seed planted in mother earth. The tree and we are ultimately her creation, one creation.

The Jews and Arabs of Hevron, of Israel, who by far out-gun the Arabs of Palestine, muscled by their billions in US military aid for decades and their 50-year old nuclear arsenal, whether they know it or not, are the keepers of creation here. If a little pruning and cooperation goes a long way to saving the boughs of peace, imagine how exponentially further Israel’s action must go to not be the unstoppable, parasitic plant, divkon hazyit. And where is the man, the men, the women, to realize that and tear out the invasive species of Zionism that has taken root?

Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer, life-long resident of New York City. His book “State Of Shock – Poems from 9/11 on” is available at, and


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