Holding Out an Olive Branch on the West Bank

November 11, 2021Sheldon Schreter

The increasingly violent actions of certain young Jewish settlers in the West Bank against Palestinians - and against their olive trees, sheep herds, vehicles, homes, water supplies, and against their persons - have deeply troubled me, as just one awful symptom of our occupation. Last spring, in the ongoing, non-violent attempts to deter the frequent harassment by their Jewish settler neighbors, I went out twice to accompany Palestinian shepherds as they grazed their flocks.

Olive harvest season is another flash point in the continuous struggle over control of lands in the West Bank. For almost 20 years, a small body called Rabbis for Human Rights has organized groups to help Palestinians with the autumn olive harvest. This year I decided to join them.

Normally, this is a humdrum routine. Then why the need for our participation? Because, once in a while, as part of the campaign to force the Palestinians to give up and leave and thus to reclaim another portion of the "Greater Land of Israel," Jewish gangs try to disrupt the harvest, steal or spoil the olives, or even destroy the olive trees. On these occasions, the presence of volunteers with cellphone cameras at the ready tends slightly to dampen the enthusiasm of the perpetrators of these abominations.

One of these hateful "neighbors" showed up in an olive grove last week on a small tractor bike, cursing and threatening us as we worked quietly on picking olives from trees owned by Palestinian villagers near the Jewish settlement of Itamar, not far from Nablus (Shechem). He started squirting pepper spray at us until the Israeli army stepped in (they were observing us the whole time) to neutralize and distance him. This shut the potential incident down, though not before he hurt someone with a squirt to the eye - thankfully, not seriously.

We had a dozen witnesses and video recording of the attack, but the army refused to arrest the attacker. All they wanted was quiet, and they got it, which amounted to providing cover. That happens all too often. It shames and pollutes everything we hold dear - our Judaism, our Zionism, and our Jewish state.

I went back to that grove the next day, accompanied by others, including my son Uri. We put in 4 good hours of work without incident and had a few hundred kilos of olives to show for it. (And I don't even like the taste of olives.)

Harvesting olives is physically demanding for me, but strongly satisfying. I plan to go back for another day before the end of the harvest season. It is a small, tangible gesture, but something I can do.

Related Posts

An Israeli Reform Congregation Joins its Ethiopian Jewish Neighbors in Celebrating the Holiday of Sigd

For many generations, the Beta Israel had longed to reach Jerusalem in a quest to renew their covenant with God and for spiritual redemption. So strong was their desire that they created a holiday as a time to pray for this miracle. They called it Sigd (meaning "worship") and celebrated it on the 50th day after Yom Kippur. This year it is celebrated today, November 4.

The Ethical Conundrum of a Jewish and Democratic State

When the State of Israel was established in 1948, its secular founders envisioned a nation that would be both Jewish and attuned to the values of liberal democracy. They were confident that a country with an overwhelming Jewish majority could maintain a Jewish character and ensure civic equality for all its inhabitants.