The Palestinian village of Jayyous is blessed. Blessed by a wonderful hilltop location looking over a fertile valley with olive trees, orange groves and greenhouses. The village of Jayyous is cursed. Cursed by the Israeli “security” fence that cuts the village off from the fields with one gate open three times a day to allow some (less than 10% of the villagers) to farm the land. The village of Jayyous maybe doomed. The settlement of Zufin, which is entirely on the Palestinian side of the Green Line, is expanding. Not expanding towards Israel but expanding towards the olive groves of Jayyous.
On December 31st over two hundred Israeli peace activists and dozens of internationals drove from Tel Aviv towards the fields of Jayyous to plant hundreds of saplings where part of the olive grove had been uprooted. Legal proceedings have put a temporary halt to the expansion but the settlers maintain that they have “bought” the land from an Israeli company. The activists were stopped by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and Israeli police some three miles outside the grove. They got out of their busses and walked the rest of the way with police and IDF taking pictures of them and shouting out on bullhorns, “This is private property belonging to the settlers”.
On the village side of the fence over a hundred Palestinian villagers and about twenty internationals (including two CPTers) marched down the hill to find a way to come together with the Israelis who had planted the olive saplings. The march was organized by local civic and religious leaders and was totally nonviolent. The organizers had the kids carry the signs (it’s harder to throw rocks with a sign in your hand) and kept everybody focused on standing firm against the IDF but not provoking them.
In between the two sides at the gate were an additional 60 IDF and about a dozen police. Intense negotiations ensued between the villagers and the IDF on one side and the Israeli activists and the IDF on the other side of the fence. Eventually four people (one Jayyous farmer and three Israelis) carried one of the uprooted trees that had been left to die through the gate to the village side to be replanted. One of Israelis who carried the tree said, “This is a token act of solidarity of the joint struggle of Israelis and Palestinians. It is a campaign that will continue to grow in strength until the walls and fences are brought down.”
Uprooting an olive grove that has been fruitful for generations is a disheartening act. The sight of Palestinians and Israelis carrying a tree together to replant it is a hopeful act. The only thing that will tip the balance towards planting and away from uprooting is for all peoples, Jewish, Muslim and Christian to work together in solidarity. We must pray together. We must work together. We must continue to bring light to those from all faiths whose hearts are trapped in darkness. We must all find ways to root ourselves in the creation of peace.