Artwork of Claude Gigon symbolizing dialogue | cc: wikipedia
We here present two dialogues with M., who seemingly identifies himself as a resident of Efrat, about the olive harvest from the settlers’ point of view. We thought that this dialogue would be of interest and help the two sides understand each other. The dialogue was first published on our Facebook page (Follow us and be up-to date).
By: Rabbis for Human Rights
The first dialogue tries to reach agreement on what is the place of a human rights’ organizations in protecting farmers’ rights during the olive harvest. On the one hand, M. complains that there is exaggeration about the number of trees destroyed; on the other hand, we assert that there needs to be supervision of the olive harvest because of the violence.
M.: The season of the olive has harvest arrived and, with it, a growing incitement on the part of left wing organizations which exploit the naivety of the Arab farmer in order to cause provocation which photographs well and brings money to these organizations (in particular, contributions from western countries)
First of all, one must understand what looks so good on camera and that dealing with the phenomenon requires also dealing with what causes it.
1. There is great fear on the part of Arab farmers of getting close to the borders of the settlements (most of the fear stems from the media bias against the Jewish settlers but also from the Jews’ fear that anyone who approaches the settlement is a spy for a terrorist organization) – therefore, they are always trying to find backup and assistance and they find it in left wing circles.
2. Part of the treatment of olive trees is the sawing off of branches, even large branches (pruning the tree). The farmer usually does this after the harvest, but because the Arabs are afraid to go near the settlement, they exploit the permits they received for the harvest season to carry out this work as well. This sawing for agricultural purposes can almost get as far as the , in the case of a sick tree.
Most people who are not farmers cannot recognize whether the sawing is for agricultural needs or not.
3. In the harvest the Arabs working are mainly old people and children and therefore they generally do not know Hebrew and do not understand what is said to them and the incitement by their helpers makes a better photo when they are surrounded by old people and children. Lack of knowledge of languages on both sides turns every conversation into a cascade of curses most of which are in Arabic and sound much more offensive and harmful that the Jews really intend them to mean.
4. There are also criminals, both Jewish and Arab, who come from the centre of the country and exploit the situation in order to cut down trees full of fruit and steal them in order to sell them for heating and producing olive oil.
5. Those who come to help them come mainly on Shabbat because they are free on Shabbat and it is fun to have a trip and also because it is easy to be provocative on Shabbat as most of the settlers are in the settlement and, in a case of heated tempers, many people arrive at the spot and it makes a good photo for the provokers and the settlers cannot in fact take photos because it would be a desecration of Shabbat.
6. The appearance of Jewish helpers at the harvest and the use of the security forces for guarding is interpreted by the settlers as a defiant desecration of Shabbat and causes them to protest against the desecration of Shabbat. This protest is portrayed by left wing circles as a protest against Arab farmers.
Some of the settlers have taken the halacha into their own hands and interpreted for themselves every kind of license on the subject of robbing the stranger and occupying the land of Israel.
Of course these people are behaving contrary to the spirit of Judaism and cause a lot of damage to the settlements and desecrate Shabbat.
Most of the left wing organizations receive contributions only if they engage in massive activity in the field and so they are not interested in the olive harvest progressing quietly.
In order to deal with these problems, there are several simple things one can do:
1. It is advisable for the Arab farmer to coordinate his arrival at the olive harvest with people at the settlement, for example the current coordinator of security. We can help with this coordination by, for example, publishing the telephone numbers of other people in the settlement.
2. It is advisable for the Arab farmer to avoid pruning the trees at the time of the harvest and to do it later in coordination with the settlers.
3. It is preferable for the Arab farmers to bring to the harvest their adult relatives, aged 30-50, and not children. It is advisable that every group should be accompanied by a Hebrew-speaking Arab. The Jews should refrain from the use of curses and should speak simple Hebrew or English. Simple dialogues should be prepared for this purpose.
4. Lighting and security points should be placed at the boundaries of the settlement and show all damage to trees.
5. It is preferable for the Arab farmers to refrain from harvesting olives on Shabbat and to work during the week in coordination with the settlement’s security coordinator.
6. Those taking part need to be extra careful about hurting people’s religious feelings and get permission from rabbis before Shabbat to allow them to take evidence of provocation carried out on Shabbat.
7. The settlements should reject those who take the law into their own hands and return anything stolen from the Arabs who were harmed. They should refrain from harvesting, even if there is no owner, without permission from the settlements. The Arab farmers must bring proof of damage to their property straight to the rabbis and the security coordinators of the settlements and sue for their property according to religious law (in the regional Beit Din) and we must help in this.
The left wing organizations that really want to help the Arab farmers should help them insure their field with an insurance company and raise money from western countries for this. Any Jewish farmer who is harmed by the other side or by Jewish helpers should turn to the same organizations to receive assistance and publicity if these organizations refuse to help. The settlements should concern themselves with recording every olive harvest so that there will not be photographs just from one side.
Rabbis for Human Rights: Shalom, Menachem, these are the facts that you can check:
In 2009, the security apparatus acted in an exceptional way and stationed a unit of Border Police between the outpost of Havat Gilad, populated by quite a few extremists, and the Palestinian farmers. That year, in an exceptional way, there were no violent incidents in the area, no destruction or thefts during the olive season. This speaks for itself.
The organizations we work with have absolutely no interest in stirring up tensions, rather they want a quiet harvest. The internationaland Israeli activists going to the olive harvest are given specific instructions by us, including a strict warning not to curse the Israeli soldiers with calls such as “Nazis” and not to provoke anyone. Our purpose is to help the Palestinians and not to express self righteous anger. You are invited to join us and dispute this.
Among the settlers, there are various ideological standpoints and many of them see Judaea and Shomron as part of Israel while recognizing the rights of the local Palestinian population. Is this viewpoint justified? We are not entering into this political issue. On their side there exist settler elements who see in the Biblical connection of Jews to Judaea and Shomron in the West Bank declaration of ownership, of all the land. For this reason, they scorn both the laws of the land and private occupation or ownership of the land by Palestinians and also the rights of the human being and the citizen in the area. They say these things themselves without any attempt to hide them. Is it not reasonable that they will implement this worldview and behave in Palestinian orchards as if it is their land with force which they simplistically explain as “divine security.”
M.: The facts that I have encountered are otherwise and, at least in my area, I have never heard of trees being cut down. As far as I know, the Efrat municipality has given permission for the olive harvest within Efrat itself even though it did not plant the trees. Again, I wrote exactly what I wrote here and sent the letter to the settlers and also to Palestinian farmers. In my opinion, if you try to raise contributions for insuring the fields and contribute to the publicity of simple measures like coordinating the time of arriving at the olive harvest with the security coordinator of the settlement, and refrain from harvesting on Shabbat, then suddenly you will find you do not need a Border Police unit. The question is whether you are really interested in solving the problems or photos are worth everything?
Rabbis for Human Rights: Menachem, first of all we appreciate your willingness to talk and get to know us, but there are problems, even if they do not relate to the majority of settlers, of disruptions to the Palestinian olive harvest. Obviously, Efrat is very different in its attitude from that of Havat Gilad, etc.
As rabbis, we do no engage in the olive harvest on Shabbat but neither we nor anyone else has the right to tell the Palestinians orthe volunteers who help them [whether they are foreigners or Israelis who do not observe Shabbat] not to carry out the olive harvest on Shabbat on land that is held by Palestinians. This complaint not only is irrelevant, it is not problematic in the wider context of the relationship of religion and state. As religious people, it is our duty to respect the other, the secular, just as we ask him to respect us, religious Jews.
In addition, we oppose the idea that owners of agricultural land – regardless of their ethnicity – must coordinate access to their land with another group of people or with the police or army. The right of access is a basic right, and taking it away for “security needs” is a total, immeasurable denial of rights. The story that Palestinian terrorists “need” farming activity in order to gather information before an attack or that we are dealing with a widespread phenomenon [as if at every second harvest there is a Palestinian gathering information before an attack] still awaits proof. The attitude that the only way to prevent attacks is by preventing access to agricultural land is even less well-founded. The use here of security requirements as an argument is, in effect, saying – this is the easiest and cheapest way for us to prevent an attack, and in fact we are not even sure that this does lessen the risk of terrorist attacks, but what can happen, the worst is that we have made the Palestinian lives a little difficult.
In the same way, we are opposed to preventive arrests also of extremists from the right, because this is an easy way to avoid violence, but not a proportional step and it poses a danger to human rights, such as the arrest of the innocent. Security needs as an excuse for every act of infringement of rights is a slippery and dangerous slope.
M.: I think that, with no dialogue with the settlers, all your steps were unsuccessful. Just as I am opposed to entering or approaching Arab homes and neighbourhoods without permission from the house owners, so you need to check and ask for permission to approach the settlements behind our backs. I know quite a number of Jews who have bought land within Arab villages and….
At this stage in the discussion, another participant entered;
Daniel: Excuse me, limitation of access to a farmer for the security needs of the majority is reasonable and is for a worthy purpose. Not being sure that the collection of information raises the level of risk of harm to security – this is a very brave statement.
Rabbis for Human Rights: Daniel, firstly, the limitation is against many farmers and not one single Palestinian farmer. Secondly, the connection between preventing access to agricultural area and the security results, like that of the possibility of agricultural work being a factor in attacks, is a connection that we have not seen sufficiently established either by research or by the facts. Even if there is a likelihood of a small risk from A., B. should not be prevented from accessing his property or land or have any of his other rights denied. The logic that a small rise in risk justifies the infringement of rights can also justify, as an example of the absurdity of this way of thinking, the prohibition of anyone who is not a religious Muslim from driving a car - because there is a greater chance that he will drink alcohol and behave in a way that risks lives. The likelihood of a risk cannot justify the infringement of rights, only a dramatic and concrete rise in risk can perhaps justify the erosion of rights.
Finally, all these acts that, according to you, are proportional and for a worthy purpose, are carried out in a discriminatory way, on the sole basis of ethnicity, only against Palestinians. There have been cases where the army has issued orders forbidding the entry of Israelis [settlers] to land held or owned by Palestinians, for the sake of the Palestinians’ security, but we have never heard of settlers being prevented from accessing the land they own in order to protect Palestinians, even when people come from these lands to harm the Palestinians. There is not, nor ever has been, “a special security area” around a Palestinian village, including land under Israeli ownership [that is, owned by settlers]. The opposite occurs – the area of the settlements sometimes includes Palestinian-owned land, land which Palestinians are forbidden to access without coordination and permits. Proportional? To us it sounds racist. Even a likely security risk is divided up in the West Bank According to ethnic origin.
The second dialogue deals with the announcement of “Fighters for Peace” which we shared, about the burning of old olive trees that happened on Shabbat, and to which Menachem responds.
M.: Religious settlers burning trees on Shabbat?! You believe in what you write , you rabbis who send Jews to the olive harvest on Shabbat!!!
Rabbis for Human Rights: Menachem, this is an announcement from a different organization “Fighters for Peace.” The report deals with an incident, the kind of which occurs, unfortunately, also on Shabbat – whether this is because not all the settlers are religious, or because of some waiver or whether it was carried out on Motzei Shabbat.
RHR do not engage in the olive harvest on Shabbat and do not call on people to harvest on Shabbat, but we also do not judge those who choose to do so. We are against coercion, both religious and secular, and we are for carrying out the mitzvoth between man and man [which does not apply only to a Jewish man], no less than the mitzvoth between man and place.
M.: Most of your activities are on Shabbat and this causes unnecessary desecration of Shabbat by the security forces and Jewish volunteers and unnecessary friction with the settlers. Try once to think of others too, come on a weekday when most of the settlers are working and you will see the amount of incitement suddenly go down amazingly. I think that, if your activity was against the laws of Islam, you would consider those laws much more than you consider Judaism.
Rabbis for Human Rights: Menachem, we have no activity on Shabbat, none at all! It’s a pity that you assert otherwise.
There are other organizations that carry out the olive harvest on Shabbat, secular organizations, and we do not believe in imposing our religious standpoint on them or on anyone else. In the same way, we would not support a Muslim organization that worked to stop the drinking of alcohol by secular Muslims and non-Muslims. A religious mitzvah obligates a religious man. In any case, the olive harvest takes place in Palestinian areas. The complaint against harvesting on Shabbat does not relate at all to religious Jews, deviates from the argument about the rights of the Palestinians and undermines the whole foundation of religious freedom in Israel.
M.: All the instances I mentioned were for you to understand that there will be peace in this country only if there is dialogue between the sides. Therefore you, as a human rights’ organization, must concern yourselves with the good of the settlers just as much as you concern yourselves with the Arabs, and then it is quite likely that you will be of some help. I have seen with my own eyes hundreds of cases where Arabs have damaged Jewish farming and I have not once heard an Arabor even a Jewish human rights’ organization condemn this. This means that there is severe discrimination against the settlers and and, as long as this is the case, it is hard to expect the settlers to be fair to the Arabs. The only solution is to fight against discrimination on both sides.
Rabbis for Human Rights: dear Menachem, firstly let us say that we call on everyone who feels that his rights have been infringed upon to turn to us, definitely settlers also, and we will evaluate the case, according to the following criteria:
1. First, it must be understood that a human rights’ organization is not a crime-fighting organization and, if Palestinians were not discriminated against under the military regime and treated unfavourably by the courts, the legal system, and lacked representation in government, we would not deal with crimes against them, except maybe from a racism perspective, as hate crimes. The special focus on crimes against Palestinians on the West Bank stems from their low standing within the Jewish regime on the West Bank. That is to say, we operate when the ruling authorities do not act against infringement of human rights and even themselves infringe on rights. We definitely will condemn and maybe even work against the pre-emptive arrests of radical right wing activists, for example, as a disproportionate act in most cases.
2. Generally, we react to harm caused by government policy or the lack of policy [such as the lack of consideration of the law in the territories for everything to do with the security of the Palestinians].
3. We work for civil, political, economic and social equality, having the attitude that – if there is this – violence and hostility between groups in Israeli society will drop to a minimum. A community based on the right to welfare, equality, equal economic opportunities, and also the right to organize politically, is a community that produces less hostility, crime and violence. This is also true as regards the regime which we hope will be established on the West Bank– whether with the arrangement of one state, two states or any other egalitarian constellation – we do not enter into this political issue.
Rabbis for Human Rights: In addition, with your permission, we would like to publish this dialogue as a post, because we think it is important and interesting. Do you agree?
M.: Yes, willingly, thank you very much. And I hope that, if we talk, we can solve most of the differences between Jews and Arabs. What is important, in my opinion, and what has impressed me from many meetings, is that there is always a basis for dialogue. It is only necessary to stop stigmatizing and find the common ground.
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