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The Cross of Bethlehem

The Cross of Bethlehem II

A War on Olive Trees



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Olives | Trees, Oil and Fruits


The Ottoman Empire ruled over Palestine for about four centuries. One of its laws - which survives in spirit even today - stated that in order to keep his land, a peasant must work it. Many opted for the easy approach and planted olive trees. Native to the place, they grow easily, do not need much care, and provide two of the area's staple foods: olives and their fine oil.

Over time, the olive trees became a symbol of ownership and people knew that wherever they saw them - maybe surrounded by some mustard greens - they were looking at owned land. More time passed and both the Ottoman and the British Empires disappeared with it. Newcomers bought much of that land with money raised mainly through usury - despite their declared religion forbidding the practice. After buying the land, a new state was created. It was a strange one, it didn't have any recognized borders - even its own people were confused about that issue - and it didn't have a Constitution.

As soon as they achieved statehood, they forbade the buying or selling of state land, which comprised most of the country's land. They took possession of land belonging to countless refugees who fled abroad amidst wars and created a system of leasing land for ninety-nine years, so that they would not be tricked in the same way they tricked others. Again, it was a fierce misinterpretation of their own religious concepts.

Discriminated against by new laws, the perennial peasants continued dipping pita bread in olive oil and talking about their troubles, while the newcomers, growing strong through usury and deceit, needed more land to grow salads - their culinary flagship.

The conflict increased and the dead piled up high. A small symbol became a fixture of news reports and while largely ignored by the international media, it was an infuriating aggression in the eyes of the peasants. The usurper-usurers regularly bulldozed olive trees. "It's for military reasons, we can't see the enemy hiding there," they explained in a well-practiced laconic tone, as if they were in the lush Vietnamese jungles. Olive trees grow low to the ground and scarce water forces them to grow at big distances from each other. They do not create anything resembling a forest. Ask any peasant there, and they will offer another explanation; bulldozing the trees is a message - not too subtle - conveying illegal termination of ownership.

But olive trees are more than a symbol of ownership in the former Ottoman Empire or a symbol of bulldozed peace in Western civilization. In a sense, they are weeds. Not in the negative meaning of the word, but in the context that they cannot be eradicated from their native land. They will grow again. A great Teacher walked there in the distant past and told us a parable about the least of all seeds: the grain of mustard. And it is hard to understand it, unless we are aware that it is very hard to eradicate mustard from the vegetable garden or from any other empire. The more you try to get rid of it, the bigger it will return and the higher it will grow until birds build nests in it. Such is the nature of Truth.

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