Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

Olive Branch movement protecting olive groves

Women activists harvest/expose the Rabin Square olive trees

Action report by Adam Keller :: Occupation Magazine

`You have no permit to demonstrate here, you must disperse!`

`We are not demonstrating, we are harvesting olives.`

`What?’ For once, the tough Tel Aviv Municipal Marshals were caught unready. Nobody had ever thought of passing a municipal ordinance or by-law forbidding the picking of olives.

`But you are littering, the pavement is full of leaves! This is forbidden!`

`Don`t worry, we have brought a broom. Before we leave here the pavement will be as clean as can be` answered a smiling organizer from the Women`s Peace Coalition.

Political protests there have been in plenty at Tel-Aviv`s Rabin Square, but never anything like this.

In 2004, the Tel-Aviv municipality had decorated the square with olive trees – full grown trees which had evidently grown somewhere else. No municipal official could or would disclose the source, past saying `We bought them legally`.

In the same years tens of thousands of Palestinian olive trees had been uprooted, to make place for `The Separation Fence`, and it is known that quite a few of them were sold for tidy side-profit by unscrupulous contractors.

`All over Israel, the trees constituting the vital source of livelihood for thousands of Palestinian families have been made into the decoration of private and public places – and also here, in the heart of Tel-Aviv. We have come here to redress the balance by a little bit, to harvest the olives from these `decorative` trees and donate them to Palestinians whose own trees were taken away` read a leaflet distributed to curious passers by.

Meanwhile, the scene started to resemble what is more often seen in West bank villages: an enormous green sheet spread on the ground, with a girl on a ladder beating the branches and causing repeated rains of olives to fall on the heads of the activists below. An olive harvest is by nature a collective work, giving much possibility for young and old to speak and laugh while picking up the little green forms and place them in buckets. `Don`t try to eat it! Until olives are processed, they are far too bitter!` a mother warned her five year old son. From the expression on his face, he had already learned that the hard way.

Many of the onlookers were curious at this strange sight, but there were some hostile hecklers. Gamila Biso, director of the Olive Branch Movement, in the middle of a `speech from the heart` expertly shouted back: `How dare you call us disloyal? Do you know how much trouble and risk I had to go through, to get here from Syria? What a high price I paid to become an Israeli?`

Some Orthodox came by, on their way to and from the nearby annual Sukkot fair where are sold the various plants which the Jewish religion prescribes for this, the Feast of Tabernacles.

One engaged a harvester in a political-theological argument: `These Arabs are Pagans and Idolaters, they have no right to grow trees in this land. It is all ours!`

`Pagans? What Pagans? They Worship the same God as you do!`.

`The same God? Who says that?`

`For one, the great Sage Rambam [Maimonides], that`s who!`

`The Rambam said that? I don`t believe it! Anyway, this Islam has nothing original in it. They copied it all from us, from Judaism!`

`If you say that their religion is a copy of Judaism, how can say that they are Pagans? Is Judaism Paganism?`

`God Forbid!`. Meanwhile, another Succot fair customer had gotten down on his knees and seemed to join the olive picking – but it turned out that he had taken his portion of olives and gone away with it…

`This is a fine beginning for this year`s olive harvest campaign. A good harvest is expected and we should do all we can to help the Palestinian villagers gather it in` Rabbi Arik Asherman of Rabbis for Human Rights told the gathered activists at the conclusion.

`The Supreme Court has been quite explicit after our appeal, the army must let Palestinians harvest their trees. We also heard it from Defence Minister Peretz in person. But all this does not prevent soldiers on the ground from acting in a completely opposite way, harass and chase away the olive harvesters. There was already one such case. We have to be on the ground everywhere, stand together with the villagers.


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Timely Reminders

"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes perceptibly worse than what it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself."
-- Aldous Huxley

"The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All others are subsumed by it."
-- Diane DiPrima, "Rant", from Pieces of a Song.

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there"
-- William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"