Uprooting the Truth: Olive Trees as the latest ‘obstacle to peace’

A guest post by Gidon Ben-Zvi, who blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind

The Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood recently told a tale of Israeli settlers attacking Palestinian olive groves, ‘Israel urged to protect West Bank olive trees after settler attacks‘, Oct. 15.

To lend credence to what appears to be an alarming trend, Ms Sherwood cites the always handy United Nations, which reported that more than 870 trees were vandalised in the first week of [this year’s] harvest, which began in most places on or after 5 October.

Allegedly, such attacks have increased in recent years. Since the beginning of 2012, a total of 7,180 Palestinian-owned trees have been vandalised by settlers, according to the UN’s office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO’s executive committee, wasted no time in exploiting the report, charging that settlers were launching attacks under the protection of the Israeli military.

Hanan Ashrawi and Yasser Arafat

To say that there is not the slightest air of reality surrounding these allegations would be to gloss over a more profound truth: Ms Ashrawi is dutifully perpetuating the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by failing to address Palestinian “…incitement to hate, promotion of an ethos of violence and struggle, and non-development of a culture of peace.

For while Hanan Ashrawi is frequently presented to the international community as the telegenic, kinder, gentler face of Palestinian politics, it’s important to remember that when Palestinians speak to foreign audiences, they speak quite differently than the way they address their own people.

Sadly, the PA’s decades-long campaign to honor terrorists – presenting them as heroes and role models – has borne fruit.  

According to a recent poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey (PSR), nearly half of all Palestinians (47.5 percent) support terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians inside the 1949 armistice lines.

And while no one can deny that the amount of settler ‘price tag’ attacks have indeed grown in recent years, the overwhelming majority of Israelis deplore them. In stark contrast, the PA, while quick to condemn price tag attacks on West Bank mosques, simultaneously gives its assent to murder and entices future terrorists with assurances of glory and honor

Sherwood, however, is seemingly enthralled with the Palestinian victim narrative. She evidently holds the Palestinian people and their government in such low regard that Arab violence is perceived as par for the course while Jews behaving badly elicits cries of condemnation that spill over into a questioning of Israel’s moral legitimacy.

Ms Sherwood’s selective fact picking is evident when she cites the UN figure of approximately 10,000 trees in 2012 having been uprooted or vandalized. By whitewashing PA-sanctioned incitement to violence against Israelis in an article whose focus is the deteriorating relationship between Palestinians and Israelis, Ms Sherwood is effectively perpetuating the racist assumption that Palestinians lack moral agency.

For the sake of balance, a few inconvenient truths should be considered at this point.

Jewish residents in the West Bank live in settlements that comprise less than five percent of the West Bank. Furthermore, Israel has started virtually no new communities in the West Bank in years, having withdrawn completely from the Gaza Strip in 2005. The limited new construction in existing settlements that has taken place in recent years has been within pre-existing boundaries. Under the Oslo Accords, Israel turned over control of all the large Palestinian population centers, leaving more than 95 percent of Palestinian Arabs living under their own leadership.

And while Hanan Ashrawi sees IDF footprints in the criminal actions of a few Israeli settlers, the truth is that the Israeli military only reentered PA territory temporarily, during the Second Intifada, in order to protect Israeli citizens by confronting the terrorists at their bases of operation – inside Ms Ashrawi’s beloved Palestinian Authority.

Now, no one can deny that the West Bank is in the midst of an economic crisis. UN figures say that unemployment in the West Bank is 17 percent, a figure that may well under-represent the severity of the crisis, given the large numbers of under-employed in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority has paid only partial salaries to its 114,000 civil servants in the West Bank, about 15 percent of the local work force, over the past few months because of a shortfall in its $4 billion budget.

Yet, Ms Sherwood does a great disservice to West Bank Palestinians by implying that their deepening impoverishment is due to uprooted olive trees. For it’s the PA that administers services to more than 90 percent of the West Bank Arabs.

West Bank Arabs apparently know something that Ms Sherwood doesn’t about their leadership.

A poll recently published by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) revealed that the majority of Palestinian Arabs believe their government is corrupt, that there is no freedom of press under the PA and that Arabs living under Palestinian rule cannot freely criticize the PA without fear of retribution.

Ms Sherwood should channel her moral outrage at the true cause of Palestinian misery – and let the olive trees be.

21 replies »

  1. Oh, my word I am surprised by these claims. This has to be a one off. It’s not the kind of direction usually taken. All this pro Palestinian stuff is quite a departure. Hanan Ashrawi will think she’s getting quite a fan club amongst this lot.

  2. From Sherwood’s article:

    Last year about 10,000 trees were uprooted or vandalised…..

    Waleed Assaf, the Palestinian agriculture minister, said the proportion of GDP earned from agriculture had fallen from 28% to 5.6% over the past 20 years. This decline, he said, was mainly due to the confiscation of land for Israeli settlements, bypass roads and the security barrier, as well as the difficulties faced by Palestinian farmers in accessing their land. Serious water shortages were also hampering agricultural output, he said.

    “We have lost half a million trees,” Assaf said. “We are planting more but it takes 10 years for a young olive tree to start producing fruit.”

    There are two ways this can happen.

    One is that evil Zionists have managed a feat which should be in the Guinness book of records, and cut down half a million trees as claimed, or 10,000 in each of the last 50 years, even when the Jordanians occupied the WB. Of course, this illustrates once again the inability of people to comprehend really, really, big numbers.

    The other way is for the non-agricultural sector to grow a great deal, which is actually what has happened on the WB under the terrible influence of the Zionist occupation, thus greatly reducing the proportion of agriculture in the WB GDP

    • Harriett Sherwood must have phobia regarding numbers and geographic coordinates in particular and verified hard facts in general……

    • Which shows how stupid they are. With the UN and the Guardian no physical evidence is needed- hence
      ‘Those evil Israeli’s have cut down my trees in the Sahara’
      ‘But there are no tree’s in the Sahara’
      ‘I told you they cut them down’
      And armed with this ‘proof’ off they go with their reports.

    • One can just imagine the amount of coverage of palestinians and their useful idiots cutting down olive trees is getting in Al-Guardian….Somewhat similiar to my chances on getting the pope’s job…………ie ZERO

    • Is it that difficut for you to accept that there are right-wing Jews who are nasty pieces of shit?

      • What is your problem with showing the faking left-wing activists who incite hate?
        Aren`t they nasty pieces of shit?

          • I have no problems to know that there are a lot of a…… in Israel as elsewhere but I refute the implicit claim of the demonisers of Israel that in Israel all or the majority are you know what.
            When people are so dumb or such a……. that they equal terrorism with resistance and they are the majority in a state or of a population then you have real problems, just like Israel, not your inferior posing problems.

      • I posted a video of Pali’s destroying their own olive trees. So…do you find it hard to believe that Palestinians lie and exaggerate at almost every opportunity? (Eg Pallywood, Jenin massacre, etc)

  3. Re: ‘Jewish residents in the West Bank live in settlements that comprise less than five percent of the West Bank.’

    Gidon, you’re either hopelessly ill-informed, or willfully disingenuous. Have you ever been to the West Bank, or consulted a credible source on the impact of settlements there? In fact, have you ever even glanced at a map of the area?

    If you had, you would know that while Israeli settlements are actually built on ONE percent of the land, but they control 42 PERCENT of the land area.

    [Source: – the report is based on Israeli government data.]

    Furthermore, Israel controls 62 percent of the West Bank, known as Area C. I recommend you look into how this affects the lives of Palestinians wishing to hold down jobs, build homes, visit families, and any other aspect of ordinary life – realities which seemed to have escaped you thus far.


    • [Source:]

      Thank you for your contribution. Next time you can freely quote the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Goebbels collected works too.
      …into how this affects the lives of Palestinians wishing to hold down jobs, build homes, visit families, and any other aspect of ordinary life..
      Causing them serious difficulties practicising their ordinary habits killing Jews in pizza shops, in discos and on buses.
      “realities which seemed to have escaped you thus far.”

      • Excuse me? You’re actually suggesting that the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem are on the same spectrum as Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Goebbels – and offering that as a serious contribution to a debate?

        • Yes Chris. Regarding their hate of Israel and their totally fact-free reporting they are exactly the same level of reliability – they are serving your kind of haters only. And you should consider thinking again what a serious contribution is. Certainly not yours using totally unreliable and biased sources. B’tselem is a human rights organisation? Then you must be Ben-Gurion and I’m Attila the Hun. If you think that B’tselem is a reliable and objective source of information then obviously you don’t have the slightest clue about the ME conflict only what you can learn from the Guardian, Electronic Intifada , Stormfront and B’tselem.

    • Hi Chris. The word ‘control’, which you use several times is rather vague. Let’s get down to specifics. First, it has long been the policy of Israeli governments to NOT build on private Palestinian land – a policy that is frequently affirmed by the Israeli judicial system. Second, and more basic to the discussion at hand, land that Palesinians claim as their private property was not purchased; it was state-owned land that was either given away by the sovereign power during the Ottoman, British and Jordanian occupations or was encroached and developed.

      In essence, the repeated accusation Israeli Jews are stealing private Palestinian land, condemning settlements” as illegal violations of international law, etc. only serve the grand cause of demonizing and delegitimizing Israel.

      I recently read a very well-reserched op-ed piece that thoroughly debunks some of the mythology that now passes for fact:

      Thank you for reading and replying to my piece.