Thursday, May 5, 2011

Reading Between The Lines

I knew already that Haaretz bore a grudge against me: The editors never saw fit to publish any of my pieces, topical, deep and insightful as they all were. Now they let the cat out of the bag: In the first sentence of their April 20, 2011 editorial they call me “immoral wealthy.” They are cagy enough not to mention me by name. Rather they lump me along with all sorts of other villa-owning rich and mighty Israelis involved in the shady business of transplanting ancient olive trees into their front yards. You might be tempted to call me paranoid. But the whole world knows about my Roman olive tree; I wrote an account of my search for it and of the act of smuggling it into my garden in my book of memoirs, A Doctor in Galilee, Pluto Press, 2008. Who doesn’t know of that book! Don’t tell me Haaretz editors want to play dumb and make believe they didn’t spend days peering through it to pick up hints of Israeli delegitimization so they can have an excuse to avoid reviewing it in their book section. After all, it now appears that some of their correspondents double as anti-Israel-delegitimization workers. Here, check it for yourself:

Believe me, I was not above having a mild quiver of excitement at being mentioned, by implication if not by name, in the same breath with the presumed operatives involved in this olive tree business, all those high military commanders and those multimillionaires of Savyon and Shavei Zion, even if we all were presumed to be criminally tainted by our front yard ancient olive trees. It took the reading of the investigative report that was published over a week later in the English version of Haaretz to appreciate the full significance of my being associated in the readers’ mind with that economic upper crust. In attempting to criminalize us, the upper economic crust of Israel, the editors identify me as one of the “upper thousandth percentile.” I did the calculation and it put us among the wealthiest twenty or so households in the country. Someone should inform my wife. She still feeds me leftovers and greens she picks with her own hands from under that same symbol of our filthy rich status.

Actually Maya Zinshtein, the investigative report who started it all in Haaretz, has a kinder outlook on the plight of some of those caught in the act of owning an ancient olive tree in their garden. She allows a certain way-out for those amongst us who are less than full members in the true olive mafia. “The other type of buyer is the person who loves the olive tree and invests in it the way a real art lover invests in a work of art – with no regard for the cost,” she states. I like that. It does not reduce me to a pauper economically while still distinguishing me from the other criminal types involved in ancient olive tree trade. After all, you have to be affluent to be one who “invests in a work of art.” Then Maya goes out of her way to be kind to me: “Arabs do not remove trees from the ground,” she declares. I really appreciate the gesture, Maya! I do have a very soft spot in my heart for the name. Maya was our part-poodle dog that was very close to my growing children. In fact Maya the dog was so loving and kind that she breastfed our two orphaned baby cats. I have pictures to prove it.

You can’t really blame the woman for her timidity in her pro-Arab bend of mind. After all, the whole shady business is fraught with Arab mendacity, witness ‘Al-Bustan’ the name given by its Jewish owner to the major nursery involved in the trade and located next to an Arab town to boot. As if that were not enough of a taint, the whole process of inventive maneuvering around the multiple authorities in moving an ancient olive tree is likened in the report to the documentation of a thoroughbred Arabian horse. All of this while we all know that such smuggling is fraught with “the introduction of disease and blight.” No wonder we allow Palestinians like those in the village of Hableh separated (what else?) by the separation wall from their olives to visit the trees only twice a year. It is dangerous!

As a matter of fact the editorial also reeks of the same pro-Palestinian prejudice, in itself a noteworthy rarity bordering on the criminal. “Many trees have been stolen from their owners in the territories, and in other cases, heavy pressure is brought to bear on Palestinian farmers to sell their trees, taking advantage of their powerlessness and making huge profits at their expense,” it states. Don’t let this fool you though. The olive tree is declared to be “one of the hallmarks of the land of Israel.” Never mind the Palestinian adoption of the olive as a symbol of their resistance and steadfastness. Like falafel it has been hijacked by the Israelis as part and parcel of their native culture and intrinsic identity. The day may yet come when the image of Arafat holding an olive branch as he addresses the United Nations General Assembly is adopted as a Zionist symbol and the white dove with the olive branch in its beak stands for Golda Meir. Don’t tell me the world is not ready for that! Remember, President George W. Bush declared Ariel Sharon “a man of peace” and no one seemed to mind.

The fading of the line between the real and the imagined in this experimental undertaking of mine in attempting to read between the lines of Haaretz reaches its most ridiculous in the parallel the reporter and the editors imply between the law enforcement authorities in Israel and in the Palestinian National Authority regarding the protection of olives “in the Land of Israel.” In fact some Israelis involved in the murky olive tree trade are reported to complain “that the PA has been making life difficult for them.” Just for the record, we should note the PA has no military camps, no settlements, and no illegal settler outposts inside Israel, and no security wall cutting through Israeli communities and separating their residents from their farms and olive trees. Notice also the multiplicity of Israeli authorities officially charged with the task of the legal powers to protect the olive both in Israel and in “Judea and Samaria,” the land of our forefathers in which we, the Israelis, are temporarily tolerating the continued presence of some Goyem: Two separate departments of the Ministry of Agriculture, The Jewish National Fund, The Police, the Border Police, the IDF, the Civil Administration, and the Tax authority, to name only those mentioned in the article. It takes little imagination to figure how many palms one has to grease for a safe trip from source to final destination. No wonder we, the select few, have to be multimillionaires to afford those trees.

If a simile is to be made on the other side of the defunct Green Line, there are only Hamas and Fatah with whom to negotiate on the way of a stolen olive out of its native Palestine to its new home in Occupied Palestine, aka the Zionist Entity to the newly reunited Palestinian leadership. The olive is such a potent Palestinian symbol that most likely one has to deal directly with the entire reconciled Palestinian leadership, Mahmud Abbas and Haneyeh themself included. And, barring their occasional pre-occupation with such weighty guests as Tony Blair, they probably will tend to the actual digging, hauling and replanting of the ancient olive for you. But you better have a lot of grease at hand.

I recall how intimidated I was by the massive monster of a tree hanging above me from a cable at the free end of a crane as I stood at the bottom of the hole I had dug in my front yard to receive my olive. Indeed, it is a risky undertaking, especially for a group habitually accident-prone and used to trusting others with its own fate. Who do you think would be interested in making that cable snap at the right moment above the group’s head? And will they be buried at sea like Osama or will they be left to push that olive tree?

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