Friday, December 23, 2011

Harvesting Olives Amidst the Occupation: Christmas Eve Reflections

Oh little town of Bethlehem. After 45 years of life under a brutal military occupation, there is sadly little Comfort and Joy for the residents of Bethlehem   this Holiday Season.  After a night of song, on their way home, settlers attacked a group of Christmas carollers. The extremists reside illegally in Jewish-only settlements built on stolen, annexed Palestinian land. Heavily armed soldiers guard them. While in clear violation of international and humanitarian law, our Governments acquiesce in face of such injustice.

Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, is a mere 9 kilometres   from the region’s other sacred city, Jerusalem. Because barbed wire, gun towers and an 8 metre-high concrete wall now separate the two, Palestinian Christians residing in East Jerusalem were forcibly prevented from attending midnight Mass at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity.  Relatedly, Bethlehemites were not permitted to worship at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. These are just two examples of how Israeli authorities routinely trample on Palestinians’ fundamental human rights.

I recently returned from Palestine where I joined a group of international volunteers to help with this past year’s (November 2011) olive harvest. Under military occupation, the harvest season is becoming less a celebration of nature’s bounty and one’s connectedness to God, family and the land, and more a period of fear, violence and intimidation. Settlers destroyed 8,000 olive trees in 2011. Just in October, 1,500 olive trees were set on fire.  Moreover, settler attacks against Palestinians have increased 53% from 2010 to 2011. To help ensure that violence and vandalism is minimised, we join in the harvest. Picking olives thus becomes a pro-Palestinian act of peaceful solidarity. We help resist the Occupation. One olive at a time.

Reviewing my experiences back home on the 63rd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I am dismayed   by the extent of Israel’s flagrant denial of Palestinians’ human rights. Arbitrary arrests, massive restrictions on movement, degrading, humiliating treatment by authorities, confiscation of land, torture of minors by the military, widespread discrimination in housing, education and religious observance – are among the human rights   systematically being abused under Occupation.

After the Great Flood, the olive branch was the first sign of life delivered to Noah. This year, consider providing tangible hope while asserting loudly that human rights violations must come to an end! For more information on planting olive trees or harvesting olives in the Holy Land, please contact:
Baha  Hilo