A few weeks ago, Noah and I went to a Palestinian village in the West Bank called Kusra to plant olive trees. Kusra is in close proximity to two settlements: Esh Kodesh to the west and Migdalim to the east. The Palestinians in Kusra have amicable relationship with the Jews living in Migdalim, but there has historically been volatile and violent interactions with those living in Esh Kodesh – a settlement outpost. Members of the Esh Kodesh community have repeatedly destroyed Palestinian olive trees and prevented them from planting and/or harvesting their crop.
We went on this trip with an organization called Rabbi for Human Rights, a group that organizes and leads several events around Israel to defend the human rights of all people. Currently, the group’s primary work focuses on defending the human rights of Palestinians and Bedouins within Israel and the Occupied Territories as well as socioeconomic work within Israel.
The trip to Kusra was a full day event. The group met at 8:30am in Jerusalem to bus an hour to the site. Heading into the West Bank, we saw lots of open fields and areas being used for agriculture:
At the site, we were met by several Palestinian farmers and a large collection of olive tree saplings. Our job was to help the farmers plant the saplings, thus making some sort of tikkun (repair) for the destruction of their trees done by other Jews and also to demonstrate that not all Jews seek to treat them violently and disrespectfully.
While everyone in our group tried to be as helpful as possible, we ended up doing a lot of standing around as the Palestinian farmers were able to do things a lot more efficiently and productively than we were. After about 45 minutes of “working” we were invited to sit with some of the farmers to share food (which they graciously offered) and to ask them questions:
Although I was nervous, I asked the group what their community’s general response was to seeing news of terrorist attacks or other violent acts perpetrated by Palestinians towards Israelis. The question was motivated by feeling disturbed and frustrated by pictures and videos of celebrations by Palestinians following terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, I ended up needing to repeat the question three times due to translation difficulties, which felt very awkward. Once the question was finally understand, the answer was essentially, “we don’t support it.”
Overall, I am very glad I went on the trip. It was a good reminder that – just like within the Jewish community – there is always a spectrum of beliefs and feelings within a community. Not all Palestinians are seeking violence and terror, and it also felt very important to think about the fear and sadness that Palestinians in this village undoubtedly experience when seeing/hearing about destruction in their olive fields.