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Sol Salbe: How To Turn The World Upside Down

[When a senior figure in the local timber industry oversees a process in which many trees were needlessly cut down and taken illegally to a sawmill, the matter becomes a subject for a scathing Auditor-General's report. But that is in Victoria, Australia.

What is happening in Palestine is far worse. Over 100,000 trees have been removed. Some of these have turned up mysteriously in Israel, being sold for up to 25,000 shekels (A$7,500). For the Palestinians the trees have an enormous economic significance. An olive tree is not just a tree but often their major source of income. It is also has a cultural and spiritual meaning to the Palestinians, being also the family's wealth, often inherited from previous generations and destined to be for their offsprings. But naturally the Palestinians don't get to see a cent out of the lucrative trade.

In Israel owning an ancient olive tree has become the latest status symbol, with no one asking: where did all these trees come from? Everyone feigns innocence.

Well, almost everyone. Novelist Corinna Hasofferett [Corinna the Writer] is a blogger (web logger) who started asking the relevant questions. [Even if you can't read Hebrew, you can get the gist of it by looking at the pictures at http://www.notes.co.il/corinna/10515.asp

Next to the pictures she asks: "Three trucks arrived, were loaded and disappeared. Who owns them? Who set them up? Who knew, with the precision of a Swiss watch, when to collect. How did they get past the checkpoints?"

Sarcastically she adds: "Which Thai nurseries are responsible for the tens of thousands of trees which are decorating Israel's traffic islands, houses, villas...?"

Her report on the whole process for Hagada Hasmolit [the Left Bank] is translated below. I have tried to maintain the blog style, which is not quite formal. The writer also makes lots of allusions to various writers from the prophet Amos to the Internationale, to WW II heroine and poet Hannah Senesh. I have footnoted some of these.

This is not easy to read. The part about Strom Thurman is too long. But her point is important. Bloggers are ordinary people but they did bring Trent Lott down. We ordinary people can put a stop this great injustice as well. I urge you to persevere and read all the way to the end. I am not the only one who had moist eyes on reaching the end. -Sol Salbe.]

How To Turn The World Upside Down


By Corinna Hasofferett

A) Now: Olive Trees

I should have known. I didn't know. I didn't see. I didn't hear. I remained silent. Here and there I saw large signs: "Ancient olive tree for sale." No nursery name mentioned, no address provided - just a mobile phone number. Olive trees seem to be multiplying, in the boulevard opposite my place and right throughout the city. They are almost like the papaya trees: it is enough to toss the seeds on the ground and they grow all by themselves.

I got to the "Kibush" web site and it was almost like a movie. The turning over [the word can also mean a revolution in Hebrew- Translator] of olive trees. They get turned over and turned over and then they get transported to some place, by the authority of so and so, with not-so-anonymous people turning a blind eye.

[Haaretz]Journalist Meron Rapaport had his investigative feature on the subject published. He won a prize for it -- not here, but in Italy.

You can't love all the people all of the time. But trees - how can you not love them, all of them and all of the time? There are greater lovers than me. Loving them turns you blind. I wrote in my Hebrew blog in the "Reshimot" [Jottings] web site: "Let's see you, Agatha [Christie], solving my cryptic riddle."

Answers started arriving from far-flung places like the Technicon in Haifa, a mansion in decorative Savion. A boulevard in Ramat HaSharon, town squares and village squares, rural communities and kibbutzim. [1]

It spread like cancer.

I had a second go: "Agatha Christie is not silent." Then I had a third go: "An interim report: the true situation." I had explanations and clarification in response to readers' responses. The light was being eclipsed. Here and there someone wrote about the supply of olive trees; their point of origin. People tsk-tsked about the heartless uprooters and oppressors. So distant from us. So much not like us. What are you on about, Corinna?

Who should we not write about? Who should we avoid considering? Who should we not raise hell about, till they blush? We have to keep going till "An ancient olive tree" will no longer be a expensive fashion statement that dropped like a tendril into our lap out of nowhere. It has to become a symbol of blind or feigned innocence collaboration with an evil deed.

B) The First Victory

Who is Strom Thurman? You don't know? Eternity is short lived. I wouldn't have known either if it were not for the revolution associated with his name. Strom Thurman was a leading opponent of desegregation between Blacks and whites in the United States. Even though he was a member of the Democratic Party (sounds familiar) he stood against [Harry] Truman and won only in the southern states (such were the Democrats there). He lost but didn't give up. In 1956 he initiated and wrote the Southern Manifesto opposing the Supreme Court's ruling for the abolition of segregation. He topped it all and excelled himself when he spoke non-stop for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the civil rights legislation in 1957. In 1964 he switched over to the Republicans.

Strom Thurman, born in 1902, never made it to be President but he did make it to his hundredth birthday. His birthday party took place in December 2002 in Washington. Then Mr Trent Lott, then Senate Majority Leader, raised his glass and said: "We voted for him! We're proud of it! And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all of these problems over all of these years either."

You would have expected a political storm. It was mentioned as a two-second light-hearted item on the news. A statement praising racism made by the Senate majority leader 45 years after equality of citizens was enshrined in law. By 2002 there were nearly a million bloggers in the United States. Some of these, the more knowledgeable ones, had tens and hundreds of thousands of visitors. One after another the bloggers grabbed the story and didn't let go. The whole thing spread like a bushfire in the blogosphere.

Journalists read blogs. They had no choice but to invite the honourable Trent Lott to the TV and radio studios and ask him the inevitable questions. He apologised once and twice and maybe even five times. But it didn't do him any good and he had to resign.

Then a loud voice was heard from the forty corners of the blogosphere. Yes! And I, who was watching from the sidelines, said to myself: when can we do this, when?

C) Please hear this, oh nation of bloggers and readers in this holy land: [2]

There is one of me and many of you. Arise you people from your slumbers! Go write in your blogs. Raise hell, write to your city and shire mayors. Call on your neighbours and on the mansion owners. Ask them: where is this tree from? Have you checked the wandering path that it traversed to get your garden or boulevard? If you find out that it is indeed stolen, would you be willing to return it to its owners as you should by law? Go and check. Is there a brave editor who would publish interviews with Savion residents who are paying 25,000 shekels for a truly ancient tree? Go find out how far are newspapers and TV channels willing to disengage themselves from the wrath of the rich and powerful.

More than 100,000 olive trees have been uprooted and stolen from the Occupied Territories.

In the Savion mansion and the Boulevard, the olive tree is a brand name - an instrument for displaying a pretend authentic Novo-Israeliness.

For the Palestinian olive grove owner, the tree is his/her life and soul.

The matchstick is sad. [4]

*************

Translator's notes

[1] The writer is being sarcastic: these are well known places. Savion is just about the most prestigious address in the whole of Israel.

[2] Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink. (Amos 4,1)

[3] Arise you workers from your slumbers - The Internationale.

[4] How fortunate is the matchstick - Hungarian-born Hannah Senesh (or in Hungarian Senes) was parachuted into Hungary at the behest of the British and the Jewish community in Palestine. She was captured, tortured and executed by the Nazis. Many Israelis would be familiar with her poem.

Translated by Sol Salbe. Hebrew Original: http://hagada.org.il/hagada/html/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=3468

[The independent Middle East News Service concentrates on providing alternative information chiefly from Israeli sources. It is sponsored by the Australian Jewish Democratic Society. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the AJDS. These are expressed in its own statements]


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