OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

The Palestinian olive-tree litmus test

The Palestinians’ narrative of indigeneity is disproved by the very flora of the Land of Israel.

In Jerusalem, trees producing the olives of Gethsemane are set in the small grove pictured here. The grove is revered by Christians because of its connection to Jesus. Credit: Juandev via Wikimedia Commons.
In Jerusalem, trees producing the olives of Gethsemane are set in the small grove pictured here. The grove is revered by Christians because of its connection to Jesus. Credit: Juandev via Wikimedia Commons.
Ron Jager
Ron Jager served for 25 years as an IDF mental health field officer in operational units, including as commander of the Central Psychiatric Clinic for Reserve Solders at Tel-Hashomer. Visit his website at www.ronjager.com.

The Palestinian Arabs and many of their progressive supporters have created a narrative based on a falsehood: Unless Israel first concludes a peace agreement with the Palestinian Arabs and accepts their claim that they are the indigenous people of “Palestine,” no other Arab state will normalize its relations with Israel.

Yet Israel has now succeeded in forging peace agreements with leading Arab nations: Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, the UAE and Bahrain. It is likely that, in the coming year, Israel will reach an agreement with Saudi Arabia that will change Israel’s relationship with the entire Arab world.

Clearly, leading Arab countries no longer recognize the Palestinian Arab “veto” on peace with Israel.

Yet, ironically, the Palestinian Arab “cause” remains powerful in the West, based on the narrative of Palestinian “indigeneity.” This narrative is a false one. One of the many proofs of this is simple: the olive tree.

Olive trees play a major role in Palestinian Arab society and culture. They are a constant presence near any Palestinian Arab home. Thus, the “Palestinian olive tree litmus test” can be used to accurately assess how long a Palestinian Arab has been living in their home or on the plot of land they claim has been in their possession for hundreds of years.

The majority of Palestinian Arabs living in Judea and Samaria live in private homes they constructed themselves. The first thing a Palestinian Arab does when they begin to build a home is to plant olive trees in the backyard or adjacent land. This is a given and can be observed in the hundreds of villages everywhere in Judea and Samaria.

A Palestinian Arab can claim that their home is hundreds of years old, but the age of the olive tree in their backyard is easily measured. In this regard, it is important to note that olive trees are very long-lived. In the Galilee, there are olive trees that are over 1,000 years old. Many of these trees were planted by local Arabs, which proves they have a long-standing presence in northern Israel.

Olive trees, in other words, are forever. Moreover, since they are seen as proof of land ownership, Palestinian Arabs very rarely uproot their olive trees.

I have discussed this phenomenon with various botanists and biologists. They have told me that the vast majority if not all of the olive trees in Judea and Samaria are less than 80-90 years old.

If the Palestinian Arabs have populated Judea and Samaria for centuries, why is this the case? The answer is obvious: The Palestinian Arabs are not and have never been indigenous to the region they call “Palestine.” Prior to 1948, the vast majority of Arabs in Palestine were foreign workers who migrated to the area seeking employment. They were motivated by the economic opportunities presented by Zionist development of the land.

This is borne out by the historical record. In 1867, Mark Twain visited the Holy Land and explicitly stated that the area was desolate and almost devoid of inhabitants.

Riding on horseback through the Jezreel Valley, Twain observed, “There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent—not for 30 miles in either direction. There are two or three small clusters of Bedouin tents, but not a single permanent habitation. One may ride 10 miles hereabouts and not see 10 human beings.”

“The further we went the hotter the sun got, and the more rocky and bare, repulsive and dreary the landscape became,” he recounted. “There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”

Twain was not alone in his poor impression of the land of milk and honey. Lesser-known historians, pilgrims and travelers made similarly dreary observations over the centuries.

If “even the olive” was absent from the “worthless soil” of Judea and Samaria, the Palestinians’ claim of indigeneity is obviously false. It survives only because it is financed and fueled by Western progressives motivated by antisemitism and irrational hatred of the Jewish state. Unfortunately, this support means that the Palestinian Arabs are unlikely to give up this narrative, which serves their political ambitions.

But the Palestinian Arabs are only 2% of the Arab world. The other 98% appears to be increasingly uninterested in the Palestinians Arabs’ war on Israel. Only when the Palestinian Arabs acknowledge that most of the Arab world has reconciled itself to Israel’s existence will they abandon their fantasy of destroying Israel and finally embrace the path of genuine peace.

Until that happens, their mendacious narrative of indigeneity must be discredited. This should not be difficult, because it is disproved by the very flora of the Land of Israel. The olive tree never lies.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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