Sister Mary reflects on the olive tree

 Although a week has passed, I am still 'unpacking' my experience of planting olive trees with the Rabbis for Human Rights. Perhaps because I have seen so many ancient olive presses and present day harvesting of olives, as well as last year's effort to prevent destruction of olive trees by Israeli settlers in the Palestinian village of Deir Istiya. The olive tree is one that gives everything for use: its shade, its leaves for victory laurels, its fruit for food, oil for light, food, medicine, ointment, soap, fragrance and ritual anointing. Its pits are used as fuel and the wood for carving and fuel. Those whose lives are intertwined with the olive tree in these ways consider themselves blessed. Many of the olive trees in the Palestinian villages are hundreds of years old, some even a thousand or more. They have been gentle and generous 'family members' for innumerable generations. It is not unusual for a man to tell you that his father's great grandfather planted this olive grove during the Turkish occupation or before. For the Christian community here in Palestine, this tree is also a symbol of the rootedness to their land for the past 2000 years. Like the olive tree, the Christian community here has withstood the vicissitudes of a long history of occupation, and continued its steadfast presence and faithful witness to Christ since apostolic times. The olive tree has become a political symbol for all the Palestinian people, expressing their endurance and resilience during this chaotic time of violent oppression. No wonder the settlers are so intent on uprooting any olive trees near their settlements on land confiscated from Arab villages. Even the Israeli Occupation Force has been know to uproot olive trees using chains attached to American-made Apache helicopters. In fact, since the Oslo 'peace' Accords in 1993, Israelis have managed to uproot over 52, 500 olive trees; far more were uprooted than we could plant. Last week when I returned to the Palestinian village of Deir Istiya, I stood underneath an ancient uprooted tree. Its roots literally held boulders three feet or more in diameter, up in the air above my head. My heart told me it was evil to do this to this ancient tree. But I knew that even more evil was what had been done to the people of this village who had offered me a gentle and warm hospitality. These families were losing their trees, and thus their livelihood, as settlers bulldozed roads through the village olive groves, destroying the trees in their way. In the story of Noah the olive leaf was a symbol of the end of chaos. Yet those who claim the Torah as sacred, seem to have forgotten.... Sr Mary is an Ursuline nun working in Jerusalem

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