Tu Bishvat, a holiday in which Israelis cherish the fruit of the land and plant trees, begins this Friday evening. But in the West Bank, extremist settlers have made it a national sport to destroy olive trees belonging to Palestinian farmers. And when the settlers need a new bypass road, it is the government of Israel which uproots Palestinian-owned olive trees by the hundreds, as is happening these days near the West Bank town of Qalqilya – just to make more room for settlements and allow the settlers easy access to Israel.
In his meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Donald Trump will have a valuable opportunity to assert long-held US policy on the settlements in particular and on America’s policy toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That includes recent approvals for constructing more than 5,500 homes in West Bank settlements, Knesset bills to annex large parts of the West Bank to Israel, and bills to retroactively legalize settlement construction that violates Israeli law.
Will Trump give Netanyahu and his fellow extremist Israeli politicians carte blanche to crush any prospect for Israeli-Palestinian peace, and condemn Israel to becoming a non-democratic international pariah that makes a mockery of the Jewish values upon which it was founded?
The occupation takes a terrible daily toll on both societies, Israeli and Palestinian. Innocent people on both sides are victims of the unending violence that the occupation perpetuates.
And not only people. The land itself and the fruit of the land – trees – are victims of this ongoing conflict. Donald Trump may choose to turn a blind eye to the evils of the occupation.
We refuse to do so.
With your help, Israel’s Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) movement will this year intensify its struggle against the occupation. And we, Shalom Achshav’s American sister-organization, will take to task American politicians who support the irresponsible policies of Israel’s extremist leaders, politicians who refuse to do what’s good for our country’s national security interests and for Israel’s future.
P.S. I’ve learned during years of interaction with Palestinians and Israelis that when Palestinians’ olive trees are being bulldozed, it is not only the trees that are being hurt. It’s people's livelihood, their income, their labor, their identity and humanity. It is the bulldozing of hope.
Kathleen Peratis is a partner in the law firm Outten & Golden LLP, focusing on employment law on the side of the employee. She is a member of Americans for Peace Now’s Board of directors and a founding board member of J Street. Kathleen is a long-time member of Human Rights Watch, has been a regular columnist for The Forward, and the director of the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU. She lives in New York City.