The Torah forbids the cutting down of fruitful trees, even during a time of war. The basis for this law appears in the book of Deuteronomy, with the verse adding rhetorically, “Is the tree of the field a man that you should make war upon it?”
Curiously, the extremist settlers in the West Bank seem to have decided that it is. Ignoring Jewish law – not to mention Israel’s state law -- these settlers have engaged in the wanton destruction of not only thousands of trees belonging to Palestinians, but on a program of assault and vandalism against Palestinian property, mosques, churches, and Israeli peace activists, including Peace Now's Hagit Ofran and Yariv Oppenheimer. Even the Israeli military, and recently U.S. officials, have become targets of this campaign. These so-called “price tag” attacks originally began as revenge taken on Palestinians when Israeli security forces removed an illegal outpost. Over time, they have metastasized to indiscriminate destruction.
The sages of the Talmud, in contrast, took the verses forbidding the destruction of fruit trees to be not only literal, but also symbolic. They understood the prohibition to be one not only against damaging trees, but also to be against wastefulness of any kind. According to one rabbi, a person is forbidden to “waste even so much as a mustard seed.”
The settlements are the ultimate manifestation of waste: Wasted funds on construction that one day will be reversed; wasted opportunities to de-escalate the conflict with the Palestinians; wasted Israeli resources to perpetuate an occupation that damages Israel as much as it damages the Palestinians. The most tragic waste is wasted lives – of Israelis and Palestinians alike – in hostilities and terrorism over Israel’s continued occupation.
The Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat begins the evening of Tuesday, February 3rd. This holiday –the “new year of the trees” - has come to be known as a sort of “Jewish earth day” for its focus on trees and the produce of the land of Israel.
Americans for Peace Now is the chief funder of Peace Now in Israel. And in the United States we push for pro-Israel, pro-peace positions and policies. Supporting APN prepares the ground for growing a true peace: a peace based on two states, secure and democratic. Let’s stop wasting our opportunities, our time and our resources: help us plant the seeds of peace.
Israel’s Peace Now movement and Americans for Peace Now expose the folly of the settlements and the crimes of extremist settlers.
On Tu Bishvat, support peace and help us confront its enemies.
Rabbi Alana Suskin
Director of Strategic Communications, APN