Last year I wrote a Peace Parsha for Tu B'Shevat in which I asked: When did we go from being a people who plant trees to a people who cut them down?
I didn't mean ordinary every-day Jews who go about their business without thinking much about trees. Or ordinary Jewish Israelis who have a long tradition of planting and caring for trees. The Torah commands us to refrain from picking fruit from trees until they are three years old. When we go to war against another people, we are commanded to leave fruit-bearing trees intact to ensure a source of food.
No, I'm talking about Israeli Jewish settlers in the West Bank -- the occupied territories -- who have weaponized Palestinian trees. Ironically, the trees they burn and cut down are olive trees -- the very symbol of peace. But these Jews aren't making peace. They're waging an undeclared war against the Palestinians by destroying their livelihood, their labor, their identity, and their humanity. It's the purposeful destruction of their hopes, and the message is clear: "Palestinians not wanted here."
In 2018 alone, over 8,000 Palestinian trees were damaged or destroyed by extremist settlers. But this is only part of the horrible story: Palestinian villagers routinely find graffiti, in Hebrew, spray-painted on walls and rocks. "Revenge" and "Death to the Arabs" are mild but telling messages. I read with dread in Al-Monitor.com how settlers unleash dogs on Palestinian children on their way to school. Please read it for yourself and weep. Weep, not only for the children but for the shame we all should have that Jews are doing this.
How do you feel when you read these words? I'm ashamed to write them. This is not the Israel I've been intimately connected with since I spent a year there in 1959. These are not the Jewish values I find in our ancient writings.
This is a perversion of all we stand for as Jews, and we must not remain silent in the face of such outrage.
Tu B'Shevat is the New Year of the Trees (this year from Sunday evening, February 9 to Monday evening, February 10). We are asked to remember our connection to the earth and all that is in it. The Torah itself is called a "tree of life." This year on Tu BShevat -- observed on February 10 -- let each one of us take action to protect the destruction of Palestinian trees in the West Bank and the undeclared war against the Palestinians who live there. Will we make a difference? Who can say? But we know -- as The Mishnah taught us -- that while we are not commanded to finish the task, neither are we exempt from the obligation to start it.
Here are a few possibilities for action:
- Write an op-ed for your local Jewish newspaper, or your local paper if you still have one
- Tweet the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, @AmbDermer
- Write to 10 friends who care about Israel and share what you know about this issue
- Arrange a program at your synagogue or church on this topic (APN will help you)
- Demand your clergy talk about these issues in lectures and sermons
- Write an article for your religious movement's newsletter
- AND OF COURSE, PLEASE SUPPORT AMERICANS FOR PEACE NOW
If you take action, let us hear about it. We are happy to help.
Once again, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for supporting us.