an olive branch

It starts with a black screen and the sound of a chainsaw. I then heard men shouting in Arabic for others to stop what they are doing. And then came the visual: a man holds the chainsaw and lops off the branches of olive trees — not to prune them, but to destroy them. Men cry out in anguish which moves me in my core — I feel the pain of those who are losing their beloved trees, their source of life, and I feel the pain of the olive trees themselves, their limbs ripped from their bodies, soon to be uprooted. A man runs into the grove to try and stop the destruction, but Israeli soldiers hold him down while they confine others in a nearby building, letting them only peer through windows and watch the killing.

This is the opening scene of a movie I just watched at a local restaurant called Bil’in Habibati — Bil’in My Love. (If you’re lucky, it might be coming to your town very soon!). It is a horrowing story of one town — not much bigger than where I grew up — where the residents have created a non-violent movement against the Apartheid Wall which is virtually annexing half of their land to be used for creation of Israeli settlement. In Bil’in, “Since January 2005, the village has been orchestrating weekly protests against the barrier’s construction.” (Even Flat Stanley has been there!) There are many great stories from Bil’in, including this one from Michigan Peace Team.

While the entire movie was heartbreaking — at times unsettling my stomach — I found the destruction of the olive trees to be particularly poignant, and frightfully symbolic. For many, the olive branch is a sign of peace and goodwill, often held in the mouth of a dove, another symbol of peace. However, in this scene and later in the movie, the branches are removed from that which gives them life, dropping to the ground in a horrible death. Like this tree, the Palestinians are uprooted from their land and brought to horrible deaths, with the end result, seemingly, to rid the land of their people while settlers move in and others profit in the construction of their houses.

Unfortunately, this practice is far too similar to one our country engaged in a few hundred years ago with those who inhabited the lands before Europeans arrived of what is now known to most of the world as the United States. In a quest where one group felt entitled to the land over another, the European conquerers and Americans to follow eliminated the rightful owners of the land to make room for what are now skyscrapers, highways, cell phone towers, baseball stadiums, and so much more. Can anyone say we (Americans — most of us have that blood on our hands) were justified?

I think a lot about “ownership” when I think about those people who were and are driven from their land. What does it really mean to “own” something? Does anyone truly have a right to “own?” In our current corporate society, it is hard to even imagine a life without possessions or having something to call “Mine.” But I believe this is our calling — to leave everything behind for something Greater. We all know “money can’t buy happiness,” but when will we begin to truly trust in a Higher Power and seek to live a life where all share in the joy that comes from true peace and compassion?

It will be a struggle, but it is one I am committed to make, and I invite you to join me on the journey.

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