The Trees

“The trees are killing us,”
The man said.
The Rabbi has escorted us here
To this village in the desert,
Or what’s left of it,
So we can see for ourselves.
We are a few European Christians, 
One Harvard Divinity student.
And mostly Jews:
American and Australian and Canadian 
And a couple of Israelis.
We are there to 
To meet the Bedouin, 
Israeli citizens all. 
They have lived in this village for a long time
With houses and fields
But officially unregistered
As far as the Israeli government is concerned.
The paperwork is not properly filled out
Someone can’t find a deed from before World War One
When such things didn’t exist
for the Bedouin
Or something like that.

I admit my knowledge is fuzzy
And there may be room for interpretation,
Though what is crystal clear is that
Someone wants that land
And the land of 18 other such places.
The State of Israel wants it,
Developers want it,
Large municipalities want it,
And they are passing a law so they can “legally” take it.

The man, son of a Bedouin sheik, speaks.
We are seated in a trailer in this village in the Negev
and he tells us,

“The trees are killing us”.

The Rabbi has brought us here in a mini-bus from Jerusalem

To witness the grab
And he asks us to tell others what we see.
So this is what I saw:
One of nineteen villages
Now ramshackle sheds and trailers
But there used to be houses and fields and livestock:
They showed us a movie of happier times.
Then the army came and tore it down with bulldozers:
They showed us this movie as well.
Someone wants the lands
On which sit the nineteen villages.
In one location the powers that be want to build factories,
In another, suburbs for Beersheva,
It’s a done deal, there are larger needs,
There is Long Term Planning
And the Bedouin are not part of that Plan. 
So what is the plan for the Bedouin?
Take them off the land
But do it “legally”.
This is going to happen
Whether they like it or not,
Whether it’s legal or not.
At least this way they will get compensation
Of a sort,
And some support 
Of a sort,
As their way of life is destroyed
And they are forced into ersatz towns,
Reservations really,
And into the cities
And what may be lives of
All the terrible things that happen when you take people out of their context
And force them into yours.
Those of us on the mini-bus are all the children of immigrants,
No one’s history entirely clean:
The Europeans thinking about the Gypsies, or the Jews;
The Americans, the Native Americans;
The Canadians, the First Nation;
The Australians, the Aborigines.
An Israeli professor I meet later will boast, “as land grabs go, this one is pretty civilized.”
Now maybe I don’t have all the information,
Maybe there are wheels within wheels
And sure not all Bedouin motives are pure,
Not all Bedouin are victims,
But still…
In this village, the Jewish National Fund wants to plant trees.  
Yay, trees are wonderful!
I love trees!
When I was a kid and did well in Hebrew School?
Or graduated from something
What did get?  A tree!
A tree was planted in Israel in my name,
What could be better?
What could be more ecological?
In the empty Negev
They planted a tree,
Your own Jewish tree!
Screw the Nazis and plant a tree!
And you got a certificate
And imagined that someday when you went to Israel
You would look up your tree
And it would have your name on it.
God forbid any of these trees have my name on them,
These killer trees
Planted on top of
The not so empty Negev.
Planted in an ecology where they don’t belong
Stealing water they shouldn’t have
On land that isn’t theirs.
In this village the JNF planted only about half the trees that were planned
And then they got stopped.
By lawyers.
Now the people of the village are poor
They say they can’t leave to get work
Because if they leave the village unwatched
The Army will come and finish the job.
The village will be dead.
“The trees are killing us.”
On the way home
The Rabbi asks us how we feel.
Most of us despair.
One Israeli is defensive and grabs the mic on the bus to harangue us:
“You just can’t let people move anywhere they want!”
We let him talk longer than we should,
We can see how much it hurts him that the accusation of state-sanctioned thievery may be true.
(I find out later that many Israelis think that all Bedouins are squalid squatters.  The aforementioned Israeli professor will make sure that I know that Bedouins have the highest birth rate in Israel.)
The Rabbi has seen all our reactions many times
And he lets us feel or think whatever we will.
After the defensive Israeli puts down the mic
We are quiet for some time
On the mini-bus taking us back to Jerusalem.
Then someone asks the Rabbi,
How is it you are not burnt out?   
How can you keep doing this,
Year after year
With so few victories?
And the Rabbi says,
“I believe in Jews
And I know that eventually they will do what is right,”
Let us hope so, 

The trees are killing us, too.

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