A Tree Grows in Qusra

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Jewish Journal Staff

In the West Bank village of Qusra, located 28 km southeast of Nablus, Palestinians revere their olive trees as a source of food and revenue. For many years, the local residents have peacefully tended their groves.

In recent months, the farming village has been experiencing harassment from Aish Kodesh, a nearby Israeli settlement. Members of the rightwing extremist group have burned and defaced property, and terrorized the Qusra residents.

Rabbis for Human Rights is a Jerusalem-based organization that advocates on behalf of marginalized communities within Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Founded in 1988, the organization is made up of ordained Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Renewal rabbis, as well as some rabbinical students.

According to its website, Rabbis for Human Rights serves "as a shofar," alerting others to human rights abuses in the region. It is not aligned with a particular political party.

In late 2012, Rabbis for Human Rights visited Qusra to plant olive trees and demonstrate support of the residents who live there. Shortly afterwards, members of Aish Kodesh snuck into the village and uprooted half of the trees.

On Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish festival of trees, Rabbis for Human Rights returned with two busloads of supporters who not only replaced the five-dozen lost trees, but added 240 more.

Rabbi Allen Bennett was one of approximately 60 people participating in the action. The former spiritual leader of Temple Israel in Alameda, Calif., happened to be spending two and a half months in the Holy Land.

"When I retired in June of 2012, I decided to be the activist that I couldn’t be when I was working full-time," said the affable 66-year-old, who had rented an apartment in Jerusalem and was lending his time and energy to various progressive causes.

He learned about the Qusra tree controversy from a North American colleague who had made aliyah. Bennett made the decision to join the Rabbis for Human Rights on Tu B’Shvat.

Alerted in advance, the police and military were expecting the group. Bennett and his colleagues were cautioned, however, that angry members of Aish Kodesh might shoot at them or their buses.

"We never saw anyone from Aish Kodesh, but atop the hillside we did notice military vehicles. Rabbis for Human Rights staff explained that the army had deployed people to prevent members of Aish Kodesh from harassing those doing the planting. They stayed the whole time we were there," Bennett said.

"I knew it was a risk, but I didn’t hesitate. I figured: I’m going to die someplace. I would prefer it not be here, but if it is, at least I’ll die doing what I want to be doing," Bennett added.

Shortly after arriving, the group began digging holes and setting the two-foot tall saplings into the rocky soil.

"The little kids were laughing at us because we were so unschooled in the art of olive tree planting," Bennett said.

A language barrier prevented a robust exchange of dialog; however, Bennett felt the villagers "were excited that we were there to help, and show support for them to be on their own land."

Bennett has since returned to the States. He hopes the newly-planted trees survive both the elements, and the wrath of members of Aish Kodesh. If not, he is confident that Rabbis for Human Rights will return again to replant more olive trees.

For more information, visit the Rabbis for Human Rights website at http://rhr.org.il/eng.

 

Last modified on Friday, April 19, 2013 - 17:02

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Published in Jewish World

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Rabbi Allen Bennett

Rabbi Allen Bennett

Supporters of Rabbis for Human Rights plant olive trees in Qusra.

Supporters of Rabbis for Human Rights plant olive trees in Qusra.

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