The Olive Tree

Edna Yaghi’s Column


It’s early evening. Out over my mountain circle, the sun casts it last rays through a perfect spring day. A vendor, selling hot Arab coffee in a shining silver thermos, sets his stand down in the middle of the newly plowed ground of the semi-park and waits for potential customers to smell his tempting brew.

On benches all over the circle, older women sit in clusters, holding grandchildren on their laps while discussing the days that somehow slipped away as fleetingly as grains of sand slip through a sieve. A gray haired gentleman wearing a darker gray suit meanders by the benches, the clusters of women, the coffee vendor, clutching his prayer beads in one hand.

An even older man, bent with age, hangs on to a cane in one hand and hobbles over to the middle of the large circle, sheds his stained rumpled beige jacket and painfully lays himself down on top of his tired mantel to soak up the last rays of the solar orb. Not so far away, infants toddle across the cobblestone sidewalk and two youngsters gather excitedly around a huge shaggy lamb tugged by two older boys.

Cars converging from different areas of the circle’s highways, speed on to their own busy destinations. A few tall but straggly trees, twisted from harsh winter winds, droop their needled branches to provide cool shade for those lucky enough to sit beneath them. A young couple protectively pushes the stroller of an infant while its older sibling clutches the vehicle’s handle and is dragged along with stroller and occupant. Some men, darkened by past summer suns sit on the edge of the circle waiting for odd jobs to be offered them by those who can afford and are in need of their services.

Overhead flocks of wild pigeons fly in perfect formations high above the mountain circle, high above the gray houses that line the paved avenues across from the circle. Below, a few young boys try their luck with homemade kites but the velocity is too low for kite flying so the boys give up, wind up their kite string and walk away disgruntled.

From the fourth floor of our building, I look out the window at the colorful panorama spread out before me. Down below, I notice my husband kick away some of the rubble of our torn up sidewalk. Gone is the olive tree he planted 16 years ago. It only took one minute for the bulldozer to tear it out from its roots. My husband could not say anything to the city workers who came the other morning to dig up our sidewalk and cut it away so the street undulating around our house would be widened. No one asked him if it was ok if they tore up his sidewalk and bulldozed his tree.

I noticed that most Palestinians must plant trees and flowers wherever they go. It is as if in this way, they take a bit of their country with them. Sometimes, tiny breezeblock homes in refugee camps will be laced with large tin cans sprouting beautiful flowers or small trees.

Watching my husband, I remembered my old father-in-law and how he tended his trees in his home away from home in Jordan close to where my husband and I now live. He made sure he pruned them, watered them, protected them from my children’s small eager hands and as best he could, from the forces of nature too. He proudly watched my children and I pick mulberries, cherries, peaches and grapes from his mini-orchard, from the fruits of his labor.

My husband was so like him in many ways, so different from him in others. He had the same love for plants, the same knack with trees, the same tendency to care and prune, water and protect his 3 olive trees that he had managed to plant around the entranceway of our building. Whenever kids swarmed home from school, my husband would be near his olive trees, making sure no careless hands plucked away the leaves or broke the branches.

And then, one of the three trees was bulldozed. In an instant, the love and care of 16 years was done away with. His tree was a symbol of his lost orange orchards. The last remnant of those fond images of the sweet days where he ran carefree in and out of summer sprinklers in his veritable Garden of Eden not too far from the coast of Jaffa. The oranges that his father harvested were called Jaffa oranges and were renowned throughout Europe for their pleasant taste and dark glistening orange skin.

As I watch him kick through the rubble, I see his face carry a pained look but climbing back up the stairs, he says nothing.

I know he would not say much about this one olive tree, one of the last living symbols of his long ago orange and olive trees back home in Palestine. But though he speaks little, I sense his loss. But we both say as little as possible about the incident for not so far from where we live, Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are under siege. Their trees that sustain them are bulldozed, their land desecrated, their homes demolished, their children beaten, imprisoned, tortured, shot at, wounded or killed.

How could we speak of one olive tree in our miniature oasis when an hour’s drive from us, a Holocaust is being waged against the indigenous inhabitants of the remnants of Palestine? It only takes an instant to uproot a tree, but it takes years of care and love to nurture it. And it only takes an instant to take away the life of an innocent person, the life that some mother had tended more lovingly and tenderly than the bulldozed trees in Occupied Palestine.

The workers who uprooted our tree did not throw it away. They gently brushed off the rubble the roots clung to and placed it in a truck to take it to a home of one of the city workers. I hope that it will give someone pleasure and that he will tend it as carefully and as lovingly as my husband once did.

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