The Passion of the Olive Trees*: Settlers pelt U.S. diplomatic personnel in the West Bank


Olive 2
A Palestinian Arab woman laments the pruning of olive trees.

Some of the basic things America is losing with the onset of the Obama administration are sanity and common sense in our diplomatic representation abroad.

An unfortunate example of this decline occurred on Friday, when some of our own “Jerusalem consulate personnel” were reportedly attacked by Israeli “settlers” throwing stones, during a visit by the Americans to the site of an alleged “settler attack” on the olive trees of a Palestinian Arab grower in the West Bank.

State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said no one was hurt and the American security team had not drawn their weapons. Earlier reports had indicated that American security staff had done so; settlers were quoted saying the security personnel had drawn an M-16 and a pistol.

“We can confirm a vehicle from the Consulate General was pelted with stones and confronted by a group of armed settlers today in the West Bank, near the Palestinian village of Turmus Ayya,” he said.

“Our personnel were in the area looking into reports that settlers had uprooted some 5,000 olive tree saplings in that area in recent days,” he said, adding that the visit had been cancelled after the attack.

Now, hold it right there.  We can certainly question the wisdom of roaming foreign territory, making independent inquiries into criminal allegations about property damage.  We can question what exactly gives us a charter to do that (especially without having coordinated the visit with the local authorities first.  See more here).

Olive 1a
Another Palestinian Arab woman, overcome by the pruning of olive trees.

But even before getting to that question, we have to question the wisdom of “investigating” one of these recurring, unsubstantiated allegations about settlers attacking Palestinian olive trees.  Researching the matter reveals that the “information theme” about it is a big racket.

Olive 19
A Palestinian Arab woman, sorrowful over the pruning of her olive tree in Nov 2005. (Image via Jerusalem Post)
Olive 18
The Palestinian Arab woman, in pain over the pruning of her olive tree. (Image via Boker Tov Boulder)
Olive 3a
Press TV features the Palestinian Arab woman, perhaps hoping to console her pruned olive tree.


For one thing, there is never the slightest evidence that Israeli settlers did anything to the trees.  It would take days of work to achieve the effects offered as “evidence” by the complaining Arabs:  lopped-off old-growth branches, great piles of newer-growth branches, piles of burned branches, trunks cut back to a state of near-pristine nudity.  The allegations about uprooted saplings – always “hundreds” or “thousands” of them – are not accompanied by affecting photos, as the allegations of attacks on more mature trees are.  But uprooting thousands of saplings would also take days of work.

Olive 4
A Palestinian Arab farmer in Quryat village inspects his pruned olive tree after an “attack” in Oct 2012. (Image via

Yet Israeli settlers are never caught on camera attacking olive trees.  This is logically impossible.  It’s impossible for settler posses to raid olive groves, wreaking havoc that would take them days of dedicated work to accomplish, and never be caught in the act.

Olive 5
Palestinian Arabs inspect piles of olive tree prunings left by vandals in Qaryut, Oct 2013. (Image via Times of Israel)

But we have more to go on than that.  It turns out that the “damage” we see in the photos of olive trees “attacked by settlers” is identical to the effects of olive-tree husbandry as practiced by olive growers around the world.

Olive 10
Normally pruned olive trees in the center. Image from a grower in Italy at

Start with this University of California manual on pruning olive trees, published in 1966.  The images alone convey the sometimes-startling visuals that go with maintaining producing olive trees.  Not everything that needs to be done looks “kind” to the tree.  Some of it looks pretty drastic, and may be done with big machines.  If you’ve ever driven along California State Highway 99 during pruning season, you’ve seen the results with your own eyes.  You could well be tempted to think, “Man, those Israeli settlers really get around.”

Olive 11
The pruning pile grows as the Italian grower takes us through the pruning process. (Notes from a Tuscan Olive Grove; see link at photo above.)
Olive 12
Another Tuscan grower’s image of a pruning pile and well-pruned trees. His caption for this photo reads: “things are starting to look good.” Image from

But it’s not all mere pruning, as we think of pruning; i.e., as a selective process that leaves the tree basically intact.  Often, olive growers are preparing their trees for top-grafting: the process of grafting new-growth cuttings onto old-growth branches.

Olive 14
An Italian grower cuts off limbs to prepare an olive tree for top-grafting. Image from
Olive 15
The Italian grower makes an incision for the graft. Image from; see link at photo above.
Olive 16
A grower demonstrates a completed top-graft on an olive tree. Image from

This is the process that requires cutting the main branches back to a state of dramatic-looking nudity.  During preparation, the main branches receive clean perpendicular cross-cuts, right across the branch – exactly as seen in many of the images of Arab growers’ olive trees supposedly “attacked by settlers.”

Olive 9
A Palestinian Arab poses with his olive tree, vandalized with remarkable precision to be ready for top-grafting. Near Adei Ad, Jan 2012. (Image: via Times of Israel)

Burned piles of branches?  It’s an ordinary part of pruning.  But when the big main branches are cut off for top-grafting, the wood can go to the thriving olive-wood industry, which has a long-celebrated artisan foothold in the West Bank, but also produces numerous wood products, from flooring to kitchen implements to paper, wherever olive trees are cultivated around the Mediterranean (e.g., Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain).  A search on “olive wood industry” will verify this to your satisfaction.

Olive 13
A Tuscan grower photographs his pruning fire in a series of images demonstrating the process for pruning olive trees. Image from

Other bloggers have pointed out some of this in the last decade (see here and here, for example).  In 2012, the Blaze provided a video taken by Israeli settlers, which the settlers say shows the Arabs themselves making the cuts on their olive trees that then yielded the photos of “damage.”

The video by itself is not definitive evidence, but the fact that the “damage” alleged by Palestinian Arabs so often serves to prune the trees and prepare them for top-grafting, while leaving valuable piles of old-growth wood lying around, does seem to have probative value.

Previous instances of the Arabs cutting their own trees, and then making allegations against settlers, have been reported in the last decade by Elder of Ziyon and Yisrael Medad, among others.  (Yisrael Medad’s documentation over the years highlights an additional point: that Arabs may make claims about property damage in the hope of receiving monetary compensation from the Israeli government.  Political reasons aren’t the only ones for lodging these allegations.)

Regarding the uprooting of saplings, it is interesting to note that this has, in fact, been done occasionally by the Israeli authorities to remove trees planted where they aren’t supposed to be.  In those cases, the issue is one of land ownership.  Political perspectives will differ on who should have the authority to make decisions about that, but what’s important here is that there are images and video of such removals being done on the orders of the Israeli government.

Olive 6
An Israeli bulldozer uproots olive trees in Beit Jala in Mar 2010. (Image via Ma’an News)

There are no images or videos of “settlers” uprooting olive trees. A reasonable supposition would be that the allegation is made because there is a documented history of the Israeli government doing it, and therefore the allegation against settlers will be taken seriously, at least by some observers, without any actual evidence to back it up.

Olive 7
Another view of the Israeli bulldozers uprooting olive trees in Beit Jala in Mar 2010. (Image via

In terms of logic, this supposition is clearly more credible than the hypothesis that Israeli settlers can do silently and invisibly what the Israeli government has to do by deploying teams of workers to operate big machines in a noisy and detectable manner.

One final note.  As discussed in the Blaze story (as well as here, more recently), anti-Israel activists – i.e., foreign NGO workers – reportedly take part in the false-flag “attacks” on the West Bank olive trees.  These are the organizations that later spread the allegations about settler attacks.

This brings us full circle to the original story about the incident on Friday involving personnel from the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem.  What are our people doing, skulking around the West Bank as if the U.S. State Department is a radical-left NGO?  Beyond the stupidity of the political theater, there is the sordid possibility that some questionable damage claims are made just to get monetary compensation.  And the Obama State Department doesn’t even demand video evidence, at a minimum, before it goes off ambulance-chasing.


* The title invokes the theme “The Passion of the Toys” proposed (with sardonic intent) by blogger Slublog in August 2006.  He compared a series of emotive images posted in the mainstream media, of seemingly unaffected children’s toys lying in the rubble of sites damaged by Israel’s 2006 operation against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot AirCommentary’s “contentions,” PatheosThe Daily CallerThe Jewish Pressand The Weekly Standardonline. She writes for the blog Liberty Unyielding.

Note for new commenters: Welcome! There is a one-time “approval” process that keeps down the spam. There may be a delay in the posting if your first comment, but once you’re “approved,” you can join the fray at will.