Rusty Weiss called to our attention Monday morning an update to “arms trafficking” regulations posted to the Federal Register last week by the State Department. The National Rifle Association has sounded the alarm, having recognized quickly how these new regs would effectively shut down the exchange of information among gun enthusiasts on the web.
But the chokehold effect would be felt in other quarters as well. This move by the State Department is an absolutely terrible idea across the board. Even if it dealt with international trade in pork bellies or chicken parts, rather than arms, it should still be opposed strenuously on principle.
One of the joys of the Obama administration is its hip, savvy web and social media presence. The president has used Twitter a number of times to bestow on others – people, national monuments – the honor of being commemorated with images of him. (See here and here, among others.) He also performed in a social-media video – of himself, snapping selfies in the White House – as a way of encouraging social-media mavens to visit the Obamacare website, something no other high public official has done, as far as we’re aware.
Then there was Michelle Obama’s unforgettable tweet in May 2014, urging the Nigerian terrorist gang Boko Haram to #BringBackOurGirls.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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