By Gil Harper, International and Corporate Affairs, AAYMCA
Today I planted an olive tree. In my garden in South Africa. Hmm... "so what?", I hear you say. Well, it’s a special olive tree in solidarity with the people of Palestine and their fight for freedom. And some 7 000 km across the world in Palestine, a tree was planted on my behalf too by Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI) during this year’s olive planting season which runs from 8-17 February.
JAI aims at mobilising YMCA and YWCA movements globally, as well as churches and church-related organisations, individual and group activists to influence decision-makers into ending the Israeli occupation and its violations of international law. As well as engaging in local advocacy and exchange and internship programmes, JAI involves people in international lobbying and actions such as the Olive Tree Campaign, BDS (boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions) and Kairos Palestine.
Now the Olive Tree Campaign plants trees sponsored by people around the world as an act of solidarity to help ‘keep hope alive’ for farmers who are suffering because of various Israeli policies. For farmers the olive tree symbolises their rootedness in their land and their resilience against its confiscation and destruction. Planting olive trees keeps hope alive for the families and serves to counteract the destruction of trees and other restrictions to land by the Israeli army and settlers. Importantly, olive trees are a major commercial crop for Palestinians, many of whom depend on them as a primary source of livelihood. Olive oil is Palestine’s second major export.
In 2013, the Olive Tree Campaign distributed 8 300 olive trees, through 1 562 sponsors to 117 fields in 25 villages around Bethlehem, Hebron and Jerusalem districts.
I think of how South Africa tore itself apart through our apartheid system when it denied the majority of our peoples basic rights. And I am aware of the similarities of this and the apartheid Israeli regime. The Palestinians are keeping hope alive in the belief they will overcome.
This year, my olive tree in Palestine is dedicated to all the young people who grow up in an environment where basic rights are shrinking as quickly as the Palestinian land itself. As I watch my olive tree in South Africa grow, I will think of my olive tree in Palestine. It is my dream to one day see my olive tree in Palestine.