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Green Olive Trees

2012 Travel Writing Competition Entry 

Green Olive Trees
by Fumi Kobayashi, Japan
Coercive and selfish country who is indifferent to people’s sufferings unless they are Jews.

This was my view on Israel before the trip. Having closely researched decades of peace process between Israel and Palestine at college, I realized that the Israeli government had little intention to allow Palestinians to run their independent state. Furthermore, I have seen and heard sufferings of Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila when I visited Lebanon in 2009 as a member of Follow the Women, the British charity organization. These experiences eventually formed my negative view on the country.

When I visited Israel in February 2012, I was a student, studying International Relations at college in Japan. I was supposed to graduate next month. I visited Israel on my own because my offer to travel to the region was forcibly rejected by my friends, who urged me that they did not want to die before graduation. 

By then, I had already secured my job at a well-known needle manufacturing company in Japan. I was still wondering, however, whether this was the career I really wanted. I had engaged in the issues between Israel and Palestine since my first year at college. I loved studying and my tutor encouraged me to complete MA. I decline his recommendation because I thought I had studied enough about Israel and Palestine issues and, to be honest, I was exhausted by watching this endless conflict.

On the fourth day in Israel, I joined one of Green Olive Tours’ programs: Meet the Settlers. This tour changed my view completely.

The most astonishing experience was to meet a settler named Yitzhak. He has served in the IDF as a lieutenant and lived in Tekoa with his wife. Yitzhak has been cultivating a close relationship with neighboring Palestinians. While drinking a cup of tea and admiring his neat garden, Yitzhak told us a story about three green olive trees in the garden. These trees were sent to his wife by Palestinian workers as her birthday present. When Yitzhak accepted Palestinians’ offer to give her trees, he assured them that a small tree would be fine. On the day of her birthday, however, Palestinians turned up with three huge trees, which were 15-year-old and weighted 200 kilograms. Three workers struggled with muddy ground to plant trees. When Yitzhak’s wife found trees, she cried for joy and hugged Palestinians to show her gratitude. Yitzhak told us that trees were a symbol of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and he and his wife hoped to be an example of coexistence. Yitzhak and our guide, Bruce, even told us that Palestinians were “lovely people.”

I confess that I was blind to those Israelis, those normal individuals who were hoping to spend peaceful lives just like me. My previous view on the country was merely based on that of rulers and victims. These sources are important, but not enough to judge the reality more objectively. Moreover, I was gravelly ashamed of having been so ignorant about the country. The tour totally blew my mind and made me realize that there were still so many issues to seek, observe, discuss and resolve.

There remains skepticism whether Yitzhak’s idea of “coexistence” would take a form of one state or two states because he is living in an internationally illegal land after all. It prevents me from viewing the situation optimistically. However, those Israelis who are earnestly building peace with Palestinians did change my view. Now I know that there are still a hope to have and a chance to take in order to nurture peace in the country.

Since my travel to the country, I have kept a passion to learn the issues between Israel and Palestine again. Although I am currently working for the company I mentioned earlier, I always seek a chance to know more about Israel and Palestine by reading articles and exchanging opinions on Facebook. I will keep watching the conflict because the tour gave me a strong reason to engage in the country and its people.