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Sunday, April 02, 2006

Ibrahim's mirror

This is a very troubling post to write, and it will be doubly so if people leave comments based on their prejudices rather than their intellect. 

My intention is to demonstrate an example of how even relatively small disputes here in our region often have many layers of complexity.  Much as we would love them to be... things are rarely black and white.  As you will soon see, there is plenty of blame to go around.

There is a man who does some light yard work for us from time to time who, for the sake of this post, we'll call Ibrahim. 

Ibrahim lives with his wife and children in a neighboring Arab village, and like many people in his village he cultivates a few dunam of table grapes to supplement his meager income.  The land he farms is his by legal purchase and document, but he has had several recent disputes with his Jewish neighbors over where exactly his property ends.

In a recent show of solidarity with Israeli residents in my area, a visiting group of American Jews spent a few days enthusiastically planting trees out on the hills between our town and Ibrahim's.  Whether by accident or design they planted many of the trees on Ibrahim's land. 

It is Ibrahim's opinion that the trees were deliberately planted there to create facts on the ground that would eventually erode his claim to the land.  I've tried to assure him otherwise, but in my heart I'm not so sure.

Ibrahim is not a wealthy man and did not consider for a moment pursuing a solution to the problem through legal channels.  Instead, a few nights ago he went out and hooked his beat up old tractor up to the new trees and one-by-one, pulled them up by the roots.

Whether his action was expected or someone simply overheard the tractor and called the authorities is still not clear.  What is clear is that the police arrived and promptly arrested Ibrahim.  Not only that, they impounded his battered old tractor to boot. 

Ibrahim pleaded with them not to confiscate his tractor as it was essential to his ability to work his land and provide for his family... but the more animated and agitated he became the more adamant (some witnesses even say spiteful) the police commander was in assuring him that he had lost the tractor forever. 

Finally the police called in some IDF soldiers to help subdue Ibrahim and make sure there was no trouble from the large group of men from his village that had gathered on the scene upon hearing the noise and seeing the flashing police lights.

This story is terribly troubling to me from many standpoints. 

First of all, as much as people would like to say otherwise, the land in this area has been extensively surveyed and everyone living here has had ample opportunity to present documentation showing their claim to all parcels of land that are inhabited, cultivated or even idle. 

I'm not talking about the issue of 'occupation' or 'conquered land' at the moment, but simply about land that was legally purchased by, deeded to, or inherited by private individuals.  Of course, landmarks change... surveyors make mistakes... and documents are sometimes forged or altered.  But for the sake of the small picture, the people here know pretty much to the inch who owns what. 

Therefore, if a well-intentioned bunch of foreign Jews head out to plant trees, they almost certainly have a very good idea on whose land they are planting them.  After all... this kind of thing doesn't happen without some local guidance.

Secondly, although the laws in this part of the world may seem rather primitive or arcane to an outside observer, there are laws... and Ibrahim should have known better than to eschew proper channels in order to take the law into his own hands.  By taking the course of action he did it now appears to the courts (real, and of public opinion) that he was doing the land-grabbing and not the Jewish tourists (or the local Israelis who organized the tree-planting outing).

Lastly, with tensions always high in this area I have to question whether the intention of the Israelis who sent the Jewish tourists out to plant trees wasn't to use their combination of enthusiasm and ignorance to shave off a few precious meters of Ibrahim's land, knowing he was too poor to mount a meaningful legal challenge.

I've shared this with you today for several reasons. 

First, no matter who you are or where in the world you are reading this you likely aligned yourself with one side or the other based more on who you wanted to see as right rather than who had the stronger claim to actually being right.

Second, in almost every modern altercation over property in this part of the world, mistakes are made... poor judgment is exercised and blame can easily be assigned in more than one direction.

Lastly, if you honestly disagree with the previous two points I have some news for you:

What I have told you to this point is nearly all true.

The only minor details I have changed (which shouldn't matter to a fair and balanced consideration of this case) are the following:

a) Ibrahim is not my sometime gardener... he is the husband of my children's piano teacher.

b) Rather than being a Palestinian farmer from an Arab village who cultivates a few dunam of table grapes on legally purchased land... he is a Jewish farmer from a legal settlement who cultivates a few dunam of wine grapes on legally purchased land.

c) The contested tree-planting was not performed by a bunch of American Jewish tourists under the guidance of some local Israelis, but rather by a bunch of European tourists at the behest of local Palestinian leaders.

Everything else is exactly as I've described it... legal title to the land where the trees were planted... taking the law into his own hands... the confiscated battered old tractor... the IDF troops called, etc.

Of course you are free to continue reading the news as you always do, and to award the black or white hat to the players based on your current world view.  But I try very hard to read the news as if with a mirror.  Wherever and whenever possible I try to reverse the roles, religions, nationalities and motives of the players involved to see if my sympathies remain as firmly in place.

I am here to tell you that when I have looked at the news using such a mirror, neither Israeli nor Arab comes away wearing pure black or pure white. 

I didn't expect to change anyone's mind here... and this was actually not my intention.  I just want some of my readers to try using what I've come to think of as 'Ibrahim's mirror' for a few days to challenge their own objectivity.


Posted by David Bogner on April 2, 2006 | Permalink


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» Up is Down and Down is Up from An Unsealed Room
A great post with a twist on land grabs in the West Bank on Treppenwitz. Go read it.... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 2, 2006 6:25:55 PM

» Israeli farmer persecuted for uprooting trees ille from Tel-Chai Nation
Treppenwitz writes about an Israeli farmer who was arrested for uprooting trees that were planted on his grounds without permission by some European terror supporters. [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 3, 2006 12:01:31 AM

» Nathan's parable from Soccer Dad
Treppenwitz has an excellent post "Ibrahim's mirror." Reading it is a fascinating excercise in examining our prejudices. I see what my prejudices are, but I'm still not convinced that I'm wrong. As I reached the middle of the post, I... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 3, 2006 7:06:47 AM

» Look in the Mirror from SerandEz
I read Treppenwitz on a regular basis, but I'm still catching up on my reading - but David sent this via e-mail, so I checked it out first. It's brilliant. Read Ibrahim's Mirror. Check your biases at the door. [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 3, 2006 10:43:26 AM

» Haveil Havalim #64 is up and it's linkalicious from AbbaGav
And I'll pass on one more must read that isn't in Haveil Havalim, but probably will be next week: Treppenwitz's outstanding attempt at an objective look at the conflict over land ownership. Don't miss this one. [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 3, 2006 3:11:22 PM

» Ibrahim's mirror from Solomonia
Here's a must-read post by David Bogner: Ibrahim's mirror. Here's how it starts: This is a very troubling post to write, and it will be doubly so if people leave comments based on their prejudices rather than their intellect. My... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 3, 2006 11:04:41 PM


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Great post, David.

Keep us updated on what happens to "Ibrahim" and the property.

Posted by: Sarah | Apr 2, 2006 3:13:28 PM

nice post

Posted by: Seth | Apr 2, 2006 4:00:20 PM

Wow David...That's a great psychology experiment, because I definitely felt my empathy change when I read the ending.

I feel awful for saying that, and I know the Palestians don't neccessary deserve to be the underdog to be rooting for, but I guess I felt Ibrahim was just another human being trying to make a living, peaceful in spirit, trying to live side by side with his neighbors, therefore not a threat and perhaps an example of how we should be viewing other peoples despite the deep rooted hatred and fear.

Posted by: jaime | Apr 2, 2006 5:05:52 PM

I am giving myself a very mild pat on the shoudler now (the left one) because I felt that the actions of 'Ibrahim' were understandable and even justifiable - and that didn't change when I read the ending of the post. The pat on the shoulder is very very mild however, because having lived in Israel I remember being in situations where my knee jerk reaction was not so open minded. I like to think that I have grown since then but I realize that if I was living with the 'matzav' on a daily basis, I may not be nearly so rational.

Posted by: Chedva | Apr 2, 2006 5:30:57 PM

Was he trying to pull up all the trees planted or just the ones that were on his land?

If he were pulling up the trees illegaly planted on his land, why should the IDF intervene?

To me, it didn't matter if Ibrahim were an Arab or a Jew. It was wrong for those trees to be planted like that.

I can sympathize because someone who owns a great deal of property tried to pave over some of mine. I put up a fence along the property, informed the city that is was my property and that was that.

In other words, I stopped a very rich person from infringing on my rights. I was never ordered to take the fence down.

We in the United States take so much for granted. Property rights being one of them. I hope Ibrahim will get his tractor back and the trees removed from his property.

Posted by: seawitch | Apr 2, 2006 5:31:51 PM

Hmm... Well, I didn't *completely* condemn Ibrahim to begin with... I was a little sympathetic to him even when I thought he was an Arab... but I definitely felt MORE sympathetic when I found out he's Jewish. I realizes there's probably something a little wrong with it (or more than a little), but I think people naturally tend to sympathize with their own no matter what the situation is.

Posted by: Irina | Apr 2, 2006 5:52:27 PM

Terrific post and should definitely give us all a lot to think about.

Posted by: Essie | Apr 2, 2006 6:04:12 PM

This post belongs on an Op-Ed page. Have you considered submitting?

Posted by: Alan | Apr 2, 2006 6:33:19 PM

Congratulations! You had me hooked on this for good 20 min.! It doesn't happen often...
All merit to you. It's an excellent post. Hey..I'm still thinking...!

Posted by: enzo | Apr 2, 2006 6:40:03 PM

I am to the right but I have to agree with chedva and seawitch. When I thought "Ibrahim" was an Arab, I still had sympathies for him. When you switzched to to a Jew, my sympathies didn't change. But I also think that doing a masters in Israel studies (evil academia) and living here AS AN OLEH (as opposed to a tourist/student) has also given me this greater ability to see a better picture in Israeli politics.

Posted by: amechad | Apr 2, 2006 6:40:32 PM

Nice one, David.

I did have one odd thought when I finished reading the piece: What a pity that we live in a society where it would seem unlikely that Ibrahim's wife was, indeed, your children's piano teacher.

Posted by: Lisa | Apr 2, 2006 6:50:54 PM

David, whether it was your extremely balanced "reporting" of the incident or something else, I don't know. But I found myself sympathizing with "Ibrahim" and muttering about the stupidity of the tree-planters (and the authorities), somewhat to my own surprise.

This is a terrific lesson in how our predispositions can influence our reactions to "news" but I think it also demonstrates the importance of our perception of the messenger. If I'd read this account in Ha'aretz or at some left-wing blog, I'd probably have been rolling my eyes and wondering what the "real" story was. Trusting the messenger is important. I feel pretty confident that if the roles had actually been as you initially described them, your account would have been the same.

I also hope "Ibrahim" gets his tractor back.

Posted by: Lynn B. | Apr 2, 2006 7:10:57 PM

Excellent post, David. I've put up a post on my blog to draw attention to it.

The whole issue of feeling despair of legal remedies and taking the law into your own hands is at the centre of this whichever way you stand. I think the real "Ibrahim" probably did have some alternative options. Like getting the sort of publicity your post has given.

But anyway a brilliant play on our standpoints and preconceptions.

Posted by: Judy | Apr 2, 2006 7:42:12 PM

well done
I did that with the Bruce Springsteen song blasting the police who had killed the guy in NY. I asked my students how it would have been if the police had trusted that he was pulling out his identification and instead it was a gun, and he had killed the police.
Why does the world praise "ethnic cleansing" when there are Jews evicted from their homes?

Posted by: muse | Apr 2, 2006 7:55:24 PM

Although I think this is a very clever way to challenge people's prejudices and assumptions, strange to say my sympathies didn't change at all - I felt equally sympathetic to the victim, whether Palestinian or Jewish. Altho' the 'true' story (I assume it is true) is the one that fitted my expectations, not the false one.

Posted by: Oscar | Apr 2, 2006 8:14:31 PM


Posted by: max | Apr 2, 2006 8:25:57 PM

Nice. When I read the story, I thought the tree planters were likely well-meaning, and that the farmer, Ibrahim, while perhaps rash, had every right to do whatever he might want to on his land, without anyone else's permission. The authorities were right to have visited, but once informed that it was Ibrahim's land, were bound to treat him with that respect, until it could be be verifed otherwise by legal documents.

In Israel, may I ask, is there the same foundation in the law which states: "innocent until proven guilty?" In any case, it was unprofessional to taunt someone you are arresting. The job should be limited to maintaining order, gathering facts, and letting the law continue the process before judge and jury. No matter what side of the mirror people live, they should be able to look to the authority and law and trust that they will be treated in fairness.

Posted by: Seattle | Apr 2, 2006 8:27:23 PM

I do not live in Israel and I can only imagine what it must feel like to have to deal with terrorism, etc., but. I also believe the land should be in the possession of the Jewish people.

Having said this, I did feel much sympathy for Ibrahim and felt his land was truly being stolen (either by accident or on purpose). I have no problem (at least I don't think so) when the facts are presented discerning what the legalities are and who is in the "right".

I could also understand why Ibrahim would do what he did, although if he had controlled his temper and at least tried to talk to the authorities I would think it would have gone better for him and his family.

I can think of a couple places in Torah where G-d makes it clear that moving boundary stones is seen by him as wrong. I know that these instructions were primarily between Hebrew and Hebrew, but would it still not apply?

Anyway, that's my two cents.

Posted by: Tracey | Apr 2, 2006 8:32:49 PM

I too am giving myself a pat on the back, as when I was reading this I felt an utter disappointment and embarrassment for what "my people" did-and I was totally sympathetic to Ibrahim's plight. The problem is, even after I finished the article, I still unfortunately feel that the first situation is one that could very VERY possibly could have happened, and as much as I try to be dan lcaf zchus, my gut reaction is that the Israelis would have still acted in the same embarrassing way.

Posted by: HashkaficallyLost | Apr 2, 2006 8:44:04 PM

Excellent, thought-provoking post.

I think Judy nailed it. The important, universal issue here is that Avraham/Ibrahim took the law into his own hands. It is also important to note that you pointed out the boundaries of his property are being disputed, and therefore his "right" to tear down the trees is also in dispute.

The police may have acted inappropriately, and too strongly. Those of us who watch "Cops" here in the U.S. know that nothing escalates the situation with the police more than a person who becomes increasingly "animated" and "agitated," especially in the midst of a confrontation. This applies anywhere in the world where the rule of law is respected, including Israel.

Either way, the trees which were truly planted illegally should be removed and his tractor returned after appropriate and speedy due process. It shouldn't cost him anything either.

Posted by: wanderer | Apr 2, 2006 8:58:49 PM

Another 'pat on the back' commenter... I felt sympathetic to Ibrahim, and those who planted the tree were in the wrong. On the other hand, Ibrahim did take the law (wrongly) into his own hands, and for that I felt he should be punished.

And I'm sorry to say, me feelings don't change when it's the reverse. As wrong as it is for the Europeans to plant the trees (and if they did something illegal, they should be prosecuted and deported), and as bad as I do feel for anyone who is living through this, I don't think taking the laws into my own hands accomplishes very much, and assuming it's illegal, the tractor owner should not be surprised to be prosecuted for it. If a person wants to take the law into their own hands, that means they are willing to face the consequences of doing so. If you feel that what you're doing is right, and is worth the consequences, fine - by all means, do it. But don't complain later about what happens.

Should the soldiers have reacted differently? I'm not sure - remember, they are reacting to a person who just took the law into his own hands. It could be he's perfectly normal; but it could be he's perfectly extreme and willing to do even more. Perhaps they started off too strongly, perhaps not.

Regardless, David, this was a brilliant piece, and you should submit this as others have suggested to a major newspaper or newsmag. I wonder how many people will feel guilty when they finish it.

Posted by: Ezzie | Apr 2, 2006 9:22:46 PM

Great post. I'm with the others who suggest you submit it to media outlets.

Posted by: esther | Apr 2, 2006 9:43:26 PM

Trepp: You should be a college professor (are you one?, I just realized I don't know what you do for a living). That is an amazing way to present a story, to really analyze our true feelings. Thank you for such a thought provoking post.

Posted by: Randi(cruisin-mom) | Apr 2, 2006 9:58:35 PM

I think I'm missing something. If "Ibrahim" has a deed showing that he tore off trees from HIS OWN land, then how was he "taking the law into his own hands"? Or was he uprooting trees outside of his land? Or does he not have a deed? I'm confused now.

Posted by: Sarah | Apr 2, 2006 10:12:10 PM

a) it was not internationals who planted those trees, it was ta'ayush, a joint israeli-palestinian anti-occupation group, working with villagers from tzaffa.

b) the trees were planted in memory of rachel corrie, on the anniversary of her death, and the notion that they were planted to create facts on the ground is pure speculation from a biased, politicized source, who lives in a settlement with a history of anti-arab terrorism.

c) the area of the wadi in which the trees were planted is alleged to have been jnf property, and not ferenzi's property.

d) the weekend the trees were planted, two terror attacks were attempted against settlers in bat ayin, following years of relative calm. the suspects, who are presently in custody, are from tzaffa.

e) those from bat ayin whom i have spoken with, and others who have commented on my blog (as i've been following this story as it's developed) say that they believe it is retribution for the attacks. their view is that if the palestinians push them, and they don't push back, it will invite more attacks. therefore they have welcomed and condoned ferenzi's actions. the land-owernship debate appears to be a cover story.

f) contrary to arutz sheva's reportage, ferenzi did not go quietly -- dozens of bat ayin residents surrounded his house to prevent the idf from arresting him. they only allowed the police to take him into custody after they promised this would not count as an arrest on his record.

i can understand your desire to support and defend your friend, but i would caution you not to accept the story at face value. there is more in play here than meets the eye.

Posted by: mobius | Apr 2, 2006 10:12:18 PM

Good post. I understand what you are saying. Politics are sometimes the worst aspects of the human nature

Posted by: Emanuel Ben-Zion | Apr 2, 2006 10:16:42 PM

Refreshing post!
After spending my two years in yeshiva in israel, i realized that as you say, nothing is ever really black and white in that part of the world. although it didn't occur to me outright. only after the many tremping experiences and spending shabbos and visitng many different interesting neighborhoods, moshavim, "settlements", outposts, and whatever other types of neighborhoods exist, was i able to realize the far reaching shades of grey that exist in the view of the israel dweller. and i'm glad i have come to that conclusion.
One particular experience that rings with me to this day is a hitch-hiking story that took place maybe my third week in the country.
I was waiting at the hitching post of the moshav where my yeshiva was located, trying to get a ride to jerusalem. a kid looking about the age of 15 approaches the hitching post. being my third week in the country, i couldn't really judge whether this kid was from the moshav, from jerusalem, or even if he was jewish. i was pretty curious of everything around me in israel when i first got there, so i tried to engage him in conversation. since i didn't speak a word of hebrew, we communicated through his broken english. i started off asking him why he wasn't in school right now, seeing as it was early in the afternoon on a regular weekday. he proceeds to whip out of his pocket a BIG wad of shekel and somehow gets across the message that instead of being in school, he works. as the conversation goes on, im able to understand him better and better somehow, and i gather that he's a brick layer and he is in fact 15 years old. when i ask him if he's thinking about the army yet, i lose him. after several attempts to figure out what he's talking about, he takes out his teuda zehut and shows me where it says religion, only asterisks instead of "yehudi". OOOOOOOOOOHHHHHH! YOU'RE A....! oh, an arab, hmmmm... very interesting i'm thinking to myself. hmmm, doesn't seem like such a bad guy! so we move right along... he's from east jerusalem, he's been working with bricks for a year and he loves it because he's making very good cash. then i ask him why isn't he in school like his friends. this is the answer i get, "friends in school, learn israel not real, i work get bayed by israeli. why learn not real?"
Of course, this being only the third week in the country, i had no idea the deeper meaning behind that. this is before i knew anything about the pa, the plo, before i read "they must go" by R' Kahane, before i knew the difference between fatah and hamas. basically i went to israel knowing absolutely nothing about the country, cuz frankly, when i was in high school, i wasn't too interested in anything of any value. however, little did i know that i'd be learning a huge and valuable lesson in foreign poilitics from a 15 year old east jerusalem brick layer.
The story ends off that the kid says he likes me and tells me his friend is coming to pick him up in his cab to give him a ride back to jerusalem. he offers me a ride, i accept, and we spend the car ride talking about the rolling stones.
Basically, after those two years in israel, i had come to a conclusion that the only thing i was able to say was black and white was that there are good people in this world and there are bad people in this world. it doesn't matter where you're from, what religion you are, or anything else. you're either a good person, or a bad person. but ya know what, this post clearly and accurately points out that, in truth, even good and bad have their shades of grey. i have realized this as well in my recent visits to israel and with what i continue to learn about the land. and after all this, i have come down to one hope, and that is that we all try to be as pure of heart as possible in order to make the right decisions in every situation that G-d throws our way.

Posted by: Mordy | Apr 2, 2006 11:41:38 PM

Nice post, and very well written.
I actually found myself focusing less on the story and more on the sympathy that you portrayed.

Posted by: Lisoosh | Apr 2, 2006 11:59:24 PM

Wow. Thank you so much for doing that. I consider myself right wing, but have built some strong connections with Israeli Arabs due to my time at Hebrew U, and was becoming more and more upset as I read your story. It increased tenfold when I read the "minor details" which you corrected. One of the biggest problems is minimising Jewish suffering, and your story is one which skillfully highlights this. Kol Hakavod and keep us posted as to how he is doing, and if we can do anything to help.

Posted by: Aliza | Apr 3, 2006 12:10:52 AM

Sarah... You'll likely see the outcome in the news. I'm glad you found the post thought-provoking,

Seth... I'm often guilty of choosing sides by topic rather than the merits of the case,,, that's what this post was about. I am also sometimes guilty of second-guessing my conclusions when certain people enjoy my posts. :-) I see I have to work on that as well.

Jaime... I got the idea for this type of post while arguing with a truly vile human being on a really anti-Israel/anti-Jewish blog. I found that I could reverse myself and the denizens of this blog would still take me to task, They sincerely thought they were attacking my position but they were simply keeping their guns aimed at me. When this story came up I knew it would be the perfect vehicle due to the small scale of the conflict and the complexity of the topic.

Chedva... you hit the nail on the head with your last word; Rational. It is the one thing that everyone thinks they are but almost nobody truly is.

Seawitch... I was deliberately ambiguous about this point because I do not know where the boundaries of his property lie nor exactly where the trees were planted. As a private citizen this is fine, but the police were in no better situation when called. Both Jews and Arabs will make the claim that more often than not any baseless claim made about them by the other will be acted upon by the police. I know of no statistical analysis of this point that has ever been done. I do know that the burden of proof and 'innocent until proven guilty' are not well used proverbs here in this neighborhood no matter if you are Muslim or Jew.

Irina... I agree that most of us have that tendency. But the point of my post was to see if I could bring out any sympathy for an unlikely hero. I'm pleased that many of you were able to mentally make the switch... even if as you say, the fit wasn't the same on both sides of the issue.

Essie... It helped me even as I was writing it.

Alan... If you know an agent or an editor that can put up with a writer that has no patience to revise or edit... I'll submit anywhere you advise. :-)

Enzo... I'll assume you found this thought provoking since not even I read that slow. :-) Glad you liked it.

Amechad... If you now consider yourself right I must have missed a significant sea change in your thinking. I had you pigeon-holed as a lefty! :-) Regardless of how you classify yourself it is good that you are politically ambidextrous.

Lisa... I thought of that too... which is why I dealt separately with the fact that he was not a gardener... and then that he was not an Arab. Personally I'm just as troubled that there are so few Jewish 'tradesman' and skilled laborers. I feel vaguely like a taskmaster when I see Arabs doing such work for Jews.

Lynn B. ... you make a valid point but I feel I should point out that I am biased... even when I sound reasonable. As i pointed out earlier, by sidestepping the crucial issue of exactly where the trees were planted and which trees were torn up I have allowed the reader to fill in many of the 'facts' from their own desires and prejudices. This wasn't really fair of me but it was necessary for the trick to work. The important thing is not to avoid biased sources but rather to read critically and with intellectual honesty.

Judy... Of course there are always options. No matter how people may say they were pushed to act rashly because of despair or 'circumstances', they almost always have an ulterior motive... and a clear sense of what they are doing. This isn't a bad thing if you honestly think you are on the side of the angels... but it can cause problems when the angels and law diverge.

Muse... I am still scratching my head over why Jews can be legitimately cleared from an area but the very idea of doing the same to any other ethnicity is morally repugnant.

Oscar... Your first statement indicates that you have the ability to set aside your prejudices, Your last statement suggests you don't always do so. :-)

Max... Thanks.

Seattle... Nowhere in my post did I suggest that the tree planters were acting in bad faith. At worst I suggested that they were likely manipulated, but even that requires a knowledge of the property lines and legal niceties that I clearly lack. Rather than answer your question directly, let me say that the police in Judea and Samaria are tasked with not just enforcing a Hodge-podge of Israeli, Turkish Israeli military and British Mandate law... but they are also called upon to act arbitrarily to head off potentially dangerous confrontations. This sometimes means acting on a complaint just to defuse a situation and then letting the system sort itself out. I did not mean to imply that the police were the bad guys here.

Tracey... I know it may have sounded that way, but I honestly don't think 'Ibrahim' acted out of anger. Often people find that it is more effective to act than to ask the authorities to act for them. In many cases the authorities may say "Yes you're right but it would cause too much trouble to try to set things back to the way they were." This is the primary reason both sides take such pains to create 'facts on the ground'.

Hashkaficallylost... What you have described is no less biased than someone who thinks the worst of the Arabs. That isn't a criticism... just a suggestion that you have work still to do on that.

Wanderer... Just to play devil's advocate: did the tree planters (or whoever sent them) take the law any less into their hands? Ripping up trees gets our attention because it a violent action, but planting trees in a place over which you have no rights in order to try to change the appearance of ownership is also playing fast and loose with legality.

Ezzie... As tempting as it may be to 'make seder' and assign blame or suggest a course of action, the point of the post was that even someone like myself who is very close to the story is not in possession of the most important facts. I was/am relying on hearsay and second-hand information. At the outset so are the police. That your first instinct was to try to sort it all out is admirable... but hopelessly doomed.

Esther... And I'm still looking for an agent. :-)

Randi... I'm a shepherd. But thanks. :-)

Sarah... First of all the police are often more interested in restoring order than adjudicating land disputes. Both sides have been guilty of creating facts on the ground to bolster their case in future settlements. I'd have to say that the Palestinians are no better or worse at it than we are. However, in the present political climate they are often given a much lighter burden of proof than we are. Again, this is based on my perceptions and not any organized survey of recent legal decisions.

Mobius... a) I have first-hand accounts of people speaking German and/or Dutch. We are both relying on other people for information here. b) It makes no difference if the trees were in memory of Rachel Corrie or the children killed at Ma'a'lot, If they were planted accidentally or deliberately on someone else's land it can be considered a provocation. With all the trackless open areas in this region where trees could have been planted it seems strange that they should choose to plant them so close to, or on, the land of a Bat Ayin farmer, I think we can both agree based on your description of who the group doing the planting was that they were not extending an olive branch to Bat Ayin with their trees. c) Alleged. Again we are both pissing in the wind here. A surveyor and a court will decide this point. d) An interesting fact... and maybe even a significant one. But it makes you sound an awful lot like a lawyer trying to lay the groundwork for a motive. e) You and I are talking to people who are not privy to what went on in 'Ibrahims' head. Speculate all you like but 'people I've talked to' and 'commenters on my blog' are not a very compelling witness list. f) I never suggested he did go quietly into that good night. In fact I think I made it clear he was quite agitated. You may argue whether his agitation was justified. g) He is not my friend and I really only know his wife. I am neither defending nor condemning here. The point of my post was actually that there is plenty of blame to go around.

Emanuel Ben-Zion... Unfortunately EVERYTHING here is tied to politics.

Mordy... You were fortunate to have some good experiences and teachers. The bad actors in this part of the world tend to have had bad versions of both.

Lisoosh... Thanks. But where did your sympathies fall? :-)

Aliza... One thing I've learned in my short time here is that nobody holds the patent on suffering. I'm glad you enjoyed the mental exercise of the post. I'll try to follow up as the case progresses and real facts (not hearsay and conjecture) emerge.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Apr 3, 2006 12:18:55 AM

Very thought provoking post. Still thinking. Don't think anyone should take the law into their own hands, but what would I do? i don't know. I honestly don't know.

Posted by: Ezer Knegdo | Apr 3, 2006 3:24:21 AM

Great post. But honestly, I didn't feel any more sympathy after reading you clarifications than I did before. I wish I could say it's all because of my complete lack of bias, but I think a major point to take into account here is that you wrote the account with a clearly presented notion of who the wronged party was, and the frustration that led him to take the law into his own hands was presented as understandable. On the other hand, when we read news accounts that simply state facts - or more often, skew the facts due to one bias or the other, it's hard to see things clearly, and that's when our biases tend to take over.

Posted by: orthomom | Apr 3, 2006 3:36:28 AM

I agree that this post would make a greate oped, so I looked up how to submit opeds to some of the major newspapers that I read.

Baltimore Sun http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bal-op.contribute,0,2442458.story?coll=bal-oped-headlines
Washington Post
New York Times

You should be able to find info on how to submit to other newspapers on the oped pages of their websites.

This story could also make a terrific NPR radio commentary (they're looking for "commentaries or essays that tell a tale, reveal a personal reflection, or add an informed perspective to events in the news." which really fits the bill)


Posted by: yetanother | Apr 3, 2006 4:35:14 AM

I thought I passed the test. I was pretty ticked at those 'Jews' who planted those trees. However .... when you pulled the switcheroo I was not as ticked at the Arabs. I expect such crap out of Arabs. Also I figure the wronged actual Jewish farmer will get his tractor back and his land will be confirmed as his. If it had been the poor Arab farmer in the original story he would have probably been permanently screwed. So I didn't really pass.

Posted by: Scott | Apr 3, 2006 5:15:19 AM

It's curious - the whole time I sympathized with Ibrahim, but I had a much more adverse reaction to the people planting the trees when you said they were Palestinian sympathizers rather than American Jewish tourists.

You've made a good point.

I wish "Ibrahim" the best.

Posted by: shmutzy | Apr 3, 2006 7:37:37 AM

wow, that was amazing Mr B.

yeah im with scott and shmutzy (and whoever else who said like they did) on this one. i was with ibrahim from the beginning.

Posted by: Tonny | Apr 3, 2006 9:03:48 AM

I 100% understand and applaud your motives behind writing this piece, even though it makes me uneasy for different reasons than expressed by your other commenters. I also heartily agree with Lisa: it is a shame that the twist wasn't that Ibrahim-the-Arab's wife teaches your child piano!

Also, just to clarify re your reply to Mobius, while Ta'ayush do have some internationals participating in their activities (which might explain the German/Dutch) they remain very much an Israeli-Palestinian organization.

Posted by: PP | Apr 3, 2006 9:22:10 AM

Ezer Knegdo... My older sister and I used to smack the crap out of each other, not for its own sake, but to try and get the other one to respond when one of our parents would be watching. This sense of trying to get the authorities to notice the response (if, in fact, that is what it was) seems to be the modus operandi employed by both parties here to great effect.

Orthomom... That means you really read with a fairly open mind. You would have sympathized with anyone in that situation... not just someone with whom you're politically or religiously aligned. Congratulations.

Yetanother... Thank you for doing the research on submitting opeds. I think this one has already garnered enough attention that the print media might not find it 'fresh enough'. However I will file away the links for future bolts of inspiration. By the way, if you honestly think NPR would run something like this you have another thing coming. The premise of personal bias is something NPR is incapable of admitting exists in the world.

Scott... I should have set up some sort of golf-like handicap system for hardliners like yourself. :-) If you felt any remorse at all for the Arabs I think I'd have to call that a 'gimmee'. :-)

Shmutzy... Thanks, he'll need it.

Tonny... Good for you. I'm glad you were able to maintain your objectivity.

PP... As I said to Lisa (also see today's post later) there are more role-based assumptions we make or don't make concerning Arabs that bother me much more. As to the clarification about members of Ta'ayush... the motives I've suggested (provocation) still hold no matter where the tree planters were from. If Jews were to habitually build settlements or plant fields directly abutting Arab villages with the expressed purpose of limiting future expansion and causing friction with the inhabitants, it would be considered an overt provocation. But when an international or local Israeli/Palestinian group does it, it is somehow considered fine. The point I tried to make to Mobius is that if you want to honor the memory of Rachel Corrie you plant a grove of trees on a beautiful open hillside (of which there are countless in our area). But if you want to continue the spirit of Rachel Corrie's work of trying to be a thorn in the side of the occupiers and thwart/provoke them at every turn... then planting the trees on or right next to a Jewish farmer's land is the way to go. If the latter was the case then one can't pretend surprise and dismay when the provocation has the desired effect.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Apr 3, 2006 10:00:38 AM

With all the trackless open areas in this region where trees could have been planted it seems strange that they should choose to plant them so close to, or on, the land of a Bat Ayin farmer...

when bat ayin's policy is not to have a fence because they want the ambiguity of "whose land is whose," i don't think it's fair to hold others accountable for being unsure themselves. further, bat ayin began as an illegal outpost which was only retroactively approved as a settlement. any land ownership claims there are dubious at best.

I never suggested he did go quietly into that good night. In fact I think I made it clear he was quite agitated. You may argue whether his agitation was justified.

if it was "his land" and he did nothing wrong, why would he have resisted the arrest? he would have cooperated, thinking nothing of it, assured of his eventual vindication.

Posted by: mobius | Apr 3, 2006 10:05:14 AM

Mobius... Oh c'mon now, you're just being silly now. You honestly mean to tell me that a settlement deciding NOT to build a fence is somehow a provocation to encroachment?! BTW, Efrat doesn't have a fence either... should this be considered a provocation??? This reasoning is like those who blame rape victims for dressing too provocatively, or robbery victims for not having strong enough locks on their doors. Do you realize how crazy that sounds?. Also, you are being deliberately obtuse if you can honestly pretend not to understand how a farmer might be quite upset when he pulls up trees he feels were planted as a direct provocation against him and then loses his primary means of supporting himself and his family in what he sees an an unjust aftermath. You must be one cold-blooded Vulcan if you find such an emotional outburst incomprehensible. The funny thing is that many of the people I thought would have difficulty shifting sympathies at the end of my post had none... Yet you were so locked into your loyalties that you went directly to defend only your own position.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Apr 3, 2006 10:19:13 AM

Ezzie... As tempting as it may be to 'make seder' and assign blame or suggest a course of action, the point of the post was that even someone like myself who is very close to the story is not in possession of the most important facts. I was/am relying on hearsay and second-hand information. At the outset so are the police. That your first instinct was to try to sort it all out is admirable... but hopelessly doomed.

Actually, that was partially my point: It's impossible to make sense of any situation completely unless we're there. We do our best to make sense of it based on what we see and hear. OM's comment nailed it on the head - the biases in how we hear the story affect our own thoughts on the matter; sometimes because we choose to believe they aren't biased, and other times because we assume they are.

I'd love to think I'm completely impartial, but I know enough to recognize that we're not infallible. This post made me feel "better" that I must not be too biased, in that my opinions didn't change based on the story flip; but OTOH, if I were there, I don't think I'd be so even-handed.

Posted by: Ezzie | Apr 3, 2006 10:59:20 AM

... coming a bit late to this post, but - yasher ko'ach! This really is a great piece.

It would be interesting to do this periodically, to keep us all on our toes.

Initially, I immediately connected "Ibrahim's" story to similar - true - stories that have involved the local Arabs who used to work in our village, and an Arab computer programmer I worked with a few years back.

Yes, there is inequitable scrutiny by the police and others. But as long as Israeli civilians are justified in their fear of being attacked by Arab terrorists, it's not going to go away.

Regarding the legal system - I think at the higher levels there is definitely prejudice against Jews in property claims over the Green Line. Even the army is having difficulty confiscating slivers of land to build the barrier - with the full force of government policy and eminent domain behind it.

Posted by: Ben-David | Apr 3, 2006 11:02:41 AM

You honestly mean to tell me that a settlement deciding NOT to build a fence is somehow a provocation to encroachment?!

i didn't say that at all. i said that it creates ambiguity -- ie., confusion -- and therefore you can not expect people to behave as if there are lines drawn.

BTW, Efrat doesn't have a fence either... should this be considered a provocation???

all settlements are provocation, whether they have a fence or not.

This reasoning is like those who blame rape victims for dressing too provocatively, or robbery victims for not having strong enough locks on their doors.

no, this is more like leaving your car unlocked and the windows rolled down overnight in a neighborhood with a high statistical rate of car theft.

Also, you are being deliberately obtuse if you can honestly pretend not to understand how a farmer might be quite upset when he pulls up trees he feels were planted as a direct provocation against him and then loses his primary means of supporting himself and his family in what he sees an an unjust aftermath. You must be one cold-blooded Vulcan if you find such an emotional outburst incomprehensible.

after reading rabbis for human rights' weekly emails which recount, time and again, instances when settlers uproot trees on arab land, claim arab land as their own and begin plowing and planting on it, or beating arab farmers to prevent them from harvesting, you'll have to forgive me for being skeptical and not giving settlers the benefit of the doubt. when i see some evidence supporting "ibrahim"'s claims, i'll reconsider my position.

The funny thing is that many of the people I thought would have difficulty shifting sympathies at the end of my post had none... Yet you were so locked into your loyalties that you went directly to defend only your own position.

only because i knew what incident you were talking about and the fishier circumstances surrounding it. if your post were mere allegory, i'd be more sympathetic. but it's not -- it's a potential distortion of reality which legitimates an act of war; one which is assur on two counts: an eye for an eye being monetary (and to be determined by a beit din) and destroying fruit bearing trees.

Posted by: mobius | Apr 3, 2006 12:12:22 PM

Ezzie... I don't think anyone is truly impartial. In fact worse than being impartial is constantly overcompensating the other way to counter a tendency to be biased. :-)

Ben David... Thanks. I tend to side with you about the legal system being loaded towards one side of the scale, but I really wish someone would do a balanced study of legal decisions that would support this feeling we both have. I'm uncomfortable saying it without a firm basis in statistical fact.

Mobius.. OK, we're done here. I'm gonna have to invoke the 'no ax grinding' clause of the commenter's agreement you tacitly signed when you came here. I'm quite familiar with your position and for that reason I don't comment over at your place. If you are beginning with the assumption that every single 'settlement' from Gilo to Efrat to Bat Ayin is both illegal and an open provocation to criminal action and violence, then there is no room for discussion or intellectual compromise. Without such a possibility I refuse to waste my time with anyone. I was actually quite offended by your depiction of the settlements as unlocked cars in a high crime neighborhood. It paints the Palestinians in a very unflattering and unfair light. Anyway, you are always welcome here if you wish to join the discussion and exchange ideas in such a way as to suggest an open mind. But you aren't sharing anything new or helpful here... just being disruptive. Anarchists - orthodox or otherwise - are not welcome in this comment board.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Apr 3, 2006 12:27:48 PM

Nice post, David!

For common people, it's sometimes difficult to prove that they are who they are and they have a right to something, when they haven't a local prosecutor among their good friends.

I could give a tip to "Ibrahim" is that, next time, he just fence his property off or doing something to mark clearly his property, to make boundary marks up. It may help.

The case is that we are responsible for your property. We are charged to make your property effective. The first thing is to isolate our property from someone else's one. I believe that "Ibrahim" has violated this simple rule.

Posted by: Artem Ayupov | Apr 3, 2006 12:54:10 PM

Nice mistakes (two: last papagraph, please change "your" to "our"), I've just made. Freudian slip. Mille pardons.

Posted by: Artem Ayupov | Apr 3, 2006 1:06:51 PM

Found your Excellent and elegant O. Henry-esque thought experiment re-posted/linked on joe settler. Kudos!

Posted by: Tiburon | Apr 3, 2006 2:07:59 PM

I'm late to the thread, but my sympathies were with Ibrahim, and that didn't change once Ibrahim became Avraham.

Together with some other commenters here, I wonder how removing trees illegally planted on his own land could possibly constitute taking the law into his own hands. If Avraham had taken offense to the trees being planted on public lands and removed them on his own initiative, I could perhaps see it, but then I could see the tree-planting itself as taking the law (or political one-upmanship) into one's hands, too.

I hope that "Avraham" will soon have his day in court, and I wish him luck.

Posted by: Rahel | Apr 3, 2006 3:03:44 PM

Not sure if I concur with your interpretation of Ta'ayush's "memorial" to Rachel Corrie but I'm not about to pick a fight. I'll just register my disagreement.

*Sigh* I think what I've gathered from your post -and my daily life- is that there are very few acts that can be carried out round these parts (by either "side") which aren't perceived as provocative by someone...

Look forward to the later posting.

Posted by: PP | Apr 3, 2006 3:58:10 PM

I think they can retire the "Best Post" JIB category for 2006 right now. Wonderful post.

As a "knee-jerk centrist" who employs the same "shoe on the other foot" exercise as you do when looking at these situations, this post really spoke to me.

Posted by: Elie | Apr 3, 2006 5:09:18 PM

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