by Gabriella Brand

Johannesburg-born artist Adam Broomberg, 53, took photographs of olive trees to his mother just before she died in December last year. She had been an ardent supporter of the state of Israel and a firm Zionist. Like many people in South Africa’s Jewish community, her family were Holocaust survivors. Both her parents lost 90% of their family in that pogrom. Broomberg has been taking pictures of ancient olive trees in Palestine for the past 18 months — most of them were planted more than a thousand years ago. The oldest one, called the Al-Badawi tree, is over 4 500 years old. Every two years this tree still yields 800kg of olives. It is nearly 20m high and has a circumference of 25m. “There is the sweetest man who lives there; at night he sleeps underneath the Al-Badawi tree just to protect it,” Broomberg tells me on a Zoom call from Berlin, where he is now based. “I was meant to go on 23 October, to take seven of my students to Palestine to go and pick olives from the Al-Badawi tree, because it is olive-picking season.” But the Israeli war—many describe it as a genocide—on Gaza, about 75km away, has put a firm brake on that plan. “It’s heart-breaking not to be able to go there,” Broomberg says. He pauses and closes his eyes. Since 1967 more than 800 000 of these trees have been either uprooted or burnt to the ground by Israeli authorities or by illegal Jewish settlers under the supervision of the military. Between August 2020 and 2021, more than 9 300 olive trees were destroyed in the West Bank, according to The Art Newspaper.  —Mail & Guardian (South Africa), October 21, 2023

Is there anything more innocent than olives,
green and heavy on the branch, 
Is there anything more peaceful than those branches,
Or more gentle than the wind chime of those leaves?

Isn’t it always the olive branch offered, between man and wife,
Between nations, the olive branch carried off to the Moon, even,
coded into statue and treaty, held out with pleading arms
Noah, himself, relieved when the dove returns 
with that verdant sign in its beak.
Mud receding, the return of life. 

Deborah was going to pick olives this fall
a special harvest program, there, by the Mediterranean 
Israelis gathering with Palestinians, Palestinians picking next to Israelis
Round hard olives in their hands, not stones, not weapons. just olives
An effort to extract some small oily, slippery drops of justice. 

And then came the news, the shock of it,
in that holy, but defiled place 
and the world gasped in horror
and the olives flew off the trees
bleeding, ripped, raped, burned
and the trees fell to the ground
and hope scattered and hid.

So many wrongs
No matter from which  hillside you gaze
The soil festers with pain 
Hate fueled, fertilized, continued. 
Why can’t there just be olives?
Gabriella Brand’s work has appeared worldwide  in over fifty literary magazines. Her latest U.S published poems and short stories can be found in Abandoned Mine, Syncopation, and Amaranth Journal. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee. Gabriella lives near New Haven, Connecticut, where she teaches foreign languages.


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