The Orange Grower

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The Orange Grower

Post by George »

This was written by LT, an Australian soldier who served with the IDF. I think this really gets to the heart of the conflict in the Middle East.

One summer some years back, I was with a team of Israeli Intelligence Officers who were interrogating Arab and Palestinian gunmen salvaged from the daily fighting. One ragged man with dirty skin, cuts and abrasions, was not cowed by the immensity of the Israeli war machine. His eyes were bright, alert and inquiring. He stood proud.
Later, as he sat quietly amid the large number of detainees, I slowly squatted along side of him and offered him an orange. Quietly and unhurriedly, he peeled it, ate it and pocketed the peel. He did not look at me.
'Where are you from?' I asked.
'Qalqilya,' he said.
'Orange farmer?'
He nodded.
'Wife and children?'
Again he nodded.
'You are not a Palestinian. You are Jordanian. Why do you fight for the Palestinians?'
'Because they made Qalqilya part of Israel when they took it from Jordan,' he said in typical Arab reply.
'Fighting the Israelis for the Palestinians will not get Qalqilya back into Jordanian hands,' I said.
'No, but it will put bread on my table.'
'As a soldier of the liberation?'
He nodded.
'There is no such thing, my friend,' I told him. 'There is accord or there is death. Liberation is a word people use when they have no facts to support their truths.'
'Yes, that is the way. But when your children are hungry, you will believe what is necessary to put bread on the table.'
'How long since your children and wife have looked upon your face?'
'It has been three years.'
'So . . . you trust in Allah to have saved your family from the ravages of war?'
'That belief is what maintains my desire.'
'Have you killed any Israelis?'
'Like the wind carries the dust.'
'It will go hard for you.'

I thought for a while as the man continued to squat and stare at the wire.
'The Kibbutz at Kfar Saba has suffered severe damage,' I said. 'The orange groves have been decimated by shell fire. The Israelis have moved the families out of the area. There is no one to work the land.'
'It was the will of the people,' he replied.
'It was the will of men,' I countered.
We were quiet a little more.
'A man who knew the old British railway line and the citrus scented valley,' I said, 'might make a living tending the orange groves for the Israelis. Such a person would be able to see the Qalqilya minarets from the slopes of the Samarian Mountains. A valley of orchards with a heavy brush border would shield a man making his way quietly to his home. If only there were such a man, the Israelis might make peace with that man. Local produce is always in demand for a shrewd man.'
There was silence.
All around, the Palestinians who had staked their all on being the aggressors, were now the sheep. Soon they would be put to work repairing roads, shoveling rubble and trying to avoid mines.
'You are not Israeli,' he said suddenly.
'No, I'm Irish and from the Australian Army.'
'The Palestinians have no quarrel with the Australians or the Irish. Why are you here?'
'Because I am a soldier and I am here to learn. I learned in other countries, why not here?'
'You will learn nothing here about soldiers. Here you will learn only about survival. Here you will learn that the Palestinians will not give up because this is what makes them a people. They cannot govern. They cannot make commerce. They have no ambition. They have become the Jews of 1941. The Israelis are fighting themselves and do not know it.'
'So, is Allah stronger than the Jewish God?'
He spat on the ground, wiped his lips and turned to me.
'Who is Allah? Mine or that of the Mullahs? My god is a peaceful god whose sole purpose in life is to guide me during my life. Their god is a wicked and vengeful god who kills for recognition. We are of the same religion but with different gods.'

For some moments he looked into my eyes, never blinking. Then he said, 'I am a Jordanian orange grower. I would like to go home.'
I rose slowly and walked off, troubled.
How many more innocents were locked into a life not of their choosing?
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