Burn Another One: Part One
A story by Fathima Begum
Adeela sat under the shade of the old olive tree, hiding. It stood proudly taller than most of the other tress around it, its branches weighed down by the olives that had ripened and were ready to be picked and then sent to the factories where they would be pressed and used for its oil, or to make soaps or pickles. Adeela knew that she should be picking more olives, but she had become tired after a long morning spent working. She had already filled up three nylon bags with the olives, working her way through the plantation with her siblings. Her grandfather had also come along to help with the olive picking that day, despite being forbidden to by her father. Her grandfather was a proud farmer, he had been all of his life, and it seemed to the family that he became more so in spite of aging.
Adeela admired how deeply attached her grandfather was to the olive trees. He never grew tired of telling her how they were part of the Palestinian landscape, and how deeply connected these trees were to the people of its land. His father and grandfather had also been farmers, and had lived a comfortable life from the earnings of the small olive tree plantation that they had owned. Adeela wished that she could she feel the same way about the trees, but recently had felt herself growing hesitant to come out and join her family in tending to the trees.
She was haunted by visions of the mighty trees being burned down to the ground by the settlers, black smoke engulfing their hopes for a good harvest and the pungent smell coming from the unrelenting fires suffocating them as they all looked on helplessly. Three times already this year, she had woken up in the morning to the sound of unrest. This was not unusual, but seeing her mother crying was. She had ran as fast as she could to the plantation, and had arrived half an hour later to see crowds of people from her village gathered around the fire that had been started and was being put out before it could burn down the whole plantation. She had joined the crowd as they had helped to put the fire out, despite being shooed away violently by fire fighters. Several trees had been ruined completely. They had been old trees, decades old and had witnessed so much. Adeela had held back tears as she had walked home, dejected. Her neighbors were outraged, and so were the neighboring communities. Mosques had been set on fire, and the Israeli government had not yet convicted anyone for the atrocity. Property, cars and their livelihood, nothing was safe.
The second time it had happened, her mother had not cried. She had sighed heavily and had continued with her housework, her mouth shut tightly in restraint, holding back resentful curses that Adeela knew were struggling to burst forth. A week later, it had happened yet again. This time her mother warned her not to go running along to the plantation with the rest of them.
“It’s getting worse; it’s not going to stop. Maybe they will turn up, and want a fight, or something will happen. They’re not satisfied, never will be’ she had muttered. But Adeela had still wanted to see the damage with her own eyes, even though she knew that she would never be able to forget the sight of the trees that she, her family and her community cared for so devotedly being reduced to ashes.
Adeela spotted Imad, her friend and neighbour. He was a little older than her, he was fifteen years old and she was only eleven. Friendships were made very easily amongst the Palestinian people, perhaps because their enemies were so many.
“Imad! How much have you picked?” she asked him as she joined him. But he didn’t answer her, appearing deep in thought. They worked silently. Adeela knew why he was so quiet. They usually picked the olives together, with the other children, laughing and playing games as they worked through long hot days. But recently, many of the young boys had been talking about taking revenge, to let the settlers know that they couldn’t get away with what they were doing. This was being resisted by the elders of the community, and even the parents agreed. Perhaps they were afraid, of yet another spell of violence breaking out, and of losing far more than their means of livelihood.
The boys had tried to rebel, and had even gathered together to see what they could arrange. Adeela’s brother had secretly attended those meetings, and so had Imad. But eventually, the elders – her grandfather, and some of the others – had patiently pacified the boys, had insisted that this wouldn’t go on for much longer, though they all knew it would. They reassured them that the world is watching, and one day things would change for them forever. They would plant more trees, and they would survive. They had suffered worse, and still stood strong, just like the tress themselves.
So they had planted more trees, with the help of a charitable organisation. Perhaps it was because they knew that if they rebelled, there would be more bloodshed, more road closures and more restrictions placed on them that would then add to the misery of their daily lives. The harvest was plentiful, despite the attacks that had been made on them. But their joy, laughter and gaiety had seemed to have vanished. Harvesting was a difficult job, but they never complained because at least they still had the means for livelihood, for work and for the sense of belonging.