Notes 2: The Identity Racket
Photographs by Philip Touitou
Three eighty-year-old olive trees are supported by three steel columns, fifteen meters above the ground. This environmental sculpture, called The Olive Park, on the outskirts of Kibbutz Ramat Rachel sits in what was once no mans land, on the border of the green line with the West Bank.
To its right is a lucrative field of organic cherry trees belonging to the nearby kibbutz and maintained by foreign workers from Thailand. Between the cherry trees and the Olive Park, a narrow road leads to the Palestinian village of Sur Baher on whose lands the cherry trees are now planted.
The park is deserted. I have always been amazed by this major public space placed ironically in one of the most contentious areas of the city. Only five years ago, these olive trees had the mesmerizing view of the single mine-field left by the municipality in place since 1967. If one wonders how the Olive Trees survive, they are connected to an internal drip nozzle irrigation system. I searched on-line for what the artist had in mind and found the following quote “The work deals with concepts of rootedness and disconnection that mark the complex relation of our civilization with the earth …Olive trees, ancient symbol of strength, fertility and peace, continue their life in a transplanted and disconnected state.” ( Ran Morin, Environmental Sculpture.)
I discovered the park about ten years ago, I had a motor bike at the time, and a particular hobby was to ride through unexplored areas of Jerusalem. I was attracted to the seemingly afloat trees from afar, a dramatic view of the desert behind them. It was a hot summer day, and rather late in the afternoon. I drove my scooter on to the dirt road leading to the pillars of concrete. I reached them, and looked around, listening to the crickets and watching the small lizards racing about. I felt I was in the opening chapter of Camus’ “The Stranger”. Then, in the distance behind me, under the Olive Trees I saw a young man. Just like in the book. I must have been standing there for a few minutes when the young man came up behind me. The encounter did not feel particularly friendly, but, as I was studying Arabic at the time, I could think of nothing else to do but try speaking it, Maybe out of embarrassment or having nothing better to say.