Khamis' destroyed land.
The youth of Gaza may spend their lives trying to surmount the shitty hand they've been dealt, but the old seem a little too tired to keep up the struggle. Khamis Sukkar is a Palestinian and the vice president of the Palestine Liberation Organization, a political and paramilitary group acting as the official representative of the Palestinian people. He grew up in Gaza until he went to the UK to study. He now lives between London, Jordan, and Gaza—where most of his family are still situated.
A few years ago, the Israeli Army wandered over and tore down the 400 olive trees that covered his 46,000 square feet of land. Each tree would produce a little over 5 gallons of olive oil, so you can imagine the devastation for Khamis and his family. Now, after re-planting them, he has to wait another decade for production to begin again.
I spoke to him about his burned trees and, y'know, a few of those other problems Palestinians might have with Israelis.
VICE: Hey Khamis. So what did you do after your olive trees got destroyed?
Khamis Sukkar: I never complained about the land, actually, because I know the Israelis will just make problems. I spoke to an Israeli solicitor in London who told me I should forget about it. He said there was no way I could win the case and the Israelis would bother me all the time. Do you know why they destroyed them in the first place?
They did it because the land is on the border. They want to clear the border of any kind of trees, in case what they call "terrorists" sneak through. The Israelis will always give you good reasons. It is their security, they are threatened constantly by "terrorists."
Did they warn you beforehand?
No, they never tell anyone. They come at midnight with bulldozers and tanks and a big army force. They just bulldoze everything and no one can stop them. This is how Rachel Corrie, the American girl, was killed; she was bulldozed. She tried to defend a Palestinian house from being destroyed—a poor family’s house—so she stood in front of it and they just ran her over. Jesus. Do you know anyone else whose olive trees have been destroyed? Has anyone tried taking legal action?
I'd say 95 percent of the olive tree farmers have been affected. Some fought it, but they never won anything. Sometimes the Red Cross give these people new plants, but they'll take another ten years to produce anything useful. The first three years, you don’t expect any kind of production. I replanted the land but I know they will come again and destroy it.
How will they justify it?
The Israelis don’t need to justify anything. They put a hole in one side of the little house I built, the other side is fucked. Thank god nobody was in there. In some cases, if they do find someone they will shoot them, just shoot to kill. In our case, they worked on the land from about midnight to 7 AM and when I went back, about a week later, they’d finished everything. There was nothing green after that. How has your family been affected by the general situation?
Why don’t we go back to 1948 when they kicked the Palestinians out of their land? My grandfather was a ship owner. He started his shipping agency in 1900 and became one of the ten richest people in Palestine. When the Israelis started emigrating to Palestine after the First World War, the Palestinians welcomed them as refugees. They sympathized with their case. They were treated in that way. You know, Palestinian people are very soft-hearted. Some of these Jewish people were fostered by Palestinian families. But then they just kicked the Palestinians out. That's what happened to my grandfather; he was kicked out of his house with only the clothes he was wearing. He had a little boat that he owned for fishing and he had to row with his family from Yafo, which is now called Jaffa. He had to row about 60 miles from Yafo to Gaza, that’s why and how we ended up in Gaza.
Khamis replanting his olive trees.
What happened after the Israelis moved in?
We had no choice but to flee our houses, because a few days before that the Israelis had attacked a village called Deir Yassin. There were very few survivors who rowed from Palestine to Gaza—it’s about 60 miles of rowing. Some people died of hunger, some died of thirst, some drowned. The lucky ones reached Gaza, and Gaza was far enough to settle. At that time the United Nations gave them food, wheat, tents, and they had to restart their lives again. We went back after the Gaza occupation to see our sister's house in 1967. There were Jewish people living in it and they let us in, which was very kind.
How were you treated as a Palestinian when you were in Britain?
I never had any problem mixing. I had no problem getting a visa, and I had enough money. But, I would say that after 9/11 it was different for all foreign people. That is the West’s propaganda.
This is what the land looked like before.
In what way?
Well, the media is in the hands of the Jewish. The biggest one is Rupert Murdoch. It used to be Robert Maxwell. The British people will believe what is in the papers, and what is in the news. It’s never true, they never tell the truth. When the Israelis kill hundreds of Palestinians there is not much mention in the daily British newspapers. But when a Palestinian kills one or two members of an Israeli family, which I am against for a start, it would be all over the news: "Palestinian Terrorist Attacks Family"—it’s a big deal. Aside from global Jewish conspiracy theories, what was your role in organizing demonstrations in London, as the vice president of the PLO?
I never wanted to officially be a vice president, I just used to work harder than all these people and was a very active member of the Palestinian community in the UK. But there's not much you can do about it. That’s life in Palestine.