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The Killing of an Olive Tree: a Revisit

“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” — Albert Einstein

“The lesson we have learned about migration over decades is that if you close one route, another opens up, and more and more people still come.” — Patrick Kingsley

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

There are several global scale situations that I could write about this week: the COVID-19 coronavirus, the killings in Europe by Islamist terrorists or the global security events, a result of President Biden’s new foreign policy. This week, however, I want to focus on a situation that continues to impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. It is deeply impacting the US, Europe, Turkey, Africa, and the Middle East. For certain, one of the driving factors is the reality that there is much more than meets the eye concerning the way the entire affair is unfolding.

There is a tragedy of historic proportions occurring right under our eyes. It has the potential of exploding out of control or becoming a defining moment for humanity, especially for Europeans. Most people in the US and perhaps greater parts of Europe are missing it.


So much has been said about the massive movements of people in the world today. It makes me wonder if we can even quantify the impact, that these tectonic shifts of people are making on the global landscape. There are billions who live in relatively safe, stable, and flourishing environments. There are also billions who live in dangerous, vulnerable, and impoverished conditions. Neither group of people had anything to do with where they were born and raised. 

Because of the rise of communication, technology, transportation, the internet, education, and human progress, those who lived in the unsafe, violent, and impoverished places are discovering places of peace and prosperity, where they can raise their children and live out their days, hopefully creating a future for their children and their children’s children.

On the other hand, there are those who are living in relative prosperity. They work hard, obey the laws, and live in a social order that has been carved out over centuries. They are not opposed, necessarily to newcomers, but they appear to have a breaking point as to how many; and how much they are willing to pour out from their societal treasury, and how far they are willing to bend to the cultural sensitivities of these newcomers. The problems they are facing often fathom over their ability to cope.

I have been living in this kind of world for over seven years now. I have seen both sides. The distinctive problems feel almost unsurmountable. In my heart I know that is not true, but it would be easy for mankind to just give up, secure our borders and throw the baby out with the bath-water.

We saw, over the past year, several events which are catapulting the refugee and a host of communities in Europe into a potentially volatile and violent clash. What happens next, will set the stage for either enormous compassion or lots of needless pain and suffering.

The clash. As of Feb 28th, 2020 Greece completely shut down its borders, sending dozens of naval vessels to patrol the Greek islands after Turkey announced it would allow all Syrian migrants to head to Europe. A senior official has claimed that the government of Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has opened the borders for Syrian asylum seekers and other migrants and will no longer prevent anyone from heading to Europe by land or by sea, Reuters reports.

According to a recent UNHCR report there are presently, over 3.5 million registered refugees staying in Turkey. Many, if not most, are seeking to request asylum in Europe. Why? Because in Europe there is peace and the possibility for a better future. As we read in the quote at the top of this article, by migration specialist, Patrick Kingsley, “The lesson we have learnd about migration over decades is that if you close one route, another opens up, and more and more people still come.”

Turkey opened its borders to migrants to move towards Europe; the same day, Greece closed all its borders, both land and maritime. The Greeks turned away over 10,000 refugees with tear gas and barricades. The Turkish-Bulgarian borders have been closed as well.

Rather than focus on the events themselves, because this is a subject so close to my heart, and is something in which I am deeply involved, I want to analyze these things from a more micro-perspective. I would like to consider the view from both sides. I have been interviewing people who are from the Greek Island of Lesvos, currently on the front lines of this struggle, only four miles from Turkey, as well as those who are working at non-governmental organizations there, and lastly, the refugees themselves. This can be seen as a microcosm of what is happening at a grander level all across southern Europe today.

My colleague recently approached a Greek man, named Nicos sitting on the edge of a hill overlooking his beloved city of Mytilene, the capital city of Lesvos Island, Greece. Nicos’s family has lived on that hilltop for hundreds of years. There, they have run a beautiful olive grove and vineyard over the generations. Nicos is distraught as he watches many of his hundred-year-old olive trees being cut down by refugees who are trying to find ways to survive during the chilling winter months on the Adriatic Island.

Abdullah, a poor Syrian farmer cutting down an olive tree for firewood so that he can provide warmth for his family was asked, “Do you not know that this olive tree is over a hundred years old and that this is the only family income for that Greek man, Nicos? Abdullah replied, I understand, but let me show you something. My co-worker followed him for a couple of hundred meters down a rocky winding path through the brush and hastily chopped down trees. As they came into a slight opening they encountered Abdullah’s wife and five young children. They were huddled in front of a tattered canvas tent made for two and a smoldering fire on its last embers. Abdullah, who had fled with his family from ferocious fighting in his city of Idlib, Syria looked at us and said, “What can I do?”

This is just a short story. Unfortunately, it is true; probably a thousand times over. The strong desire of Nicos, a Greek olive farmer on a farm handed down to him after generations of living on this island, has been to provide for his family and to enjoy the life he was born into, on this tiny insignificant island in the Adriatic sea. Abdullah, a Syrian farmer, did the only thing he knew to do amidst the war in his home; he fled with his family, finding himself on a tiny Adriatic island in the midst of winter. All Abdullah desires are to find a place where he can live in peace, provide food, shelter, and a safe home for his family.  Thus, a collision begins at the foot of a hundred-year-old olive tree which provides the only hope for two different families from two entirely different worlds at exactly the same time and place.

As an aside, what about the humanitarian workers? This group is stuck between a serious rock and a hard place. Many of the Greeks are angry with the non-governmental organizations. They feel like they are empowering the refugees to stay. The refugees feel like the NGOs are not responding enough to their plight. They are angry with them because they are hungry and cold. The NGOs are there to do all they can, but it simply does not seem like enough. It is very difficult to be an NGO in Lesvos right now.


Why have I told this story? I know it does not represent the grossest of evils surrounding the refugee crises in the world, but it does represent the worst of conditions that force all of us to make a decision. It pushes us to make a choice for which most of us are totally unprepared. My assessment is that we won’t make a decision about how we can help these millions of desperate people. So, what will we do? We will simply ignore it. We ignore the reality that there are millions of people in the world who are stuck in the same predicament as Nicos and Abdullah. 

Even after reading this story, seeing the paradox of this situation, it will be tempting to finish this article, put it down and turn the television back on and engross ourselves back into a coma of a sitcom or a high adventure film from where we can safely and vicariously live our lives, while thoroughly convincing ourselves that we deserve a break from our own personal hardships.  Meanwhile, the Nicos and Abdullah’s of the world struggle over an olive tree…for their very survival. We can no longer ignore that world. We do so at the peril of our own humanity. When we turn our backs on the poor we disobey the greatest of all of Jesus’s teachings…“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” ( Luke 10:27)  Ignoring the Nicos and Abdullahs is ignoring the very Word of God. And, if we are not careful we might find ourselves disregarding the plight of Jesus himself. He did tell us, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’  (Matthew 25:40)


It is tempting for me to attempt to give a solution to this grave human dilemma. It is of significant importance that we take some time to think about these situations. Let us look at what is being done. Consider the consequences. Examine why refugees are being displaced, not just the Syrians, but also the Iranians, Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Yemeni and all the North African and Sub-saharan Africans. Why is there so much movement? 

Let’s find out what is being done to solve this global dilemma? What can Christians do? What should we do and what can we do practically? This will take time.

How does this subject fit in with what we hope to accomplish as a global intelligence digest? Is this actually “intelligence?” It is, in the intelligence community called, “actionable intelligence.” If the intelligence and analysis I provide each week do not cause us to do anything differently than what we are already doing, then I am wasting my time, as are you. If we do not do anything differently, we will be just like everybody else: read, pour ourselves another cup of coffee, order another piece of cheesecake and move on to the next episode of our favorite reality show.

The follow-up.

What Is the Iran Nuclear Deal?…

What ISIS really wants…

The feed-back.

For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at:


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