Word Count 500
By Mike Cecconi
The prickly pear is not a pear and while it’s also sometimes known as a Barbary fig, it isn’t most closely associated with the Barbary Coast of northern Africa, either. Another name for it is the “cactus pear” which is significantly closer to the truth as the plant is actually a cactus of a kind. While it grows almost anywhere in the world with a semi-arid climate and even though it most likely first appeared in Mexico, the prickly pear is most known as a symbol of the land that some will call Palestine and others will call Israel, depending who you ask.
The prickly pear received its name because its fruit, while thorny on the outside, contains a soft sweet fruit once you get beneath its well-protected skin. The people there who identify as Israeli call the prickly pear a “sabra” and use it as a term of endearment for any Israeli who was not an immigrant, was born on that land from the start. They consider these naturally born Israelis to be similarly tough and hearty on the outside but marvelous and wondrous once you get under the surface, though many of those who would call that land Palestine and similarly call themselves Palestinians might well beg to differ.
The prickly pear grows there, whatever name you would call the land or any of its peoples, in a land claimed holy by three major world religions and a whole host of minor faiths as well. The Israelis being largely Jewish, though sometimes only culturally so, the Palestinians being largely some form of Muslim or another, though not always. Christianity calls it a holy land too, though it its case exerts its force on the land more indirectly, from American and European capitals.
The Israelis and Palestinians both hold varying claims to the land, in religious myth and more concretely, Israel having been the Jewish homeland in antiquity, the Palestinians having been driven out of other Islamic lands to live there for the last few hundred years. Both groups point to promises from their shared God that they gave slightly different names, Allah or Yahweh, as an ultimate title to that desert, for whatever that counts to you.
The Israelis moved to that land after being driven into ghettos and murdered by the millions in the early to middle 1940s. The Palestinians have been driven into ghettos and killed off on a massive scale in the decades since. Possibly no two peoples in human history have suffered more than the Israelis and the Palestinians but there they sit in the land of prickly pears, killing each other for the right to that land and will until all on both sides are dead and only the prickly pears are left to bear their witness.
I myself cannot imagine a fruit so soft or sweet to be worth sacrificing generations for, fighting through those thorns. But then again, I myself have never been stranded in the desert to know true hunger.