Today marks the beginning of the olive harvest season in Gaza. The Minister of Agriculture estimates that they will produce around 10,000 tons of olives this year, far less than the amount last year. I’m not sure why.
Last October I symbolically participated in the harvest. I climbed to the top branches of the tree and picked the plump green olives. Yes! I was nervous about being up so high, looking down at the family members who were all smiling in amusement. I was probably a distraction from their work, but we were all having a good time. Some were hitting the branches to shake the olives off with a sheet on the ground below.
According to a UN report “olive trees account for 70% of fruit production in Palestine and contribute around 14% to the Palestinian economy. 93% of the olive harvest is used for olive oil production while the rest is used for olive soap, table olives and pickles.”
Palestinian olive oil is the best in the world, and it’s a very special commodity that American consumers can order here and here if you don’t see it in the store. Folks in Gaza aren’t sissies when it comes to their olive oil. They were purchasing it in 5-10 gallon containers for personal consumption at home!
Olive trees carry more than an economic significance in the lives of Palestinians. They are not just like any other trees, they are symbolic of Palestinians’ attachment to their land. Because the trees are drought-resistant and grow under poor soil conditions, they represent Palestinian resistance and resilience. The fact that olive trees live and bear fruit for thousands of years is parallel to Palestinian history and continuity on the land. Palestinians are proud of their olive trees; they take care of them with care and appreciation. Palestine has some of the world’s oldest olive trees, dating back to 4,000 years. Some families have trees that have been passed down to them for generations and the olive harvest season in October bears a socio-cultural meaning where families come together to harvest olive trees bearing in mind that their forefathers and mothers had tended to the same trees several years ago.
One of the highlights of my time in Gaza was that day spent picking olives. I’ll never forget it, not only because of the warmth and joy I saw on the faces of my new friends, but also because of the life energy I felt radiating from that single tree.
Trees have represented life across the cultures and the ages, from the Mayan, the Sumerians, Egyptians to the Garden of Eden and modern times. “The olive tree is known around the world for its symbolism of peace and tranquility. The expression ‘to hold out an olive branch’ means to seek harmony and peace.”
When I hear that Jewish settlers have burned olive trees belonging to the Palestinians in the West Bank, I’m enraged. (Photos)
Last November, the New York Times had a very good piece about the Plight of the Palestinian Olive Tree by Raja Shehadeh, a lawyer and writer living in Ramallah. Olive trees have been uprooted for settlement expansion on occupied Palestinian lands, for construction of the “Israeli separation barrier”, and just for spite by extremist settlers. By one estimate, more than 800,000 trees have been destroyed since 1967, the equivalent of destroying Central Park in NYC 33 times.
We talk about humanitarian rights, but what’s the term for the rights of trees? These trees, many planted hundreds of years ago, have done no wrong. They haven’t taken sides in this conflict in the Middle East. They simply share their life, their shade, and then their fruit. How can men be so arrogant — downright evil — to destroy these defenseless olive trees?
No one who destroys life so callously and wantonly has a right to call the land their home. Our children — these children who shared their olive harvest with me — deserve much better.