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The Olive Tree as symbolic of Palestine

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“It is the symbol of being steadfast on the land”

The olive is a drupe, or stone fruit, like a plum or cherry. Olives start out green and very bitter and turn black when they mature. A bitter olive eaten raw off a tree is like eating “a unplucked chicken or a an uncooked potato.” Different varieties of olives are usually picked at different points in the development of the fruit. Green olives generally have more Vitamin E and less oil than black olives, which have a stronger flavor and more oil. Most green olives are eaten whole rather than made into oil. Only 10 percent the olive crop is eaten as olives. Most is made into oil.

The Olive tree… God created it before man A branch in the bill of a dove that heralded peace and security for Noah… Palestinians care for newly planted trees as if they were newborn children.

For centuries this ubiquitous tree, with its characteristically gnarled trunk and stately branches, has given a muted color scheme and visual texture to Palestine’s terraced highlands. Today it has moved from the countryside to grace paintings, book covers, university logos and even websites.

In the face of great dispossession, Palestinians have clung more earnestly to the land about them and the olive tree is a symbol of their ties to the land. The humble olive tree also has real practical worth as the tree of wealth, protection and security, of shelter and sustenance.

Even if a peasant has but a small piece of land, he will plant five or ten olive trees. Much of Palestinian peasant culture centers on the cyclical rhythms of planting, pruning and harvesting of olives.

Since the 19th century, olives have been a major commercial crop for Palestine; not only is the oil a major source of nutritious food, it is used for lighting and for soap manufacture.

To seize an ancient olive tree is like a confiscation of memory.

 

The Tree of Eternity

 

The olive tree (olea europaea) is a tree of great beauty. It has a low gnarled trunk that is resistant to decay.

It is called the “tree of eternity” because of its ability to regenerate. After 150 years of olive production the tree begins to yield a lower harvest, then around 200 years the cap of the tree dies leaving the roots and base of the trunk. This base is able to produce sprouts, regenerate and begin its life process again.

No other tree carries the heritage of the olive. It is at once the symbol for life, hope, peace, wisdom and victory.

The olive tree is an evergreen tree that gives shade when farmers till the land. It lives longer than the other trees in the area. You can hear old men saying, “this olive tree is rominyyeh,” meaning it was planted during the Roman occupation. Most of Palestinian families owned olive trees in ample amounts for their daily meals and other uses.

We should not forget that the olive branch was the first sign of life that the dove brought back to Noah’s Arc to hale the end of the flood as the biblical story goes. It is only a symbol of peace by a sign of livelihood as well, especially for the Palestinians.

 

Palestinian Olive Oil Traditions from generation to generation.

When the Palestinians plant an olive tree, they say a prayer: “God protect it and make it grow so that my children’s grandchildren will benefit from its abundance”

Most Palestinian families eat olives three times a day. There is always a plate full of different kinds of pickled olives, green, black, brown, unpitted, whole or crushed, big, medium or small depending on the areas and the soil. It is home-pickled with water and salt or olive oil.

The main breakfast is tea drunk with a bread dipped first in olive oil then in a mixture of thyme and spices with sesame. A big pita loaf or loaf soak with olive oil mixed with thyme, salt and sesame is the cheapest filling meal you may get when you are hungry, something even a poor farmer could count on before the occupation and the arrival of the bulldozers. When baked it is delicious.

They made soap form their remaining olive oil. After the oil is pressed, the pulp that remains is used as animal feed. When necessary, the residues of the olive processing are used as fuel for heating or baking. A bread winner and a mother at home would fee secure when they had their annual supply of olive oil (zeit), olives (zatoun) and thyme (zatar).

According to the Palestinian traditions, when the baby born, the first thing his mother or his relatives do after his deliver is rub olive oil on his skin and gentle massage the skin with a special types of exercises to the arms and legs, they do that twice per day (morning and evening) for 6 months, the purpose of this is to strength the bones, make the skin soft and help the baby to walk early.

There was a strange custom in the past to protect the olive trees. Farmers were followed a practice of tying a piece of black linen to a branch of their olive trees that promised an exceptionally abundant crop – this helped ward off the “evil eyes” that might have a negative effect on the tree and its harvest. The black cloth would distract a person from looking at the promising olive crop with envy. Superstition was evident when it came to protecting the olive trees, just as it is a reflection of how much importance and love there was for the olive trees.

We should not forget that the olive branch was the first sign of life that the dove brought back to Noah’s Arc to hale the end of the flood as the biblical story goes. It is only a symbol o peace by a sign of livelihood as well, especially for the Palestinians.

Olive trees are very resilient and can live over 1,000 years.