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The Olive Tree as a Symbol of Palestine

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“The olive tree is the symbol of being steadfast on the land”

Mohammed Ali Taha, Palestinian writer

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 rural farmer has but a small piece of land, he will plant five or ten olive trees. Much of Palestinian rural village and farming 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 manufacturing.

When West Bank land is cleared for Israeli settlement expansion, centuries old olive trees are destroyed and some are transplanted to Israeli urban median strips thus giving instant history. In the language of poetry that Palestinians use to describe their injured landscape:

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

The olive tree carries the memory of Palestine and this is why Palestinians grieve so deeply when it is uprooted or cut down and for the exact same reason, Israel continues to destroy olive trees – to extinguish the memory.  Olive oil is the life blood that runs through the land and its people.

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 also resistant to drought, wind and fire. It is deeply rooted into the land and must be completely upooted if it is not to regenerate itself even from severe damage or destruction.

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.

Olive Tree

They witnessed the rise and fall of civilizations, stood against plagues and epidemics, greeted the sun rising and setting down over thousands of days, yet stood defiant in glory and glamour. These are the oldest olive trees alive bearing their soulful fruits, giving their golden oil and teaching mankind a lesson in sustainability.  read more

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Olive Oil

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