Week 11: Olive Trees

Palestinians in the occupied territory face rampant destruction of their olive trees and livelihoods. As more trees are uprooted and burned by settlers and Israeli occupation forces, brave farmers work to replant and undo the damage. However, their resources are stretched thin and livelihoods and traditions are at stake. Here’s what you need to know and what you can do so that together we can help Palestinian farmers rise up.

Topic: Olive Trees

The YMCA-YWCA Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI) paints for Kumi Now a picture of the symbolism and utility of the olive tree:

“Throughout the Mediterranean Basin, the olive tree is an ancient source of livelihood and nutrition. Approximately 1,000 square kilometers of land in Palestine are planted with olive trees. An average olive tree produces 9 kilograms of olives, yielding 2 liters of oil which has many uses: food, sacramental oil, fuel, or as an ingredient of medicinal ointments. The olive tree is plain and frugal; it grows in poor soil, yields precious fruit, and can live for more than a thousand years. Throughout history, the olive branch has been used as a symbol for peace, and together with the vine and the fig tree, the olive tree is a symbol of wisdom, prosperity, and happiness.

“However, in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, olive trees are often uprooted and destroyed. Palestinian farmers suffer the worst from the devastation caused by these Israeli policies and practices. “Security reasons” is the excuse given by Israelis for the uprooting of trees, while in reality they are destroyed for the expansion of Israeli settlements and their bypass roads, the building of Israel’s ‘Apartheid wall,’ and as a result of Israeli settlers’ violence in the occupied West Bank.

“Since 2001, Israel, through its military and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, has uprooted, burnt, and destroyed hundreds of thousands of olive trees that belong to Palestinian farmers and landowners. Most of these trees had survived hundreds of years, giving their fruit to those that toiled and labored to take care of them.

“In spite of the destruction of the very foundations of their existence, and in spite of the ever increasing violence in the Holy Land, many Palestinian women, men, and children are committed to rebuilding their society and its structures without the use of violence.”

Zaytoun faced the same reality, writing for Kumi Now:

“Olive production is the backbone of the Palestinian economy accounting for about 60% of cultivated land, and 100,000 households rely on olives for their primary income. But traditional trade is very difficult for people who live under Israeli military occupation.

“For example, how do you remain a farmer if your harvest doesn’t provide you and your family with a livelihood that’s sufficient to put food on the table and send your kids to school? How do you sell your produce when your village is completely cut off and isolated from markets and cities due to restrictions on movement? How long do you continue farming when the price your harvest fetches is below what it costs to produce it? Should you go and get a job knowing that this puts you at risk of losing your land because you’re not farming it?”

Settler violence against olive trees continues unabated. While their destruction is reported in the Israeli media, little is done about it. In late 2018, Amira Hass reported on a recent incident, noting that Palestinian villagers see little point in involving police as they help so little. In addition to settler violence, land is often seized or destroyed by the military, and the construction of the wall continues to separate farmers from their land and trees. 

As such, it is up to organizations and individuals to continue to report on and support these farmers. Throughout the week we will publish and share stories addressing the injustices faced by Palestinian olive farmers and what is being done, and how you can help, to secure their trees and future. You can begin by reading the full essays and stories from Zaytoun and JAI. 

Story: Souad Ali, a Palestinian farmer from the West Bank town of Beit Omar

Souad Ali is a Palestinian farmer from the West Bank town of Beit Omar.

Souad was 7 years old when she began to work on the land. She knows nothing but a farmer’s life; she has never been to school. In her youth, the life of a Palestinian farmer looked very different from today. Before 1967 there was no disruption by the Israeli occupation and colonisation. 

Back then, Souad’s land was filled with various crops, such as fruit and almond trees, tomatoes, and vegetables. As a result of the restrictions, demolitions, and the lack of water this is no longer the reality. Once, Beit Omar had the largest vegetable market in the southern West Bank. Not anymore.

Now, access to Jerusalem is no longer possible due to the military checkpoint, and thus their produce can not be sold in the city. The farmers are therefore forced to sell their products along Route 60, the highway that connects Jerusalem to Hebron.

“A farmer’s life has become burdensome,” says Souad. “We work very hard under difficult circumstances and get little in return. Our goats are slain and our trees destroyed. But we cannot leave our land. Our land is our source of life, and the blessed olive tree is our sacred symbol.”

Farmers like Souad can use all the help they can get to keep the Palestinian land and hope alive. That is the mission of the Olive Tree Campaign.

Originally published by Joint Advocacy Initiative.

Kumi Action

Plant or name a tree in your garden and/or in front of your house, place of worship, or institution in an act of solidarity for Palestine. Call it a “Tree of Hope for Peace with Justice around the World, an Idea from Palestinian Farmers” and place a sign in front of the tree for everyone to see. 

We also encourage everyone to sponsor an olive tree in Palestine. The US$20 sponsorship covers the cost of the young plant, distribution, planting, and information for the farmers on the best techniques for olive tree care and production improvement. The cost also covers an official certificate, a sponsor label to be inscribed with the sponsor’s name and put up in the field where the tree is planted, and miscellaneous implementation costs of the project. 

Every sponsor receives a certificate of appreciation from the JAI or partner organization in the sponsor’s respective country, in addition to having their names put up on a plaque in the field where their trees are planted. Sponsorship records are available online, hence people can type their name and find where their tree(s) is/are planted, or write us at: olivetree@jai-pal.org 

To sponsor an olive tree, simply go to this website and follow the instructions: http://www.jai-pal.org/index.php/en/campaigns/olive-tree-campaign/sponsor-trees 

Whether you plant your own tree or sponsor one, take photos and share what you’ve done, encouraging others to do likewise. Post your photos on social media, along with the message “I planted (or sponsored) this tree for Palestinian farmers.” Include a link to this page of the Kumi Now website along with the hashtags #TreeofHope, #KumiNow, and #Kumi11.

Literature: “On the Trunk of an Olive Tree” by Tawfiq Zayyad

Because I could be arrested any day, and my house could be visited by the police to be searched and to be “cleansed,”

Because I can’t afford to buy paper, I shall carve everything that happens to me and all my secrets in the bark of the olive tree in my yard.

I shall carve my story and the chapters of my tragedy and my sighs over my field and over the graves of our dead.

And I shall carve all the bitterness that I tasted, so that it shall be erased by a tenth of the sweetness that is yet to come.

I shall carve the registration numbers of every parcel of land that is stolen from us.

And the location of my village, its borders.

And the houses that are blown up.

And my trees that are uprooted.

And every wild flower that is trampled upon.

And the names of those who mastered the art of playing on my nerves and taking away my breath.

And the names of my prisons.

And the types of cuffs that clasped onto my wrists.

And the files of my wanders.

And every insult that was poured upon my head.

And I shall carve: I will never forget Kafr Qasim.

And I shall carve: the memory of Deir Yassin is rooted in me.

And I shall carve: we have reached the climax of the misery, it exhausted us, but we will conquer it.

And I shall carve everything the sun tells me.

And what the moon whispers.

And what the bird sitting on the well tells, 

the well that the lovers never returned to.

So that I will not forget, I shall continue carving, all the chapters of my tragedy, and all the phases of the Catastrophe, from how it started, to the full-blown disaster that hits us now, in the olive tree in the yard of my house.

“On the Trunk of an Olive Tree” by Tawfiq Zayyad, a Palestinian politician who served as a member of the Israeli Knesset and is well-known for his “poetry of protest.”

Additional Resources

2020 Olive Harvest:

  • “Protect Palestine olive harvest from settler violence, Israel urged” from UN News https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/11/1076952
  • “2020 olive harvest – another year of severe, state-backed settler violence” from B’Tselem https://www.btselem.org/settler_violence/2020_olive_harvest
  • “2020 olive harvest season: low yield amidst access restrictions and settler violence” from OCHA oPt https://www.ochaopt.org/content/2020-olive-harvest-season-low-yield-amidst-access-restrictions-and-settler-violence

2019 Harvest:

  • “Reaping with sorrow: A summary of the 2019 Olive Harvest” from Yesh Din https://www.yesh-din.org/en/reaping-with-sorrow-a-summary-of-the-2019-olive-harvest/

We have a YouTube playlist with several videos about olive trees.

And two previous entries addressed olive trees:

  • Zaytoun: https://kuminow.com/zaytoun/
  • JAI: https://kuminow.com/jai/