Olive trees have
always held a special place in my heart and my memories. The olive tree
itself, as well as the groves, is an integral part of the very fabric of
Palestinian life. To this day my mom sends me olive oil that was pressed
from olives which are hand picked from the ancient olive trees that grow
on our land. These trees, some hundreds of years old, were planted by my
ancestors: my great grandparents, my grandparents, my parents, and now,
even by me, for I planted 30 olive saplings in the mid '80s that today
produce some magnificent olives.
I wish to share with you my
memories of the olive harvests that I experienced as a young boy in
I always anticipated the annual olive harvest with great joy; much more
so than the time to harvest the many fruits grown on my family's land.
Throughout the year, we carefully inspected each tree to ensure a
healthy harvest. My mother followed a practice of tying a piece of
black linen to a branch of those 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. [This is a custom much
like a mother placing a blue stone or a silver hand with an eye on a
carriage or affixed to a baby's chest, an amulet to protect the child
and ward off evil spirits.] The the black cloth (or the blue stone)
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.
When the olive harvesting season begins, the hillsides of Palestine
crawl with families and bring the hills alive with people working to
gather their precious crop. Family members, to this day, make an effort
to travel to one another from all over the country to help in the olive
harvest. Olives are picked by hand as they have been for thousands of
years. As a child, I joined my family as we would set out early in the
day with a picnic of cracked olives, tomatoes, cheese, sardines, onions,
freshly baked bread, and of course the ever present thermos of mint
tea. We took the food that had been bundled the night before, and
carrying large blankets, heavy ladders, and burlap bags as we headed for
the hills with the olive groves.
Once there, the blankets were spread under the tree and the ladders
leaned against it. My mother and sisters picked those olives that could
be reached by hand and used sticks or shook branches to knock down the
olives that were too high to reach. As for me, I loved to climb, and
climb I did. I would bounce from one branch to another, giving my mother
a heart attack in the process. I played around a lot more than I picked
olives in those days. I loved being outdoors with my family. I would get
to the top of these beautiful and ancient trees and proceed to throw
olives at my sisters and brothers below me, an act that usually elicited
no end of threats of bodily harm from my siblings. My mother likely
spent more time yelling at me, than anything else.
We were Fellaheen (farmers), and as a fellah child, I lived for the
outdoors. This was the place that I was happiest. We had no electricity,
and thus, no TV to distract me. The hills, trees, and orchards were my
playground. My grandfather (God bless his soul) often yelled at his
daughter, my mother, "stop yelling at the boy, let him have fun." My
grandfather often entertained me with stories from his own youth,
stories about the trees and the harvest. Widowed at 40, he never
remarried and lived to the ripe old age of 98. He was a vegetarian long
before it became fashionable. He lived on Zattar (wild thyme that grew
in the hills), olives, tomatoes, and fresh bread. He walked upright and
smoked his pipe right up to the day he died in 1978. He used to walk
5-10 kilometers a day. He was always walking somewhere. He was the only
one of my grandparents that was still alive when I was born. The last
time I saw him was in 1969.
Anyhow, after all the olives were gathered, they were placed in large
bags and carried back home to be spread on the roof of our house for a
few days before being sent to the village presses at Bir Ziet (in
Arabic, an oil well). Not all olives were sent to the presses; my mother
made some into the pickled cracked olives that are so famous in
Palestine. We used medium sized stones like hammers to crack the olives
one by one. Other olives were left to ripen in the sun, and then stored
with salt and oil. Olives thus prepared are still seen in the many
markets of Palestine. They are usually black and look almost like mini
The olive trees and the land they grow on still have a special place in
my heart. They offer me a sense of connection to my history and that of
my people. A sense reinforced each time I remember or climb a tree that
was planted several hundred years before by me forefathers. To think
that I was picking and eating from the same trees that my family had
picked and eaten olives from for generations before me, still inspires
awe in me. It is something that I will most assuredly pass on to my
children and hope that they will get the chance to do likewise.
And thus I offer you the following:
The Olive tree...
God created it before man
A branch in the bill of a dove that heralded peace and security for
Palestinians care for newly planted trees as if they were newborn
When the Palestinians plant an olive tree, they say a prayer: "May God
protect it and make it grow so that my children's grandchildren will
benefit from its bounty."
What message are the Israelis sending by uprooting, destroying, and
preventing the Palestinians from harvesting their ancient orchards?
is a writer whose work can be viewed at www.Hanini.org.