Due to its ability to stand its ground against all odds for thousands of years, Palestinians have taken the olive tree as their symbol as it resembles their resilience. The oldest olive tree is claimed to be at AlWalaja, a village between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, dating back to 4,000-5,000 years. In addition to the symbol of resilience, olive trees represent the long history and roots of the Palestinians in their land.
The olive harvest season, which starts in mid-October and lasts 45 days, is a big family and cultural event in Palestine. Parents, children and grandchildren gather in the fields to pick the olives. Universities and schools take a long weekend during which students provide support to farmers in olive picking. This event brings back the heritage of their ancestors and reminds them of the importance of this symbol for their existence.
Economics: In addition to its cultural significance, the olive tree represents a major source of income for many families. Around 50% of agricultural land in Palestine is planted with olive trees. The Olive oil industry accounts to 25% of the Palestinian agricultural income, supporting the livelihoods of approximately 100,000 families.
Although the Palestinian olive oil is of high quality, as it is mostly naturally extra virgin, Palestine has not succeeded in appropriately reaching the international marketdue to political, logistical, and market economics/ pricing challenges. With the growing fair trade movements, Palestinian olive oil is getting more attention and is being exported to Europe and North America.
Olive trees and the Israeli occupation:
Palestinians face severe restrictions to reach their olive orchards due to the Israeli occupation. Since the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, hundreds of thousands of olive trees have been either uprooted or burned by the Israeli military. In addition, since the construction of the separation wall, around 150 Palestinian communities are required to obtain a permit to enter their lands behind the wall. These permits are very arbitrary, and are given for short periods of time, which makes it very difficult for farmers to tend their trees. Jewish Settlers’ attacks also project a major challenge to harvesting olive trees in Palestine. Between the years 2010 - 2014 more than 50,000 olive trees were vandalized by those settlers, who occupy hilltops surrounding Palestinian localities. According to the Israeli NGO Yesh Din, over 96% of settlers attacks’ complaints filed by Palestinians between 2009-2015 were closed without any Israeli indictment of a suspect.