How the olive tree came to symbolize Palestinian national identity

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Olive trees have for centuries provided a steady source of income from the sale of their fruit and the silky, golden oil derived from it - and encapsulate the Palestinian identity wholly. (Supplied/Sliman Mansour)
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Olive trees have for centuries provided a steady source of income from the sale of their fruit and the silky, golden oil derived from it - and encapsulate the Palestinian identity wholly. (Supplied/Sliman Mansour)
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Olive trees have for centuries provided a steady source of income from the sale of their fruit and the silky, golden oil derived from it - and encapsulate the Palestinian identity wholly. (Supplied/Sliman Mansour)
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Olive trees have for centuries provided a steady source of income from the sale of their fruit and the silky, golden oil derived from it - and encapsulate the Palestinian identity wholly. (Supplied/Sliman Mansour)
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Olive trees have for centuries provided a steady source of income from the sale of their fruit and the silky, golden oil derived from it - and encapsulate the Palestinian identity wholly. (Supplied/Sliman Mansour)
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Olive trees have for centuries provided a steady source of income from the sale of their fruit and the silky, golden oil derived from it - and encapsulate the Palestinian identity wholly. (Supplied/Nabil Anani)
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Olive trees have for centuries provided a steady source of income from the sale of their fruit and the silky, golden oil derived from it - and encapsulate the Palestinian identity wholly. (Supplied/Nabil Anani)
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Updated 28 November 2021
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How the olive tree came to symbolize Palestinian national identity

  • The trees feature prominently in Palestinian art and literature as symbols of steadfastness amid a life of displacement 
  • Since the West Bank olive harvest began on Oct. 12, observers say settlers have attacked farmers and uprooted trees regularly

AMMAN: Few things encapsulate the Palestinian identity quite like the humble olive tree. It roots an entire nation to a land and livelihood lost to occupation, while serving as a potent symbol of resistance against the territorial encroachment of illegal settlements.

In the balmy Mediterranean climate of the Levant, olive trees have for centuries provided a steady source of income from the sale of their fruit and the silky, golden oil derived from it.

To this day, between 80,000 and 100,000 families in the Palestinian territories rely on olives and their oil as primary or secondary sources of income. The industry accounts for about 70 percent of local fruit production and contributes about 14 percent to the local economy.

It is perhaps no surprise, then, that these hardy trees feature so prominently in Palestinian art and literature, even in the far-flung diaspora, as symbols of rootedness in an age of displacement, self-sufficiency in times of hardship, and peace in periods of war.




Olive trees provide Palestinians with a vital part of their diet, but have also become a symbol of hope and unity. (Supplied)

“It represents the steadfastness of the Palestinian people, who are able to live under difficult circumstances,” Sliman Mansour, a Palestinian painter in Jerusalem whose art has long focused on the theme of land, told Arab News.

“In the same way that the trees can survive and have deep roots in their land so, too, do the Palestinian people.”

Mahmoud Darwish, the celebrated Palestinian poet who died in 2008, sprinkled his works with references to olives. In his 1964 poetry collection “Leaves of the Olive Tree,” he wrote: “Olive is an evergreen tree; Olive will stay evergreen; Like a shield for the universe.”

Such is the economic and symbolic power of the olive tree in Palestinian national life that the rural communities that have tended these crops for generations are routinely targeted by illegal settlers attempting to denude families of their land and living.

Since the olive harvest began on Oct. 12 this year, observers in the West Bank have reported Israeli settlers attacking Palestinian villages on an almost daily basis, beating farmers, spraying crops with chemicals and uprooting olive trees by the hundreds.

FASTFACTS

* The land around the Sea of Galilee was once the world’s most important olive region.

* The area was the site of the earliest olive cultivation, dating back to 5,000 B.C.

* Southern Spain and southeastern Italy are now the biggest olive-oil-producing regions.

Such violence and vandalism is nothing new. The International Committee of the Red Cross said more than 9,300 trees were destroyed in the West Bank between Aug. 2020 and Aug. 2021 alone, compounding the already damaging effects of climate change.

“For years, the ICRC has observed a seasonal peak in violence by Israeli settlers residing in certain settlements and outposts in the West Bank toward Palestinian farmers and their property in the period leading up to the olive-harvest season, as well as during the harvest season itself in October and November,” Els Debuf, head of the ICRC’s mission in Jerusalem, said recently.

“Farmers also experience acts of harassment and violence that aim at preventing a successful harvest, not to mention the destruction of farming equipment, or the uprooting and burning of olive trees.”

According to independent observers appointed by the UN, the violence attributed to Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank has worsened in recent months amid “an atmosphere of impunity.”

In response to these attacks, Palestinian farmers have been forced to plant about 10,000 new olive trees in the West Bank each year to prevent the region’s 5,000-year-old industry from dying out.




The humble plant continues to have a special place in the hearts of the Palestinian people and their quest for statehood. (Supplied)

Nabil Anani, a celebrated Palestinian painter, ceramicist and sculptor, believes the olive tree is a powerful national symbol that must be protected at all costs.

“For me it is both a national and artistic symbol; it reflects the nature and beauty of Palestine,” Anani, who is considered one of the founders of contemporary Palestinian art, told Arab News. “Our traditions, culture, poems and songs are often centered around the tree.”

To the west of Ramallah, the administrative heart of the Palestine government, Anani said the hillsides bristle with olive trees as far as the eye can see.

“They cover entire mountains and it is one of the most pleasant views that anyone can observe,” he added.

INNUMBERS

* 48% - Proportion of agricultural land in the West Bank and Gaza devoted to olive trees.

* 70% - Share of total fruit production in Palestine provided by olives

* 14% - Contribution of olives to the Palestinian economy.

* 93% - Proportion of the olive harvest used to make olive oil.

The late Fadwa Touqan, one of the most respected female poets in Palestinian literature, saw olive trees as symbols of unity with nature and of hope for the renewal and rebirth of Palestine.

In a 1993 poem, she wrote: “The roots of the olive tree are from my soil and they are always fresh; Its lights are emitted from my heart and it is inspired; Until my creator filled my nerve, root and body; So, he got up while shaking its leaves due to maturity created within him.”

More than just a source of income and artistic inspiration, however, olives also form a vital part of the Palestinian diet and culinary culture. Pickled olives feature in breakfasts, lunches and dinners, providing significant nutritional health benefits.

Olive oil, meanwhile, is used in scores of recipes, the most popular of which is zaatar w zeit: fluffy flatbread dipped in oil and then dabbed liberally in a thyme-based powder that includes sesame seeds and spices.

Beyond the dinner table, olive oil historically has had many other uses: As a source of fuel in oil lamps, a natural treatment for dry hair, nails and skin, and even as an insecticide.




Sliman Mansour, a Palestinian painter in Jerusalem whose art has long focused on the theme of land. (Supplied)

It is not only the fruit and its oil that the olive tree contributes to the cultural and economic life of Palestine. Olive pits, the hard stones in the center of the fruit, have long been repurposed to make strings of prayer beads used by Muslims and Christians alike.

As for the leaves and branches of the trees, they are trimmed during the harvest season to be used as feed for sheep and goats, while the broad canopy of the olive grove provides animals and their shepherds with welcome shade from the relentless afternoon sun.

The wood of felled trees has also been widely used in the carving of religious icons as far back as the 16th century, and as a source of firewood before the modern profusion of gas. In fact, the glassmakers of Hebron, who are famed for their stained glass, continue to use charcoal derived from olive trees to fire their kilns.

While the quantifiably beneficial uses of the olive tree are many, perhaps what is even more valuable to Palestinians is the inspiration it has provided to poets, painters and prophets down the ages, not to mention the special place it continues to occupy in their culture and quest for statehood.

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Twitter: @daoudkuttab


Hamas’ armed wing says Israeli airstrike killed two hostages in Rafah

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Hamas’ armed wing says Israeli airstrike killed two hostages in Rafah

The group did not release the names of those said to have been killed
The Israeli government “does not want your hostages to return, except in coffins”

CAIRO: Hamas’ armed wing Al-Qassam Brigades said on Friday that two Israeli hostages held in Gaza were killed in an Israeli airstrike on Rafah a few days ago.
The group, in a video posted on its Telegram channel, did not release the names of those said to have been killed or provide any evidence.
The Israeli government “does not want your hostages to return, except in coffins,” the Al-Qassam Brigades statement said.
Israel rescued four hostages held by Hamas in a hostage-freeing operation in central Gaza’s Al-Nuseirat on June 8. The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said more than 250 Palestinians were killed in the raid.
The war in Gaza erupted when Hamas militants stormed southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel has responded with a military assault on the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza health ministry. Israel says its campaign is intended to eliminate Hamas as a threat and free the remaining hostages.

Human rights groups join legal review of UK arms sales to Israel

Updated 33 min 38 sec ago
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Human rights groups join legal review of UK arms sales to Israel

  • Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Oxfam allowed to submit evidence in case brought by Al-Haq, Global Legal Action Network
  • UK has issued 100 new arms licenses to Israel since start of war in Gaza that has killed over 35,000 Palestinians

LONDON: Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Oxfam will be able to provide evidence to a High Court judicial review of UK arms sales to Israel.
The decision, made by a judge on Thursday, will see the three prominent groups submit testimony to the review launched by Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq and the Global Legal Action Network.
The case is expected to be heard in October, with UK government lawyers having previously sought to block HRW and Amnesty from submitting evidence.
It comes after it was revealed that the UK government has issued over 100 new arms export licenses for Israel since Oct. 7.
UK Department for Business and Trade data also showed that no licenses have been revoked in that period, during which more than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli military in Gaza.
The UK government is legally obligated to suspend licenses if it is found that exported weapons could be used to break international law, which numerous organizations, including GLAN and Al-Haq, say has already happened.
HRW and Amnesty had requested that they be allowed to participate in the review as they are “better placed in terms of capacity and resources” than GLAN and Al-Haq to contribute evidence due to “several decades” of experience in the field.
Amnesty International UK’s CEO Sacha Deshmukh said in a statement: “This is a very welcome decision and we look forward to presenting our evidence to the court. We’ve always believed it was vital that the court has the fullest opportunity to review expert human rights evidence from ourselves and Human Rights Watch.
“Our evidence demonstrates the gap between the Israeli military and political leadership’s policies and practices and their legal obligations, and shows how this gap has resulted in Israeli forces repeatedly committing grave breaches of international humanitarian law.
“The UK’s continued sale of components for equipment such as US-made F-35 jets despite the clear risk that these could be used by Israel in the commission of serious violations of international law is making a mockery of the UK’s own arms export rules and needs to be stopped as a matter of urgency.”
HRW’s UK director, Yasmine Ahmed, said in a statement: “We welcome the court’s decision to allow Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to intervene with key evidence in this critical case.
“In the face of Israel’s ongoing crimes in Gaza, the UK government presents the nonsensical argument that it is lawful to continue sending arms to Israel on the basis that Israel is committed to complying with international law. Our evidence shows the exact opposite.
“Time and again, Israel’s official statements, policies and practice are in direct contradiction with international law and the results are clear to see: children in Gaza are dying of starvation and starvation-related illnesses.
“It is critical that the Government’s justification for arming Israel is properly scrutinized by the UK courts.
“The law is very clear: licenses should be suspended when there is a clear risk that arms and military equipment might be used to facilitate or commit serious violations of international law.
“As Israel continues to carry out widespread serious violations, including war crimes, the UK should immediately suspend arms licenses to avoid breaching its own laws and being complicit in these grave abuses.
“While this decision is of course welcome, it is a sorry state of affairs that the case even needed to be brought. We shouldn’t have to drag ministers in front of judges to have them comply with their own laws.”
Oxfam CEO Halima Begum said in a statement: “Oxfam has been systematically prevented from getting life-saving aid into the enclave, and our staff and partners face a constant threat to their lives while trying to sustain basic humanitarian operations.”
The UK government has said its licenses are kept under “careful and continual review.”


Israeli polls show Netanyahu party narrowing gap behind Gantz

Updated 47 min 57 sec ago
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Israeli polls show Netanyahu party narrowing gap behind Gantz

  • The polls showed Likud winning 21 seats behind the National Unity Party on 24
  • Both polls showed a majority of voters would prefer Gantz as prime minister in a head-to-head choice with Netanyahu

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right wing Likud party has reduced the gap behind the centrist party of former minister Benny Gantz, who quit the wartime unity government on Sunday, two polls showed on Friday.
The polls, for the left wing Ma’ariv daily and the right wing Israel Hayom newspaper, showed Likud winning 21 seats behind the National Unity Party on 24. The Ma’ariv poll last week showed Gantz’s party on 27 seats, while at the start of the year, it was regularly polling in the high 30s.
The Ma’ariv poll shows the current ruling coalition winning 52 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, against 58 for the main opposition parties, with the balance of 10 seats held by the United Arab List and the left-wing Hadash-Ta’al alliance.
The Israel Hayom poll put the coalition on 50 seats against 61 for the opposition parties and 9 for the UAL and Hadash-Ta’al.
Both polls showed a majority of voters would prefer Gantz as prime minister in a head-to-head choice with Netanyahu. However, the Israel Hayom poll showed that if former prime minister Naftali Bennett were to join forces with Avigdor Liberman and Gideon Saar, two other center right politicians from outside the Likud camp, their alliance could beat both Likud and Gantz’s National Unity Party.
Gantz, a former army general and defense minister in the last government, joined Netanyahu’s coalition last year as a gesture of national unity following the devastating attack by Hamas on Oct 7.
However, he clashed repeatedly with other ministers and quit the government after demanding Netanyahu articulate a clear strategic plan for the war in Gaza, now in its ninth month.
Netanyahu, who was widely blamed for the security failures that allowed the Oct. 7 attack to take place, has refused to call early elections and would not normally face voters until 2026 if his coalition with a clutch of religious and right wing pro-settler parties holds.


Sudan’s army says it has killed US-sanctioned RSF Darfur commander

Updated 14 June 2024
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Sudan’s army says it has killed US-sanctioned RSF Darfur commander

  • Gibril was a leading commander for the RSF in Al-Fashir

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s army said on Friday it had killed Ali Yagoub Gibril, a senior commander for the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) who was under US sanctions, during a battle in the besieged north Darfur city of Al-Fashir.
There was no immediate comment from the RSF.
Gibril was a leading commander for the RSF in Al-Fashir, the last major city in the Darfur region of Sudan that the paramilitary force does not control.
The army said in a statement Yacoub was killed as an RSF attack was thwarted early on Friday by its troops and allied “joint forces” fighting alongside it — a reference to non-Arab former rebel groups from Darfur that are aligned with the army.
The RSF has been besieging Al-Fashir, a city of 1.8 million people, for weeks and top UN officials have warned that the worsening conflict there could trigger widespread intercommunal violence.
The UN Security Council called on Thursday for a halt to the siege.
War between the army and the RSF erupted over conditions for a transition to democracy in mid-April last year in the capital Khartoum, soon spreading to other parts of the country.
The conflict has led to the world’s largest displacement crisis, renewed ethnic violence in Darfur blamed on the RSF and its allies, and a sharp increase in
extreme hunger.


Israeli jets strike targets in Lebanon after missile barrage hits northern areas

Updated 23 min 40 sec ago
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Israeli jets strike targets in Lebanon after missile barrage hits northern areas

  • Warning sirens sounded in border areas in northern Israel in the late morning as about 35 missiles were fired from southern Lebanon
  • In response, the Israeli military said its artillery attacked launch sites operated by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia

JERUSALEM: Israeli jets and artillery hit targets in southern Lebanon on Friday after dozens of missiles were launched toward northern Israel, the military said as an escalation in cross-border strikes continued for a third day.
Warning sirens sounded in border areas in northern Israel in the late morning as about 35 missiles were fired from southern Lebanon into the area around the border town of Kiryat Shmona.
Television footage showed damaged buildings and cars as well as brush fires in several locations caused by strikes or falling debris amid heatwave conditions.
Warning sirens sounded and emergency services said teams were active in several areas but there were no reports of any casualties.
In response, the Israeli military said its artillery attacked launch sites operated by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia in southern Lebanon and Israeli jets also hit Hezbollah infrastructure in the areas of Odaisseh and Kfarkela.
The Israeli military has exchanged regular fire with Hezbollah forces across the border in southern Lebanon ever since the start of the war in Gaza in October.
Israeli strikes have killed more than 300 Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon — more than in 2006, when the sides last fought a major war, according to a Reuters tally. Around 80 civilians have also been killed, the tally says. Attacks from Lebanon have killed 18 Israeli soldiers and 10 civilians, Israel says.
Neither side has appeared to wish a wider conflict, but there has been growing worry that the steady intensification of strikes could push the situation out of control with the risk of a wider conflict in a region that has already seen direct exchanges between Israel and Iran.
The latest salvo came after an Israeli strike killed a senior commander from the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia in southern Lebanon on Tuesday, drawing the heaviest bombardment of northern Israel since the start of the war in October last year.
Tens of thousands of residents have been evacuated from their homes on both sides of the border, creating growing pressure to resolve the stand-off, but diplomatic efforts have so far proved fruitless.
On Friday, the Israeli military said fighter jets and anti-aircraft systems had intercepted 11 of the 16 drones launched by Hezbollah against Israel in the past 72 hours.
“The Israeli Air Force is continuing to operate at all times to thwart terrorist activities and protect Israel’s skies from any threat,” it said in a statement.