(West Bank and the Gaza Strip)
General Description / Cultural Significance
Olive Trees reach heights from 10 to 40 feet (3 to 12 meters). Their plentiful branches spring from a thick and knotted trunk. The Olive Tree takes up over 45% of the West Bank’s agricultural land. It is a strong plant able to live and grow through periods of drought and inferior states of soil. When cut down, it is often able to regenerate from the roots.
Because of the tree’s ability to thrive through adversity and the strength of its wood, few single substances embody a culture so beautifully, like the way the Olive Tree does to the State of Palestine. Though a worldwide symbol of peace, in recent years, the fruit tree has served as an emblem of resistance and steadfastness to the state during times of conflict, occupation, and modern colonialism. The history of Olea europaea runs deep, with cultivation practices dating back to at least 3000 BC.
There is a deep-rooted connection between the Palestinians and their Olive Trees as the plant is passed down through generations. Every asset of the tree is engrained into the culture and identity of Palestinians. An Olive Tree in every yard is a common sight. Many of these trees can live up to 500 to 1,000 years old and because of the tree’s longevity, it becomes intrinsically linked to a family’s culture.
The tree’s imagery inspires literature and visual art across Palestine and through the ages. The olive plays a crucial role in the cuisine of the nation and is a key aromatic ingredient in many recipes that are part of daily life. The oil is used for both culinary and practical purposes that include the famous Nablus olive oil soap made since ancient times. Even the pits of the olives are used by Palestinians for prayer beads. The Olive Tree has been a constant comforting presence and has served as a reminder to the Palestinian people of their ancient connection to their land and culture.
Climate Change / Conservation Status
The Olive Tree in Palestine faces two difficult forces in its venture of conservation: climate change and war. In 2021 the Ministry of Agriculture released a statement informing that olive production in Gaza had dropped approximately 65%. This massive drop is a result of climate change. Humidity and high temperatures have created unstable conditions for the trees, reducing their fertility by up to 80% because of ‘olive knot disease.’
It is also a victim of the ongoing strife in Israel and the ancient trees are often purposefully destroyed in the conflict. These acts are making the land more susceptible to climate change through erosion and other degradation of the landscape and taking livelihood and way of life away from many citizens in Palestine. Since 1967 over 800,000 Palestinian Olive Trees have been uprooted and destroyed with this number continuously growing. This cycle of conflict does not show signs of stopping, making it a significant threat to the survival of these ancient, endemic trees.
Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine at United Nations. This statement can be found on the World Sensorium Original Website.
(n.d.). Stolen Harvest: Occupation and Palestinian Olive Trees. Grassroots International. https://grassrootsonline.org/what-we-do/publications-and-resources/fact-sheets-reports/stolen-harvest-occupation-and-palestinian-olive-trees/#:~:text=Olive%20trees%20symbolize%20Palestinian%20steadfastness,yet%20continue%20to%20produce%20olives.
Khalil, S. H. (n.d.). Olive tree, za’atar, cactus: Palestine’s symbolic plants and the meanings behind them. Middle East Eye. https://www.middleeasteye.net/discover/palestine-plants-symbolic-meanings#:~:text=Palestine%20holds%20some%20of%20the,generations%20to%20look%20after%20them.
Diek, H. (n.d.). The Significance of the Olive Tree in Palestine. Bethlehem Bible College. https://bethbc.edu/blog/2021/10/28/the-significance-of-the-olive-tree-in-palestine/
Kuttab, D. (n.d.). How the olive tree came to symbolize Palestinian national identity Previous. Arab News. https://www.arabnews.com/node/1976171/middle-east
Hedroug , L. (n.d.). Israel’s Campaign Against Palestinian Olive Trees. The Yale Review of International Studies. http://yris.yira.org/global-issue/6018
(n.d.). Climate Change Hits Gaza’s Green Gold. International Committee of the Red Cross. https://www.icrc.org/en/document/climate-change-hits-gazas-green-gold#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20Ministry%20of,in%20the%20last%20ten%20years.
(n.d.). Israeli forces uproot dozens of olive trees east of Bethlehem. Palestine News Agency. https://english.wafa.ps/Pages/Details/136507