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Where have all the olives gone?

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“Palestine is the cement that holds the Arab world together or, it is the explosive that blows it apart.” – Yasser Arafat

Arguably, olive trees are considered by most Palestinians as their number one agricultural crop that produces olive oil regarded as one of the best in the world. It accounts for an estimated 57% of Palestine’s cultivated land with around 8 million fruit-bearing olive trees. For over a thousand-year olives have been grown in the Palestine territories showing evidence of ancient olive oil technologies dating back to earlier than 3000 BC. 

OCTOBER 7, 2023

On October 7, 2023, Reports said that the militant group Hamas launched a coordinated assault in the border areas of Israel.  This resulted in the retaliation of Israeli forces, causing deaths of more than a thousand Palestinians, mostly children that others claim remain buried under the rubble to this day, as the war continues.

The United Nations reported that on October 7 and October 19, an estimated 1000 olive trees owned by Palestinian farmers were damaged and burned down along the West Bank alone. Olives were wiped out due to settler related violence which have doubled according to the same report with an estimated average of seven violent acts daily. Olive fruits have not been harvested since then planted to around 800,000 dunums of land. Dunum is a commonly used measurement system in the Middle East equivalent to 1,000 square meters to most countries around the world.

A DEAD OLIVE INDUSTRY?

Labeled as “Israel-Palestinian war,” the olive industry in Palestine is now put in great peril of extinction and irreparable despite efforts to revive the industry because of its importance to Palestinian survival.  Before the October 7 “war” broke out, a British charity group partnered with two recognized NGOs in the region to plant 25,000 olive trees, whose goal is to help revive Palestine’s olive industry greatly affected by the long-running Israel-Palestine conflict.

There are also international groups and UN agencies specifically calling Israeli settlers to free Palestinian farmers from violence. It is a call to allow Palestinian farmers and their families to have access to their land “freely and safely” and take care of their olives.

More than a significant contributor to the economy, olives are a symbol of pride, identity and their deep attachment to land that is being taken away from them. An olive is a tree that grows slowly but bears fruit so abundantly which signifies longevity and resilience. In 2019, the UNESCO General Conference declared November 26 as World Olive Tree Day, recognizing its cultural and historical significance.

OLIVE AS AGRICULTURE

No one knows when the “war” will end, what we know is that Palestinians continue to die as days pass by and their blood spilled on the land where olive trees grow. However, I’m clueless if a tree or two will ever grow again. For them, maintaining the land is far larger than an obligation, it is an oath sealed to solidify their identity where their olive trees grow abundantly.

Land occupation is a systemic core tactic of the enemy and is not done at random, rather from a well-thought plan – strip off their land where their main source of livelihood grows, producing the best olive oil in the world. Worse, there is a food blockade and the intrusion of Israeli products in their market where they are left with no choice but to buy or die of hunger.

OLIVES GONE?

Global experts argue that “agricultural modernization” might have become an illusion, and preservation of traditional agricultural knowledge is bound for extinction. They added that a review on Palestine agriculture might present an apocalyptic prediction caused not only by land occupation, including important productive areas, but also the lack of water resources. Israelis enjoy four-times the amount of water supply compared to a Palestinian.

I have developed admiration and solidarity with a few Palestinian partners where their organizations are part of the people-to-people trading relationship. They confidently and proudly make olive as a medium of strengthening our relationship. Just over a month ago we were together in Tokyo – the date: October 7, 2023, when, suddenly one of them stood at the platform and courageously declared, “as we gather here now, where I am proudly promoting our best product – the olive oil out olive trees our forefathers planted and grew Israelis have started to bomb our land”. Shocked, I can only haplessly whisper to myself, “will all the olives be gone?”*

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