Flight of an Olive Branch

By Shahana Naqvi, Copy edited by Adam Rizvi, The India Observer:

Photo credit :Al Jazeera


The months of October and November are of particular importance to the Palestinian farmers as it is the Olive harvest season. They look forward to the season as it renews their connection to their homeland strengthening their economy and bringing their families together.

Farmers pick the olives along with their extended families and friends, sitting under the olive trees, laughing, dancing and singing their folk songs and having meals together.

Photo credit :Al Jazeera

These words are just a flick of imagination ,a distant dream for millions of defenseless Palestinian families along-with their children who are trapped in Gaza strip, constantly being bombarded with missiles, rockets and bombs worth crores of dollars, which is wiping out their entire bloodlines from the face of the Earth .

As I write there is a genocide taking place in full public view ,with the world watching silently, not to mention the condemnation of a few Arab nations who have tried to secure their own interests and offering nothing but lip service to the war crimes committed by Israel and it’s allies along with the support and goodwill of many western governments.

As such it became incumbent upon me to collect, highlight and honour the Palestinian heritage spanning thousands of years and what better way to honour their heritage than by writing about sacred olive tree and it’s cultural impact on Palestinian society.

Olive tree has been deeply rooted in Palestinian culture and heritage for centuries .It not only provides them with nourishment and income but also a deep sense of identity.


Photo credit : Wikipedia

Olive Tree (Olea Europaea) is a slow growing, evergreen tree or shrub native to the Mediterranian region, Asia and Africa. It can grow upto 6-9 metres tall and wide.

The Olive tree has many branches, branches, it’s leaves are leathery, it also has strong roots that can regrow even when it seems that the tree has decimated.

Olive trees live thousands of years ,some of them are as old as 2,000 years. It is drought friendly and just like ‘Eucalyptus tree’ does not need to be watered.


Photo credit :Flickr

A universal sign of harmony and peace, the olive tree and it’s branches found mention in the holy texts of the three Abrahamic religions of the world namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is a sacred tree, a sign of God’s abundance on Earth and it’s inhabitants.

Ironically a golden olive branch was left on the Moon by Neil Armstrong on the 1969 Apollo 11 mission as a symbol of peace.

Wreath of an olive branch is on the United Nations flag and many countries like Cypress, Eritrea have also adopted it on their country’s flag, countless institutions, organisations, states, schools etc. around the world have adopted this universal sign of peace and freedom on their emblems .

Throughout history, olive tree and it’s branches have often been used as a symbol of abundance, health, glory, wisdom, fertility, victory, peace, power, and purity.


Photo credit :Nepal news

The United Nations has designated 21st September as International Day of Peace or World Peace Day. White dove with an olive branch, (sign of peace and victory), has been adopted as it’s emblem.


Prophet Muhammad pbuh said ,“eat olive oil and massage it over your bodies since it is a holy (Mubarak) tree”, he also stated that olive oil cures 70 diseases.

Palestinian Olive Oil is famous for it’s complex and unique taste, rich flavours and incredibly high quality ,because the olives are handpicked from ancient groves dotting the Palestinian landscape that ensures the maintenance of high quality natural anti-oxidants.

Photo credit :Nepal news

A vast majority of olives harvested comes from West Bank area of Palestine mostly around the city of Jenin.

Olive fruit and it’s oil not only provides nourishment but also helps fight against deadly diseases. Research has shown that people who consume olive oil daily remain safe from deadly disease’s like cancer.


Photo credit :Devian Art

Palestinian cuisine revolves around olives and olive oil ,the Palestinian city of West Bank is well known for heavier dishes with meat and olive oil ,while the cuisine of Gaza strip and other coastal cities is rich in sea food and spices.

What unites different kinds of Palestinian cooking is the love of the olive oil or “Zaitoun and Yogurt”, writes Yasmin Khan from her cookbook on Palestinian cuisine aptly named Zaitoun.

Palestinian families pickle and conserve olives in salt, brine or vinegar and flavour them with different herbs and spices .

Their dips, breads and salads are all dipped in their love for olives and olive oil which further enhances the taste of the dishes cooked.


Photo credit : Shop Palestine

Wood carving from olive tree is an ancient craft of Palestine which is an ancient handicraft present from 4th CE century to current times.

Olive wood carving requires intensive labour and is completed upon many stages in some cases it can take up to 45 days or more.

Craftsmen get at least 6 to 7 years of training to work professionally as this craft often involves multiple artisans having different types of expertise in wood carving.

In it’s last stage Olive Wax is applied to give the object a natural sheen which ensures it’s longevity and enhances the beauty of the finished olive wood product.

Olive wood is easier to craft using simple tools to carve and chisel the wood patterns .Olive wood is resistant to decay and lasts long .

Palestinian woodcarvers from the city of Bethlehem provide religious items like rosaries, crosses, Christmas decor, holy figurines to objects of daily use like cups, platters etc. and decoration items like flower -vase, wall decor, magnets etc.

They are sold to thousands of tourists visiting the various sites and pilgrimage spots as a reminder of their visit to the Holy Land.


History of olive soap industry in the West bank city of Nablus (Palestine) is complex, marked with adversity, natural disasters adding to woes the current Israeli occupation and restrictions which has forced the shut down of this ancient city’s 30 soap factories dwindling to only two working currently.

Traditionally made by women for household use, olive oil based soap from Nablus became a signature industry by the 14th century and  Nablus was exporting it’s products to Europe and Middle East which thrived till 17th century.

Photo credit :Al-Jazeera

Nablus soap is a type of castile soap made up of extra virgin olive oil, water, baking soda and locally supplied lime.

All these ingredients are cooked together, cooled on stone-floors, dried and cut in squares and left to dry in cylindrical shaped tall pyramids to allow air to circulate and dry the blocks of soaps.

It can take around two to three months to dry the soap cubes depending upon weather.

The finished product is ivory – coloured soap bar without any scent .It is considered as one of the world’s oldest and natural soap devoid of any chemicals substances.

Since it is a natural product the olive oil based soap is beneficial for both Hair and Skin. It has anti aging properties which also nourishes, moisturizes, purifies, strengthens and renews the skin tissues. It is also helpful in preventing skin disorders like eczema, psoriasis, rashes, acne, itchiness etc. This natural soap prevents hair fall and dandruff and promotes thick and shiny hair growth .

Along side Nablus, the Lebanese city of Tripoli is also famous for producing high-quality olive-oil soap.

The Tuqan soap factory (Estb. in 1872)in the West bank city of Nablus is currently working, despite the hardships involved in this factory, which continously produce the famed soap, while the ‘Old Arafat’ soap factory has been turned into a Cultural Heritage Enrichment Centre both the centres are open to the visitors in Nablus.

Local NGO like Project Hope have introduced Olive oil Soap into Western markets as a way to support local industry, although with the impending threat of war and genocide of Palestinian lives with all these initiatives seems bleak.


Apart from it’s use in Palestinian cuisine ,the life giving olive tree is deeply ingrained in Palestinian heritage from their folk songs and poetry, all other aspects of their handicrafts and traditions honours the sacred olive tree including olive pattern and motifs on their traditional clothes, weaving, embroidery, pottery, glass, woodwork etc.


Photo credit :Pinterest

The traditional Keffiyeh or Palestinian scarf worn by both males and females has symbolic olive leaves printed on it’s borders.

Keffiyeh was a simple scarf worn by Palestinian farmers, it was famously worn by Yasser Arafat leader of the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) and since then has become a symbol of Palestinian resistance against the apartheid rule of the Israeli Zionist Regime.


Palestinian embroidery also known as tatreez is fine needle work with cross stitch patterns .It was a labour of love handcrafted  by

Palestinian thobes in the collection of Widad Kawar on display at Tiraz Centre,Amman (Jordan)

Palestinian women who embroiderd unique patterns inspired by their surroundings into their traditional dresses called, thobes  during their free time from household chores.

Every place in Palestine had different embroidery techniques that distinguished itself from other regions.

Pottery and Glass

Palestinian pottery and glass have olive motifs engraved, decorated and etched on their surface ,the products include deep plates for serving condiments and jars to keep the olive oil in them.

Photo credit :Shop Palestine

In Gaza strip, Atlafuna crafts along withMr. Sabri Atallah and his family had been striving to keep the art of traditional Palestinian pottery alive but the recent spate of violence and blood shed in the Gaza strip has threatened the very existence of their crafts.


The ‘Al-Badawi’ olive tree is located in the village of Al-Walaja in the Bethlehem district of Palestine, it is named after an Egyptian Sufi holy man who spent much of his time under it’s branches and was once a pilgrimage site for the Sufi’s.

 Photo credit :Atlas Obscura

Owned by Ali Al  Walaja a Palestinian farmer ,this tree is considered as one of the oldest standing olive trees in the world .

Some experts believe it to be between 4,000 to 5,000 years old and is one of handful of olive trees in the East Mediterranian that are more than 2,000 years old .

Mr. Al Walaja claims that the Palestinian Authority pays him a small amount monthly to guard his prized olive tree because of reports of Israeli settlers and soldiers burning and cutting down ancient olive trees in parts of the West Bank .


Mount of Olives (Arabic Jabal az Zaytoun) is a mountain ridge located in East Jerusalem (Palestine ) and is named after the olive groves that once covered it’s slopes.

Photo credit : Wikipedia

It is a holy site associated with Islam, Judaism and Christianity, for Muslims it is a holy site, in Christianity many important events of Jesus Christ’s life occured here and for Jew’s it is a Necropolis where they are buried on it’s slope.


Photo credit :Pinterest

“If the Olive trees knew the hands that planted them, their Oil would become Tears “. Mahmoud Darwish (Palestinian Author and Poet)

Since I come from a family of freedom fighter’s which includes my great grand -father and grand father who fought for the independence of their beloved country India, and break free from the chains of the British Empire, growing up listening to the stories of their bravery with great pride in my heart I can very well relate to the aspirations and hopes of the Palestinian people.

I wish that just like the blessed olive tree standing on it’s land for thousands of years the sacred blood of it’s martyrs would forever inject new hope and inspire a new generation to stand up for the right to fight against injustice and oppression and raise the Palestinian struggle for freedom from the ashes of oppression.

I hope and pray to see their land free of occupation and rejocing in it’s independence, the sweet hustling of olives leaves filled with the laughter of Palestinian’s from, the River to the Sea because……..

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Shahana Naqvi

Shahana Naqvi

CULTURAL MOSAICS : Shahana Naqvi a librarian by profession she loves to read on arts and culture and writes a blog , Museum of Passion, dedicated especially on various cultural traditions of the Islamic world . Having been brought up under the tender care and guidance of her maternal grandmother Ammajaan and the rich heritage tapestry of her beloved city of Lucknow is what shaped her life. Her quest to research Islamic traditions started when she was questioned about her faith, a beautiful journey to unearth the hidden treasures is what she has embarked upon and which according to her is her calling in life ……

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