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Letter from Birzeit, #9: Picking Olives

October 21, 2013
by Maya Rose Goldman Maya Rose Goldman is a third-year student at the University of Chicago, where she studies Human Rights, Anthropology, and Arabic. After a visit to Palestine in the Spring of 2012, she became passionate about understanding the situation in the Occupied Territories and the relationship between Israel and Palestine. In August, she returned to the West Bank to study at Birzeit University, from where she has been writing these letters.

Picking Olives

October 15 img_0535On Saturday, I went olive picking with a Palestinian volunteer-based group called Sharaka (meaning “partnership”), which supports Palestinian farmers by directly linking them with consumers and by promoting the traditional agriculture in the region as opposed to cheap imported goods. [If you’re on Facebook and would like more information on them, you can find it on Sharaka’s page.) About twenty-two of us traveled to Qira, a village in the district of Salfit, where we helped a family harvest olives from their expansive grove. We arrived fairly early in the day and jumped right in after a brief explanation of how the process works. First, we gathered all of the olives that had fallen to the ground beneath a given tree, and we placed them in buckets. Because these olives were on the ground and were mostly dried, they will be used to make olive oil for soap. We then spread tarps below the tree and began to pull olives off the branches and let them fall onto the tarp — of course being careful not to step on any! A number of us would be harvesting from the lower branches in this way, while a few more climbed ladders to pick olives from the harder-to-reach areas. It sounds easy, but harvesting olives is actually fairly laborious. Still, it was incredibly fun, especially thanks to the conversations I had with whomever was on the other side of the ladder I was on (for example, I had a long conversation with a man born and raised in Tel Aviv who tries to volunteer in the West Bank as often as possible and who said, “I’m hoping to move to America soon. I can’t live in the Middle East anymore”), and thanks to the upbeat songs the family members sang while they plucked olives from the trees. After we emptied a tree of its olives — which were either dark purple or green, depending on the type — we gathered the tarps and poured the olives into plastic bins. The family assured us that they would press the olives that very night to have the freshest oil possible. img_0532-1The family was incredibly kind, and at around 12:30 there appeared under an olive tree an unbelievably large lunch spread. There were three types of bread, countless types of spreads and toppings, and of course a few types of dessert, tea, and juice. I mostly stuffed myself with za’atar bread — which was fittingly covered in delicious olive oil — mutabal (an eggplant dip), hummus, and slices of tomato. This was followed by tea and cups of juice that literally kept appearing in my hand (as I’ve mentioned before, when you say “no” to food, it’s often interpreted as “yes, please, I’d love some more!”). I tried carob juice for the first time; I didn’t even know there was such a thing as carob juice, and I was surprised that it was orange, but it was actually quite good. I had no idea the carob fruit grew in Palestine; not only that, but carob juice is commonly consumed when breaking the fast during Ramadan. img_0534Speaking of holidays, I’m currently on a week-long break from school because of Eid al-Adha (literally, “festival of the sacrifice”), which commemorates the moment when Ibrahim was willing to sacrifice his own son, Ismail, to Allah — but at the last moment Allah stopped him from doing so and provided him with a lamb to sacrifice instead. Eid al-Adha thus involves the sacrifice of millions of animals across the world, and one third of the meat is often given to those in need. Today, Muslim children throughout Palestine were given gifts today in honor of Eid, which would explain why I saw so many young boys on the street playing with plastic machine guns today. I was shocked. I have met mothers here who yell at their children for just tossing pebbles around the street because they don’t want their children to think throwing rocks is ever permissible, and yet here are children whose parents don’t seem to see how potentially harmful it is to give them fake machine guns. I am using the week off to start some of my final reports for school, but I am also hoping to travel a bit. I’m going to Haifa tomorrow and insha’Allah I will be able to explore elsewhere as well, so I will post again at the end of the week when I’ve had some more adventures! Eid Mubarak!