It’s that time of the year when rural Levant populations rush to their olive groves to pick the year’s harvest: generally used for pressing olive oil, pickling olives, and for making olive-based soap and beautification salves.
The timing of olive picking is crucial: it must take place after the second autumn rains – then waiting for two days thereafter for the soil to dry a little. Picking olives any later than that will embitter the flavor and ruin the benefits of the harvest. As you can imagine, this causes an insane rush to pick literally millions of trees in the region, with everyone working to a deadline. This tradition has been going on for thousands of years – even way before the enigmatic Abraham was born. Here in the south of the Lebanon, the pickers are mostly local villagers joined by Syrian refugees who have taken refuge in sleepy villages.
This year, yet again, I am volunteering to join a local team of pickers who pick trees belonging to poor senior citizens who are not physically fit for the task and who have no money to pay for hired pickers. It’s an occasion that I earnestly look forward to. I get to spend all day with native volunteers – they sing old folk songs as they pick and everybody gets to picnic under olive trees for lunch. A most splendid and friendly atmosphere.
I’m especially enamored by the singing during the olive harvest. The locals here sing to help pass the time and sing to remember their ancestors who sang the same songs before them. And they don’t just sing old folk songs from Lebanon, they also sing folk songs from Syria and especially songs from Palestine. Palestine olives are particularly remembered here in the south of Lebanon. This is the case because when Lebanon was under Israeli occupation, Lebanese olive trees too were either destroyed or olive fields were turned into inaccessible so-called ‘security zones’ – thus many olive seasons were lost to their owners while the Israeli occupation lasted. Lebanese olive pickers have perfect empathy for Palestinian olive pickers.
I love the simple ritual solidarity between Lebanese olive pickers and their Palestinian brethren in occupied Palestine. My favorite song lyric sung by Lebanese pickers in support of Palestine is (translated): “Our olive trees will live longer than the invaders; our olive trees are nature’s soldiers; olive branches are our peace with god and our weapons that will liberate Jerusalem”.
Olive picking in the Levant has become an act of resistance. Enjoying the bounty of the land has become an act of resistance. The olive branch is not just a symbol for peace in the Levant, it is a confirmation of the natives’ undying attachment to their ancestral land and way of life.
For the next few days, my blogging time will be limited, but I will endeavor to keep you all posted with important and select news of the day.
Here I send my warmest wishes to Palestinian olive pickers under duress and under the boot of the insatiably cruel and violent Zionist dictatorship.
Keep picking, Palestine. Keep picking your way to freedom.
For every olive tree that the enemy destroys, plant ten saplings in defiance.
Long live the land of Palestine; long live the songs of the olive harvest.