If the Olive Trees knew the hands that planted them, their oil would become tears.
I followed Daoud, hoping my reluctance didn’t show. We stood together on the veranda looking out over the dark garden – a couple of acres of prime Abdoun real estate. He flicked a switch by the kitchen door and I saw part of the garden was laid to lawn, but the hilly rise to one side accommodated a small stand of olive trees.
‘Ibrahim and my father brought these trees from our farm in Qaffin and planted them here over thirty years ago. Back then it looked like we were going to lose everything from over there, so they thought they’d keep at least this much.’ He led the way down the steps to the trees. ‘Smoke?’
‘No thanks, I don’t.’
He grunted, then lit up a Marlboro Light. ‘These trees are everything to the farmers. They are tended like fine grape vines, the olives are pressed like wine. The first cut is virgin, the finest. The olives weep the purest oil when they are first squeezed. We press them until they can weep no more, then we feed the remains back to the land, to the animals. We still press oil over at the farm on the old stone press. It is not much, it is not enough to keep the place running, but we help out, as Ibrahim said. It is the finest oil you will ever taste. It is a symbol for us too, you understand. Of hope.’
Olives, Page 46
“The olives weep the purest oil when they are first squeezed. We press them until they can weep no more...” the line about olives weeping was actually part of the first draft of Olives, it was years later I discovered the words of Mahmoud Darwish which are the frontispiece of the book – “If the Olive Trees knew the hands that planted them, their oil would become tears.”
This, of course, is why the book is called ‘Olives’ or, in Arabic, ‘Zeitoun’ – the symbol of the fictional Dajani family’s identity, the farm in Qaffin maintained by Mariam. One early reviewer, IMHO, nailed it: George Emerson: “The image of the lonely farm, with its olive trees, and a woman who has spent a life of hardship trying to protect it, is the strongest image of hope, but also of volatility of human existence that will be coming back to me long after the last page of the book is turned over.”
There is something fine about the taste of great olive oil and some of the finest I have tasted has come from Palestine and Jordan, a pure flavour that is fresh and somehow ‘green’.The struggle to keep the olive groves alive is a daily one for many Palestinian farmers and the olive trees, some hundreds of years old, are constantly being torn out of the ground by Israeli forces and settlers.
Oxfam used to have an olive tree as part of its rather brilliant gift catalogue, Oxfam Unwrapped. For those of us who have too much, to be able to gift someone else a goat for a village in Africa or an olive tree for a Palestinian farmer is, to me, a really cool way to show that we care without simply wasting money on a gift that nobody really want. I discovered this a couple of years ago and loads of friends and family got olive trees instead of stuff they didn't need.
You can buy aid for Palestinian olive farmers as a gift here.