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4. The Amazing Olive Tree
The olive tree is truly amazing! It thrives even in the rocky, dry areas of Palestine; it is indeed the lifeblood of Palestinian agriculture. For the villagers of Bayt Zaytun, the olive tree is a blessing. When the olive harvest begins—usually at the end of September each year—our village comes to life as everyone becomes involved in the work.
We hear about modern machines that are used in some countries to pick olives. These are very costly so we rely on the traditional method of harvesting using buckets and ladders. We typically use sticks and rakes to knock the olives off the trees onto a canvas matting or blanket. To make the picking easier, we have always planted our olive trees close together. My father believes that the old-fashioned harvesting techniques maximize the quality of the fruit.
Each day, we get up early and, after praying salat al-fajr and eating a hearty breakfast, head off to work in the olive groves. It usually takes about five years for an olive tree to produce any fruit, but after this, they
* This beautiful silver dirham from the time of the first 'Ayyubid ruler, Salah al-Din, the liberator of al-quds (Jerusalem), was in use all over Palestine. On this coin, the kalimah has been placed in the margin. The beautiful Kufic script in the square reads al-malik a-nasir salah aldunya wa ad-din ("the defending king [Salah al-Din], Honour of the World and the Faith"). Coins like these are requently unearthed in the fields around Bayt Zaytun reminding us of the glorious Islamic history of Palestine.*
can often live for hundreds of years and still bear fruit. My father believes that some of the world’s oldest olive trees grow in Palestine.
When an older tree dies, it is a sad occasion, but new trees can be easily planted from the branches of living ones.
Olives change colour as they ripen. From pale green, they change to yellow, red, dark purple and finally black. After harvesting the olives, we place them in 40-50 kilo bags. Raw olives are too bitter to be eaten and must first be soaked in a solution of salt, lemon juice and some- times a spice mixture. The olives we harvest for olive oil must be black before being sent to large olive presses located in towns like Ramallah. Unfortunately, due to the occupation of our land, roadblocks and closures sometimes prevent us from transporting our olives to market.
For as long as we have lived on this land, poor Palestinians have had a daily diet consisting of whole wheat flat bread dipped in olive oil. The Prophet Muhammad (SM) reminded us to “Anoint yourselves with olive oil because it comes from a blessed tree.” In surah al-muminun, ayah 20, Allah speaks of “ a tree issuing from Mount Sinai which bears oil and seasoning for all to eat.”
We don’t need modern doctors to tell us about the obvious health benefits of eating olive oil and about how it has no cholesterol and improves blood circulation. We villagers have a hundred effective traditional remedies made from the fruit of the sajarah almubarakah , the blessed olive tree!
5. Ancient Finds
Palestine is an ancient land. Today, everyone in my country is affected by the ongoing conflict between the occupying forces and the Palestinian people. In the past, however, Muslim Palestinians, like their Muslim brothers and sisters of Al-Andalus, lived in peace with their Christian and Jewish neighbours. Our religion, din alhaq al-islam , is a religion of peace and tolerance and alHamdulillah, we have proved this many times throughout our history. To this day, some Palestinians still practise the Christian faith and live alongside Muslims in our villages and towns. The present conflict began more than one hundred years ago with the arrival of the first Zionists (fundamental Jewish nationalists) from abroad.
My people, the Palestinian Arabs, are descendents of the Canaanites, the earliest known inhabitants of Palestine. We did not arrive on the doorstep of Palestine as a people looking for a homeland. When Islam became the predominant religion in the Middle East, within a hundred years of the death of the Prophet Muhammad (SM) we too, the inhabitants of Palestine, became Muslim, al-Hamdulillah.
In many caves that dot the barren mountains near Bayt Zaytun along the edges of the Dead Sea, important ancient manuscripts (hand-written texts) have been found. In 1947, for example, a Bedouin shepherd from a village near Jericho discovered many parchment manuscripts rolled up as scrolls. Experts have examined these manuscripts and say these are the oldest existing
*This is the beautifully carved wooden mimbar originally built for almasjid al-aqsa by Nur al-Din al-Zenji, the ruler of Halab (Aleppo). He died before Jerusalem (al-quds) was liberated from the Christian Crusaders. In 1087 CE, however, Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi transported this mimbar to Jerusalem and placed it to the right of the newly purified mihrab of al-aqsa. This exceptional work of lslamic art, having survived for almost a thousand years, was shamefully destroyed in a deliberate arson attack on al-masjid al-aqsa in August 1 969. Some of the burnt remains of this historical mimbar can be seen today in the Al-Aqsa Museum next to the mosque.*
examples of the Christian bible (injil).
The extremely dry climate in our part of Palestine helps to preserve written records like manuscripts and fragile clay olive oil lamps (see illustration). We often find such lamps in the caves surrounding Bayt Zaytun. Inscribed on the top lamp is the Greek word palaistini (“Palestine’). On the second lamp is an Aramaic inscription. Aramaic is one of the oldest languages still spoken today. It is the only Semitic language still in use after 3,000 years! The Aramaic alphabet is derived from the Phoenician one that in turn gave us the Greek and Latin alphabets. The Aramaic alphabet, however, is the ancestor of our Arabic one.
According to Christian tradition, the Prophet ‘Isa (Jesus) (A) lived in our part of Palestine. Allah mentions in the Qur’an the miraculous ability the infant ‘Isa (A) had to speak at birth:
And [I came] confirming that which was before me of the Torah, and to make lawful some of that which was forbidden unto you. I come unto you with a sign from your Lord; so keep your duty to Allah and obey me. Lo! Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is a straight path, (surah al -‘imran, ayah 50)
As Muslims, we do not know precisely what language Prophet ‘Isa (A) might have spoken. It is possible, however, as Christians believe, that he spoke Aramaic and Hebrew, the two local languages at the time.
InshaAllah, by everyone knowing our true history and respecting this ancient land called filastin, our people will once again be able to live in peace with all.
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