Palestinian olive trees – a peace symbol within water conflicts

There are ways out of the water crisis in Palestine and they do not only depart from olive groves but also from freekeh fields…Around 800 000 olive trees have been uprooted in the conflict between Israel and Palestine since 1967 – an area of 33 central parks or more than 15000 soccer fields. The effects on the economy are disastrous. Moreover this is an offence of the self-conception of Palestinian farmers, for one, because the cultivation the symbolic olive trees became part of their identity over the past centuries, for another, because these trees form the basis of their lives within the harsh times of draughts.Water shortages are a substantial problem in Palestine. Even though potentially there is enough water available for all residents, many communities aren’t sufficiently supplied. Well constructions are strictly controlled and are subjected to special military permits. Moreover, the Israeli state-owned company Mekorot is coordinating the water supply. While the Israeli population have approx. 300 litres of water per capita at their disposal, Palestinians get only 70 litres delivered per day – 30 litres less than the WHO’s recommendation a day per capita.You can recognize the Palestinian houses and villages from afar because of the water tanks on top of their roofs. Inside the tanks, families store water to survive the draughts in summer.

In the past summer the water crisis reached catastrophic a new level – in some villages nearby Salfit, Jenin and Hebron water supply stopped for 40 days. Enas Taha, a resident of village of Kafr al-Deek told Al-Jazeera: „I am checking the weather forecast every day. (…) I have to consider and prioritise every single drop of water I use. We have barely enough to drink, cook, shower and use the bathroom. Sometimes I don’t do the laundry or clean the house for weeks. It is hot and dusty. This is exhausting.”Bad water supplies do not only affect Palestinian households, but also agriculture and bio diversity. Since it is impossible to water the field sufficiently, many traditional kind of fruits and vegetables cannot be cultivated anymore. The result is a high concentration on particular plants that can survive with the scarce rainfalls in winter – like the olive tree.Some olive trees in Palestine are up to 4000 years old. They account to the oldest trees on the planet and for generations Palestinian families cultivated those trees.

Historically, the olive tree always was associated with a special meaning – it’s robustness symbolically stands for resilience, resistance and peace. In the biblical narration of the flood noah send a pigeon to check the situation which came back to the arch to bring the good news „land in sight“ holding an olive branch in it’s beak. Also the Quran relates to the oil tree, giving off light to all. Later on, in the middle of the 20th century Pablo Picasso takes up this image with a drawing for the world congress of peace – the famous dove of peace carrying an olive branch in the beak.

Nowadays, olives account for 70% of the fruit and vegetable production of Palestine generating around 14% of the economic income. More than 80 000 families depend on those green and juicy stone fruits. Still, although olive trees form the base of income for many Palestinians, their cultivation leaves some bitter side effects behind. The strong focus on olive cultivation results in an oversupply leading to a drop in prices. Hence, also the lucky farmers whose olive trees have not been destroyed in the conflict increasingly have to face precarious conditions of production.That is why Conflictfood carefully evolved an idea on how to sustainably support Palestinian farmers and ecological diversity – we want to create a long lasting demand for the traditional power grain freekeh without exploiting Palestinian agricultural structures.

Freekeh can be sustainable alternative with respect to the water scarcity because it is harvested while it is still green and unripe. Therefore it’s cultivation process requires less water than any other grain’s one!You can find this water-efficient grain with the freaky name in our webshop in organic quality!

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