Mourning the Olive, Remembering the Cactus

Palestine has long been known as the land of the olive tree, site a plant embedded in the soil that requires a less than moderate amount of water yet still provides for millions of people. It is a national livlihood for Palestinians.

Recently dozens of illegal Israeli settelers snuck into the Palestinian village of Salem, prostate near Nablus, click in the night, and armed with chainsaws they cut down over 200 olive trees; the main source of income for 5000 residents. The settelers say the land is their biblical birthright.

Since 1948 Israel has uprooted thousands of olive trees in Palestine, destroying farms and livlihoods in order to expand its territory. There is little Palestinians can do other than cling to the trunk of the trees as their roots are torn from the soil, ruined. It is a stolen livlihood.

However there is another plant that grows famously in Palestine: the cactus. The Arabic word for cactus is “sabr” which is also the word for  “patience”; this is the mother of all metaphors. The reason it carries that name is because of the way it grows and the fruit that it bears. When planted the cactus has roots which are embedded deep within the soil, stretching out to search for any hint of water but growing despite the lack of it; patiently. Whenever bulldozed it simply grew right back like an impossible weed. It arms itself with spikes to protect itself from animals wishing to attack but its fruit comes with much smaller spikes as an invitation to be picked but people do so with caution not to be pricked, they pick the fruit with patience. It is then peeled and prepared in the same manner; patiently.

This has become a symbol of the Palestinian struggle, surviving in the harshest of environments with nothing more than patience. Today it grows all throughout Palestine, in straight lines like protective fences or in the ruins of now destroyed Palestinian homes.

So when we mourn the loss of olive trees unjustly destroyed, we also remember the cactus for its spirit of resilience but above all, its patience.

6 thoughts on “Mourning the Olive, Remembering the Cactus

  1. You know even in Jordan Palestinians still plant olive trees and the harvest is like a tradtion to them, something to celebrate every year and a proof of life. We young people complain about it sometimes, demanding our old people start buying olives instead, but deep down we don’t want that to ever happen.

    And cactus, last summer I had to eat cactus offered to me in every visit I make (at least 3 daily!), yea we value our cactus so much.

  2. A beatiful metaphor.

    “Surely God is with those who are Patient”

    In South Africa, we get what we call ‘Prickly Pears’. Related to the cacti family, the fruit has a delicate, subtle sweetness which belies its unfriendly exterior.

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