Intern Journal: Olive Picking in Beit Furik

If the essence of Palestine were to be captured in one image, that image could very well be the olive tree.  Much of the rustic landscape is peppered with olive trees, many of which are centuries old and have been tended to by the same family for generations upon generations.  One of the very first images of Palestinian life I observed after crossing into the West Bank by car on the way to Nablus was a family beginning their olive harvest, so I was delighted to hear that Ahmad, TYO’s health educator, had invited the international staff and interns to come pick olives alongside his family in the village of Beit Furik. Chelsey, Rick, Ashwini, Samee, Adrienne, and I left Nablus early on Saturday, October 16th—water bottles, sunscreen, and breakfast in hand—and after a short taxi ride, we arrived to find Ahmad and his family having already picked several bucketsful of olives.  Ahmad welcomed us with his customary joviality and led us up the steep slope to his home.  He served us fruit drinks and coffee in the parlor, where we were soon also greeted by his wife, Tahrir, and their smiley six-month-old son Bara’.  We then climbed the stairs to the roof to take in the view of the mountain-rimmed village and its houses, olive groves, and farmland, most of which unfortunately lies barren due to water shortages.  We admired the beauty of Beit Furik while also trying to fathom the frustration its inhabitants must have felt for the seven years of Israeli- imposed closure that severely restricted entry and exit from the village.  Finally, we traipsed back down the hill to take refuge from the beating sun under the leafy branches of the olive trees and participate in the harvest.

As we began picking the olives off the trees and tossing them onto the tarpaulins spread out on the ground below, we learned that the olive trees we were harvesting had been planted by Ahmad’s father 39 years ago.  We were surprised to find that the olives, which were meant to be pressed for olive oil rather than eaten whole, were more rubbery and less juicy than the olives we were familiar with.  We amateur olive-pickers tried to mimic the technique of Ahmad’s relatives, who were able to run one hand down a given branch and strip the olives off of it in a single, deft movement.  As we progressed from one tree to the next, we learned that the olive trees on the higher part of the slope produce more olives.  However, Palestinian olive trees have become less fruitful on the whole because of water shortages in the West Bank.  Whereas in the past, the olive harvest lasted three weeks, nowadays it takes only 10 days to pick all of the olives produced.

After we fulfilled our olive-picking duties, Ahmad offered to take us for a driving tour of the village, but there was a slight caveat: we six visitors could not all fit in his car.  “Not to worry,” he assured us, “I have an idea.”  It was only a few moments before one of Ahmad’s friends drove by in his car, and Ahmad flagged him down, converting him into an impromptu tour guide.  Ashwini, Adrienne, and I learned that our “guide’s” name was Jihad, that the little boy seated next to him was his son Youssef, and that he worked at the tahini factory that was our first stop on our tour.  Jihad proudly explained that the tahini is sent to Israel, from whence it is exported to America, Europe, and all over the world.  We also visited an animal feed factory and a turkey farm, although not before Ahmad’s cousin Samir from the tahini factory had served us all coffee and sent us off with a few complimentary jars of tahini.

By the time we returned to Ahmad’s, the women of the family had finished preparing lunch, and we were served two heaping platters of maqloubeh, a delicious “upside-down” rice and cauliflower casserole topped with chicken.  After being on the receiving end of such marvelous displays of hospitality throughout the day—from being provided with innumerable coffee and tea breaks to having neighbors drop everything to do us a favor—I am left wondering whether, by the end of my internship, I will have managed to give to the Nabulsi community even half as much as it will have given to me.

- Julie

Julie is a Fall Intern at TYO Nablus.