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Beit Kerem Valley olive groves, Galilee, Israel

Olive Branches of Peace, Beit Kerem Valley Harvest

Olive Branches of Peace- Beit Kerem Valley Autumn Harvest

Kibbutz Moran and Beit Kerem Valley Olive Orchards

A Calling

I moved from Jerusalem to the Galilee  three months ago. You can call it a calling, and maybe that’s what it was. As you all know, Abraham left the land of Haran, it being too pagan to accept his new message to the world. I had to leave Jerusalem because it became too religious for me, religious in a manner more reminiscent of paganism and idolatry than of the higher message of the Jewish prophets. For me to thrive spiritually my way I need space, air, Nature, and an environment where I meet individuals rather than  tackle large masses of nervous people on the roads and the streets. And yes, to me, small is beautiful.

On my hammock in Moran with Beit Kerem groves in background

The right place

I looked at about 30 apartments and housing units in Misgav Regional Council, and fell in love with this particular one on Kibbutz Moran. More than anything, it was because of the view which would greet me as I get out my door into my garden, a view also framed in the large living room windows. Furthermore, living in a community seemed an advantage, an assumption proven to be true these unprecedented, if unconsciously expected, war days.

The unit overlooks a magnificent green Mountain and the village of Ein Al Assad. Between me and the mountain lies a wide valley, covered from horizon to horizon in olive trees (see video above). One of the major east-west crossroads of the Galilee., Rt. 85, traverses it.

Interestingly, I later found out that Beit Kerem Valley is the dividing line between the Lower and Upper Galilee, so Moran pertains to the lower, and the Druse village of Ein el Assad to the Upper.

More interesting still, I discovered that the valley spreads way beyond what I can see east and West, and is planted throughout with olive tress – actually, no less than a million and a half of them!!!

Needless to say, before coming to live here I never heard of Moran, Beit Kerem Valley or Ein al Assad….But this is what being a traveler at heart and in practice brings to one’s life. The world is open. When the time and the place are right, you just know it and you can shift gears. 

This ancient feeling

This is topic for a dissertation, I muse hanging on my hammock, watching the ocean of olives. Research the histories of those trees. Which families from which villages are farming here? Since when? How were the territories divided? What feuds took place over those plots? What networks created? Love stories and legends formed?

It is something about olive trees generally. They look old even if they aren’t, like those “old souls” New Agers like to talk about. But many are true oldies, and I know for a fact that here in the valley there are some real ancianos rumored to be up to 3000 years old. That’s Biblical era! And the Bible, indeed, is full of olives, their oil, their royalty as kings’ anointers, and their symbolism as peace harbingers (see quotes below) .

Jesus prayed under an olive tree on his way to Jerusalem, and was crucified on a crucifix made from the olive trees near the garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem.

It might even well be that Palestinians are now taking care of trees planted in the far past by pre-exilic Jews

Beit Kerem Valley olive groves, Galilee, IsraelA beautiful olive tree at Beit Kerem Valley

The oldest olive tree, Al Badawi, is alive, well and growing in Bethlehem. It is dated to be 4000 years old, and named after a Bedouin man who used to sit under it to reflect on the Universe……

Olive Harvesting - Living with the Seasons

Having moved here, being intrigued by this landscape, I immediately started questioning: 

With so many owners, how do they find out which trees are whose?

Do they all come to pick on the same days? (and, oh, I’d love to film that….}

Did the kibbutz buy/confiscate the trees on its grounds?

The answers came:

No, sorry, they each come at their own convenience to harvest, so you won’t get that spectacular Bruegel-like view you are eager to photograph.

The kibbutz struck an agreement with the owner that he can come and pick his harvest in season.

The answer to the first question necessitated my coming down the hill to see things for myself.

For the most part, during my first two and a half months here, I rarely saw a human crossing that vast orchard. Once in a while a single car, or alternately, a noisy quad bike, would traverse the terrain. But this Thursday (Oct. 26th), I saw a man with two women, all of whom seemed Jewish, picking olives by hand from some trees.

Harvest starting at Beit Kerem Valley,Galilee, Israel

The next day, Friday, there was a quantum leap. On three separate spots within my eye range humans identified with the aid of my binoculars as Arab men, parked cars under the trees, spread tarps on the ground and were obviously involved in olive-related activities.

I had to go down to the valley and check for myself.

An Olive Branch - Hospitality in Time of War

But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.

It is  wartime. Arabs are fighting us. We are fighting them back. The Galilee countryside is mostly Arab-inhabited. Jewish settlements are sparse, often far between, and sometimes even locked in. The families owning the orchard are villagers from around the area. But from my experience and from what people have told me, the area is safe, the relations are excellent. The decision was taken to risk it.

I drove down with a bit of trepidation, but collected myself and walked straight on the path leading from the kibbutz access road to the orchard. I navigated to the first group of pickers I spotted from my perch with the binoculars. They were rejoiced to see me!!! 

“Of course you can take pictures. I am Mahmud and this is Iyab.” They were giggling a bit, but everything was super friendly. And how can it be without the traditional coffee in a tiny paper cup? And a sweet snack, and eventually a plastic bag to collect as many olives as I wished (not my original intention, but sure, why not? )

      Olive harvest starting at Beit Kerem Valley,Galilee, Israel  Harvested olives, Beit Kerem Valley,

The only mention of the war was that they started the harvest early this year “due to the situation”. Normally it would set off in November. Nonetheless, the olives were beautiful and ripe – mostly black. I got explanation on how to treat them: salt, not too much nor too little, pepper, garlic, to taste. Bay leaves? Whatever you like.

Olive Harvest - a Family Affair

According to Noor Ibrahim, writing in Time magazine, the olive harvest in the West Bank lasts roughly October through November, and is a “festive season of family and friends coming together to pick olives, often on groves passes on though generations of ancestral inheritance.” Here in the Galilee, it is basically the same.

A needle in a haystack

I was very curious to find out how they knew which trees were theirs. To my question, they explained that there were rocks which served as markers. It wasn’t very convincing by itself,  but here and there I saw low stone walls as well. No matter the tricks, it must be an art to find your trees in this vastness.

Fence separating plots at olive groves, Beit Kerem Vally, Galilee
Fence separating plots

And once you do find it, how do you announce the location to your family and brethren?  Saturday morning, smoke billowed from the middle of the plantation. It rose up and then spread horizontally. First, I saw nobody around, so I was a bit apprehensive, but several minutes later a man approached. The understanding came to me: he was signaling to his family the location of their plot in the very midst of the ocean….

Sticks and butterflies

I witnessed olive harvesting just once before in the Jerusalem area, near the village of Beti Safafa. It was executed by a class of high-school students of some right-wing religious Jewish sect under the guidance of an enthusiastic teacher. They spread a tarp on the ground and hit the olives the ancient way with sticks. Clearly, the groves in that area pertained to Arab owners, but maybe they were abandoned.. Nonetheless, I did not like the feel of this.

However, here in the Galilee, the picking group I met was a family from Gish, a Christian-majority village 19 km up north. Gish is neighbor to Yir’on, my cousin’s kibbutz, and indeed some of the guys said they worked there. The kibbutz was evacuated due to the war; the village, a bit more south, was not….

As can be seen in the picture and videos, the harvesting was done with an electric butterfly-like contraption attached to a stick. The device spares the trees and drops the fruit easily and gently to the ground.

Mahmud and Iyab were the main pickers; then a brother-in-law, Rabi’a (springtime),from Shfar’am, a town 40 km away, joined them.

Olive harvesting station at Beit Kerem Valley“A harvesting station” at Beit Kerem Valley

Next, the fruit is collected from the tarps and shipped to a presser in the area. I was informed there were hundreds of them… 


Million and a Half Olive Trees

Ancient land, ancient art

To find out more, the traveller, a curious creature by definition, searches the libraries. And her curiosity confirms what she has felt intuitively. That subjective feeling of ancientness, watching the vast plantations below, is supported by hard science. This very valley, or its vicinity, could be the site where olive pressing and domestication were initiated for humanity in the first place!!!

When in doubt, consult the pollen

Olives, and especially olive oil, were staples of ancient economies around the Mediterranean Basin: Oil was used for cooking, lighting, medicinal and ritual purposes. Only recently, though, the origin of olive cultivation has been determined.

Disagreements about time and location were rampant, but an international study, led by archeologist Dr. Dafna Langutt from Tel Aviv University, concluded that ancient farmers in what is now the land of Israel were the first to cultivate olive trees. The study pooled pollen data from countries surrounding the Mediterranean. Spikes in pollen concentration beyond the regular environmental fluctuations in a particular location, are likely indicators of human activity and domestication. The samples are taken from lake sediments, in this case the Kinneret and the Dead Sea in Israel., and other water bodies around the Med.

Where olive tree cultivation began around the Mediterranean
                            A map showing where olive cultivation started around the Med

A constant percentage of olive pollen, attributed to the original wild tree, was found around the Med throughout the Holocene (the current geological era), but a massive spike was spotted around 7,000 years ago in the Sea of Galilee and then some 6,500 years ago in the Dead Sea. That spike was uncorrelated to growth of other vegetation in the area, so it did not ensue from improved environmental conditions. The logical explanation is that it resulted from intentional human efforts. Prior to the spike, olive pollen constituted about 3.5 percent of pollen that fell into the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), but by 6,900 years before present it was above 17 percent. 

As of those findings, the team estimated that olive domestication has likely began in the Galilee around 7,000 to 6,500 years ago,.. 

That data means that large-scale cultivation had begun within a maximum radius of 50 kilometers (30 miles) of the Kinneret. Olive cultivation has therefore started either from the hilly territory of the Galilee or Golan Heights, or from the highlands of Judea and Samaria. And perhaps it started right here, in the valley underneath my home… 

Archeological evidence

Archeological evidence goes even further back than the pollen studies: 7600-year old crushed olive pits, a certain sign of oil production, were found in a dig in Kfar Samir near Haifa. Also, residue analysis of clay vessels from Ein Zippori, about 20 km from my current home, turned out to have actual traces of olive oil dated to between 8000 and 7000 years ago!  The site was discovered accidentally while widening a road. No older findings of actual oil have been announced anywhere else in the world..

A huge number of olive oil presses can be seen by the hiker everywhere in Israel, especially in the Judean hills, the Elah valley, the Golan and the Galilee.

Beit Kerem Valley

The ancient olive groves of the Beit Kerem Valley are unique and should have been declared protected. Farmers must be helped to maintain and preserve them. The Jewish National Fund spends a lot of money to take care of sterile forests. So why don’t they treat the olive groves, which are hundreds or thousands of years old, as protected edible forest species? But politics comes in here too.”

Past glory

So how far back has this precious valley, separating the hills of the Lower Galilee from the mountains of the Upper Galilee, been cultivated? I made an effort to find out, but this is not a dissertation. It is obvious that the Valley has all the needed advantages for olive cultivation. It is wide, fertile with deep soil and protected. There is no need to fight erosion as on the hills nearby, or to build terraces. To the contrary, the valley receives eroded soil from the mountains surrounding it. As we have just learned, the general area was found to be the cradle of olive domestication and olive oil pressing in the world. I’d be surprised if the Valley had not been cultivated continously since then..

Historical olive culture

 During the Roman and Byzantine periods, the number of oil presses around the land was in the thousands, all the way from small private installation to large public industrial complexes which generated huge amounts of olive oil. In the area of the Golan heights alone, 109 oil presses were found.

According to the excellent website, Bible Walk in the Holy Land, olive oil production was one of the major sources of income in the Land over thousands of years, up to and including modern times

Rameh’s (ראמה) Jewish past

Rameh village, or Ramah, 3 km from the kibbutz, was a Jewish settlement since the 2nd century a.d. {source: The Israel Guide, Vol 3 ,Keter Publishers, 1978, in Hebrew.) At present, the village presides over a vast section of Beit Kerem Valley olive orchards. Digs have unearthed a synagogue, a mikveh, Hebrew inscriptions, as well as olive and grape presses, grinding stones, house remains and wells. Jewish travelers from the 19th century, who visited Rameh, emphasized the scope of the olive orchards and their ancientness. Rabbi David (1824) deBeit Hillel said: “this place provides oil for most of the land of Israel”. The name Rameh is most probably derived from the Hebrew Rama town mentioned in Joshua 19, 36. In other words, the valley was mostly cultivated by Jews at that period.

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land– a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey.”

Present decline

I walked around an olive orchard located inside my kibbutz perimeter. One of the owners came in today, as of this writing, to harvest. Still, it is surprising how minor the harvest is here. I walked around a grove proximate to my house, but there were no signs anybody has been picking there. I filled up a bag with shiny black olives, which I later submerged in water to mitigate their bitterness, preparing them for pickling. 

According to a thorough study by Ronit Vered from Ha’aretz magazine, high prices drive the native farmers out of the olive oil industry. Musa Halaf, a press owner in Rameh, said that people can no longer make a living off the olives, Rameh”s main source of income for generations. And indeed, I see few people come to harvest, trees are left abandoned, and the olives are harvested mostly for family consumption. The pickers come on weekends only, as they are bound the rest of the week with other occupations: “for most people it’s not worth losing a work day to deal with the olives.” Halaf markets the oil under the label “Beit Kerem Olive Oil.”

In the nearby village of Deir-Al-Assad, Hassan Hatib, a lawyer by profession, also runs an oil press during harvest season. He boasts five generations of harvesters and oil producers, since the 1860s. The press was updated and renovated many times, each with new, more mechanized equipment. Originally, the crusher was operated by donkeys, camels and horses, as well as “very strong men”…. When the press expanded, it had to be moved, as trucks could not move in the original narrow alleys. Today, newly-bought Italian machinery can process four tons of olives in an hour.

Soon to come on Planetsdaughter: Olive presses revisited. and: The joys of olive harvesting first hand. Keep following.


Hope for the future

Dr. Yif’at Reuveni, a lecturer in management at Tel Aviv University, runs a project meant to unite and coordinate mercantile operations of the multiple small presses in the villages. According to her, each Arab community in Beit Kerem Valley has at least three or four olive presses, making it hard to distribute the products efficiently. The enterprise, meant for domestic consumption as well as export, has a potential to increase sales and make olive oil pressing lucrative again, despite the neglect of the last several decades.

“Solomon gave Hiram twenty thousand cors of wheat as food for his household, and twenty thousand baths of pressed olive oil. Solomon continued to do this for Hiram year after year.”!

Appendix: Olives for Peace and War

When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf!

The classic symbol of peace

Apart from the famous Biblical story of the flood, where the dove brings an olive branch to announce a truce between humanity and God, the use of the olive branch as a symbol of peace in Western civilization dates back to at least 5th century BC Greece. Olive branches represented abundance and drove away evil spirits. An olive branch was one attribute of Eirene, the Greek goddess of peace. The Romans knew her as Pax and depicted her on imperial coins with an olive branch. The goddess Athene gave the olive tree to the people of Athens, who showed their gratitude by naming the city after her.

Dove with Olive Branch Clip Art Free PNG Image|Illustoon

As the trees take years to bear fruit, it was believed that anyone who planted olive groves must be expecting a long period of peace. Wars were suspended during Olympic Games and winners given crowns of olive branches.

Olives used as tool of war against Palestinians

In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, 45% of agricultural land is planted with olive trees. The olive oil industry makes up a quarter of the region’s gross agricultural income, supporting the livelihood of about 100,000 families. The olive tree is also considered a symbol of Palestinian resilience. 

Anywhere around the world, it’s a fundamental right to be able to harvest your crop of whatever type. And to see people stopped from doing that, and seeing trees cut down and burnt—I found that shocking, on both a personal and environmental level,”

Hidden agenda

In the name of I don’t know what God, Jewish settler militants in the West Bank, made it practice to uproot Arab olive trees. Further, they do it in my name as an Israeli, under governments who do not bother to put a definitive stop to it. Even if they are a small minority in the Israeli population, lamentably they now carry way more than their weight in the government. It took me time to understand they are not just nationalistic hooligans, but have a secret agenda, an undeclared objective to drive the Palestinian farmers out of their land and confiscate it, which is why they attack farmers and shepherds..

When I was little, a storm felled a pine tree in our yard. I cried inconsolably through the night. Seeing chain saws in the Amazonas, or Indonesia, is for me an intolerable sight. I simply don’t understand people who see a tree as an inanimate object, a “resource”, and don’t let the soul of that tree, even for a second, penetrate theirs, so they at least say the “thank you”. 

Foreign and local volunteers make up for the government

In 2019, Noor Ibrahim wrote A Time magazine article  named, “Olive Groves in the West Bank Have Become a Battleground. That’s Why Volunteers Come From Around the World to Help at Harvest Time“. She claims that “Over 800,000 Palestinian olive trees have been uprooted by Israeli authorities and settlers since 1967, according to research from the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem.” 

I don’t find verification for such large numbers, and have some doubts. However, trees generally, not just olives, are taken out worldwide due to construction projects, especially roads.

At the same time, municipalities often replant and relocate olive trees for their beauty.

Olive tree in Ramat RachelThis magnificent environmental sculpture by Ran Morin at the entrance to Kibbutz Ramat Rechel is located within an olive grove at the site where fierce battles were waged and won by the inhabitants in 1948. It symbolizes both peace and the rootedness and resilience of the Jewish people. It is made of three relocated olive trees on top of 15m columns. The trees are hydrated  through a sophisticated mechanism not visible to the visitor’s eye.

And still, vicious acts and bad intentions characterize the hooligan settlers. It is documented that hundreds of trees are uprooted by settlers yearly. In 2018, settlers destroyed more than 2000 Olive and grape trees with the army standing by. Between 2005 and 2013, Israeli NGO Yesh Din found that, out of 211 reported incidents of trees that were cut down, set ablaze, stolen, or otherwise vandalized in the West Bank, only four have led to police indictments.

Words vs.deeds

In 2006, a decree was passed to allow Palestinians to get “every last olive from every last tree, even if that tree is in the middle of a settlement”. As I mentioned above, here on this liberal peace-loving Kibbutz, tree owners are free to come and harvest. In contrast, in the West Bank, settlers make obstacles to the harvesters, and the law is hardly enforced. Jewish and non-Jewish volunteers from around the world come to help with the harvest, making it an international affair. The idea is to shame the army into complying with the decree and not with the marauders. Unfortunately, extremists like the settlers of the illegal holdout Yitzhar, do whatever they please despite this monitoring. The deeper reason behind all that is that the Likkud in general, and Bibi Netanyahu in particular, need their votes.

The only thing I can hope for now in this context, in the midst of this horrid war, is for the olives to revert to their original position as peace harbingers rather than an arena for conflict and violence.

                                  Olive Branch Stock Vector Illustration and Royalty Free Olive Branch Clipart

This article belongs in a series of articles about the olive culture in Israel. Already published are:

*Olive branches of peace – autumn harvest at Beit Kerem Valley

*Olive picking, my first Masik – Helping farmers in time of war

And in preparation are articles about Deir al Assad and Eretz Gshur olive presess.


*Volunteering in Time Of War 


This post belongs in a post series about Israel’s Back to the Land, under the general category of  Israel’s Best at Planet’s Daughter Website.

This is an ongoing project currently under construction. 

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Post script

Almost uncannily, and synchronistically with my post publication, Vivian Silver, a beautiful Canadian- Israeli peace activist. was found murdered on the kibbutz in which she chose to reside next to the Gaza Strip. In this picture she is holding an olive branch…

Vivian dedicated her life to promote Israeli-Palestinian co-existence, but the terrorists of October 7th, of course, could care less. Just like Kaila Mueller at the hands of ISIS, She was murdered cold-bloodedly. That much for trusting and trying to appeal to the humanity of brain-washed terrorists. Sad…

Robert Peston on X: "Vivian Silver worked for peace and reconciliation in Israel. Read her story below" / X

This Post Has One Comment

  1. 1. This post is very good. One feels immediately the awful gap between love of the land and the fear of the criminal government. This feeling haunts us for many years.
    2. In Tzuba there is a very old olive tree and the note besides it says that it is a few hundred years old. Can a single tree survive thirty hundred year?

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