Olive Oil Season: A West Bank Kitchen Story Every year, Palestinians from towns and villages across the West Bank bring their ladders and tarps to local olive groves. Olive oil season is the center of local history and culture — and at the heart of the economy.
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Olive Oil Season: A West Bank Kitchen Story

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Olive Oil Season: A West Bank Kitchen Story

Olive Oil Season: A West Bank Kitchen Story

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Now a Thanksgiving hidden kitchen from the ancient olive groves of the West Bank.

Every year, Palestinians renew a ritual there that goes back to biblical times. Despite decades of conflict with Israelis and even the uprooting of thousands of trees, Palestinians continue to work their ancient groves.

Producer Sandy Tolan brings us the olive oil season, a West Bank kitchen story.

(Soundbite of music)

Dr. OSAMA ODEH (Olive Expert):: If anybody wants to get his son married, he says, well, after the olive oil season. If he wants to buy clothes for his kids, he makes it after the olive oil season. If he wants to build an additional room in his small house, he makes it after the olive oil season. Because it's a matter of life for them.

Unidentified Man #1: (Unintelligible) harvest our olive trees.

Unidentified Man #2: Okay.

Mr. FAREED TAAMALLAH: My name is Fareed Taamallah. I live in the West Bank village of Qira. Now we are in the olive grove in the heart of the West Bank.

Ms. RANA BISHARA (Artist): They are like jewels in the mountains of Palestine. They glow in the landscape of Palestine.

Mr. ZARDUS HAK(ph) (Agricultural Engineer): People take holidays, you know, schools will be closed. My name is Zardus Hak(ph) and I am an agricultural engineer by trade. And people who will go and everybody will be carrying the ladder going to his olive orchard. Blankets would be spread under the tree and people will join in.

Unidentified Woman #1: (Speaking in Arabic)

Unidentified Woman #2: We're very careful with the way we are thinking. You have to be gentle.

Unidentified Woman #3: There is this gentleness in how the olives fall on the tarp. There's a softness as they fall.

Ms. IBTISAM BARAKAT (Author): I'm Ibtisam Barakat. I am the author of the book "Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood."

(Soundbite of children playing)

Ms. BARAKAT: I was a student at Birzeit University in the West Bank. The students were required to do 120 hours of voluntary work. Hoards of students chose to do the olive harvest. We would gather in 20, 30, 40...

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing in Arabic)

Ms. BARAKAT: The word birzeit means a well of olive oil, so I went to a university that is the well of olive oil; that's the name of it.

Unidentified Woman #4: I talk to the tress. I see them, they feel me. I come here, I talk to them, I calm them, I take care of them, I prune them. I consider it like my sons and my daughter. It's a very close relation between me and them. It's like somebody growing up in your family.

Unidentified Woman #5: The olive branch is an international sign of peace, but in the past and in territories it's come to represent division.

Unidentified Woman #6: A group of West Bank settlers attacked a Palestinian family with rocks and metal bars in what's become an annual problem during the olive harvest.

Unidentified Man #4: The attacks by the settlers on the harvest deal a severe blow...

Rabbi ARIK ASCHERMAN (Rabbis for Human Rights): My name is Rabbi Arik Ascherman. I'm the executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights. We are standing in the northern part of the occupied territories. As far as I can see here you can just see hilltops just blanketed with olive trees. In this recent - in recent history the olive tree has been a symbol of strife. There have been efforts to uproot olive trees by settlers. We work in some between 30 to 40 villages throughout the occupied territories.

NATENEL: My name is Natanel and I'm from Israel collecting olives with a Palestinian guide.

NAMA: You have in your village olive trees?

NATENEL: No. Not in the village.

Unidentified Woman #7 (Speaking Arabic)

Unidentified Woman #8: It's very, very beautiful.

NATENEL: It's good in the salad.

Unidentified Man #5: I think part of what we do here by working together as Jews, Israelis, internationals, Palestinians, in some small way we're perhaps restoring the original symbolism of the olive branch as the symbol of peace.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #6: This is the first sack of olives for this season which entered the press, but within days it will be hundreds of sacks coming in.

Dr. ODEH: Hi. I'm Osama Odeh from the village of Bidya. That name Bidya, it means the stone for crushing olives.

Here in the season you do not stop. You work day and night. Nobody cares about sleeping or not. Everybody is running, people bringing olives, taking the oil. Tractor comes. They want those in his small car and with his donkey with olives around. As if it is the rush hour in downtown...

Unidentified Man #7: The oil, the main source of our life. You can't find any family can live without oil, olive oil.

Ms. BARAKAT: The olive harvest time is our Thanksgiving. And so people gather and cook special harvest meals like zahan(ph), where fresh flat bread is drenched with olive oil, and roasted chicken and sumac...

Mr. FAREED TAAMALLAH: (Speaking in Arabic)

Ms. BARAKAT: Roasted almonds.

Mr. TAAMALLAH: (Unintelligible) is the food you put for the harvest.

Ms. BARAKAT: And fried onions are mixed together and baked.

Mr. TAAMALLAH: The main feeling now is that I am hungry.

Ms. BARAKAT: And, of course, the king of that meal is olive oil, the fresh olive oil.

Mr. TAAMALLAH: I will be very lazy after this.

Ms. BARAKAT: I've been in the United States for 20 years. But I think of olives every day. I eat olive oil every day, and I have an olive tree in my living room where I live in Missouri. I want to have an olive tree living with me.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman #9: (Singing in Arabic)

MONTAGNE: Our story was produced by Sandy Tolan. Hidden Kitchens is produced by the Kitchen Sisters. For a journey into the West Bank olive groves, photos, music, and recipes of the harvest, go to npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman #9: (Singing in Arabic)

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