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Bethlehem late 1800's -
Sometime from mid October to the end of November, the annual harvest of the olive trees was a joyfully exciting event for the whole community. Men, women and children participate in gathering the fruits. Schools and shops close for a few days, and everyone young and old gets involved.
Historians date the first olive trees in Palestine to 4,000 years before Christ. One may look outside his/her window to view olive trees that were planted 1,000 years ago, and still produce the precious olives.
Olives and their products have been a significant part of Palestinian culture since ancient times. The Greeks believe it was Athena, goddess of wisdom and war who gave mankind the divine fruit. The Romans also coveted the precious crop, and later the Venetians shipped it around the Mediterranean.
The olive tree is a universal symbol of peace. The expression "to hold out an olive branch" means to seek harmony and peace. In Palestine, the olive tree is prized for its historical presence, its beauty, its symbolic and its economic significance. Olive trees are a major commercial crop, and many families depend on it for their livelihood.
Many products are extracted from the olive tree. They include the olives which are preserved in various forms and are valued for their nutritional qualities; the oil which is used for lighting and cooking; the hard wood which is used for making durable furnishings and fragrant carvings; as well as numerous olive-oil-based products such as soaps, pharmaceuticals, beauty preparations and others.
It takes an olive tree more then twelve years to produce a fruit. Olive trees grow at a rate of 1-2 feet each year, reaching a height of 20-40 feet after about 40 years. They generally live for about 400 years, but many are known to be 700 or 1000 years old.
Olives and their oil have a spiritual significance not only in the Middle East, but also world-wide. They are mentioned many times in the Torah, the Bible and the Koran, and are known as symbols of peace, life and fertility.