Cultivating Hope in Palestine

A nongovernmental organization seeks to plant 50,000 olive trees across Gaza and the West Bank to improve the economic outlook of Palestinians.
Planting olive trees in Palestine
By Wasim Shahzad
Sep. 11, 2023 14:59 UTC

Amid the dead­liest year of con­flict between Israelis and Palestinians since the end of the Second Intifada in 2005, the non-gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion Human Appeal is work­ing to bring hope to con­flict-engulfed com­mu­ni­ties in the West Bank and Gaza through an olive tree plant­ing pro­gram.

According to Tor Wennesland, the United Nations spe­cial coor­di­na­tor for the Middle East peace process, more than 200 Palestinians and 30 Israelis have been killed in ongo­ing clashes across the region.

The farm­ing project pro­vides each farmer with 30 to 40 prime olive trees so they can estab­lish a vibrant, sus­tain­able crop that yields not just food but income for gen­er­a­tions.- Owais Khan, deputy chief exec­u­tive, Human Appeal

This vio­lence is fuelled and exac­er­bated by a grow­ing sense of despair about the future,” Wennesland told the U.N. Security Council.

Owais Khan, Human Appeal’s deputy chief exec­u­tive, told Olive Oil Times that his orga­ni­za­tion is work­ing to improve the eco­nomic out­look of Palestinians by plant­ing olive trees, a his­toric sym­bol of peace and a dri­ver of the region’s econ­omy.

See Also:2,300-Year-Old Olive Oil Lamp Unearthed in the West Bank

Human Appeal is sup­port­ing the plant­ing of tens of thou­sands of olive trees in Palestinian farm­lands in the West Bank and Gaza, in spite of recent dis­rup­tion to the region’s olive tree farm indus­try,” he said. The olive tree holds a spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance for Palestinian farm­ers as it is both a means of liveli­hood and his­toric source of pride and a sym­bol of regrowth.”

Khan added that the 31-year-old non-profit works in 26 coun­tries to pro­vide dis­as­ter relief and estab­lish self-sus­tain­ing devel­op­ment pro­grams.

Our work is always guided by five eth­i­cal, par­tic­i­pa­tory and sus­tain­able prin­ci­ples: gen­der par­ity, envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, inclu­sion, pro­tec­tion and value-for-money,” he said.


Owais Khan is Human Appeal’s deputy chief executive.

Despite the con­flict, the International Olive Council esti­mates that Palestine, includ­ing the West Bank and Gaza, pro­duced 23,000 tons of olive oil in the 2022/23 crop year, slightly exceed­ing the five-year aver­age.

According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, vir­gin and extra vir­gin olive oil made up 2.54 per­cent of Palestine’s total exports in 2021, the last year a com­plete data set is avail­able, earn­ing $36.9 mil­lion (€31.2 mil­lion). Refined olive oil exports that same year were val­ued at $6.65 mil­lion (€5.62 mil­lion).

Most of these exports were des­tined for the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United States.

Khan said Human Appeal has been work­ing in Gaza and the West Bank since 1991 to plant 100,000 olive trees.

The farm­ing project pro­vides each farmer with 30 to 40 prime olive trees so they can estab­lish a vibrant, sus­tain­able crop that yields not just food but income for gen­er­a­tions,” he said.

Khan added that Human Appeal works with local experts and farm­ers to ensure olive trees are planted sus­tain­ably and can become self-suf­fi­cient, allow­ing farm­ers and the com­mu­nity to main­tain and har­vest them with­out fur­ther inter­ven­tion from the NGO.

One of these projects [in the West Bank] in total assisted in the cul­ti­va­tion of 200 dunums (20 hectares) of land with an aver­age of 15 to 16 seedlings per dunum (0.1 hectares) across 20 local­i­ties in the West Bank, directly sup­port­ing the incomes of nearly 200 farm­ers and 1,200 indi­vid­ual ben­e­fi­cia­ries,” he said. Once har­vested, the ini­tial plan­ta­tion is expected to yield approx­i­mately 4,000 kilo­grams of olive oil.”


According to Khan, one olive tree planting project will support up to 200 families with food and income.

Echoing the sen­ti­ments of Wennesland, that extrem­ism on both sides of the con­flict is fueled by a sense of despair, Khan and Human Appeal believe the olive trees offer a glim­mer of hope and hold the key to rebuild­ing both land and lives.

Khan added that these projects con­tribute to envi­ron­men­tal restora­tion and fos­ter eco­nomic sta­bil­ity, cul­tural preser­va­tion and emo­tional heal­ing for com­mu­ni­ties in war-affected areas.


The olive tree project assists the Palestinian National Olive strat­egy in achiev­ing its goal to plant an addi­tional 50,000 olive trees in Palestine over five years,” he said. With olive seedlings bear­ing fruit after one year of plan­ta­tion, the project will have a pos­i­tive impact on the tar­get ben­e­fi­cia­ries’ liveli­hoods for many years to come.”

The olive oil indus­try makes up 25 per­cent of the agri­cul­tural income for Palestinians and sup­ports the liveli­hoods of approx­i­mately 100,000 fam­i­lies,” he added. The value-added of the asso­ci­ated olive oil indus­try reaches an aver­age of $5.4 mil­lion (€5.0 mil­lion) per year, accord­ing to data from the Palestinian Olive Council,” Khan added.


Human Appeal plans to plant 50,000 olive trees in the West Bank and Gaza over the next five years.

Projects of this nature often pose sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges, demand­ing a con­certed effort and resource­ful­ness to over­come obsta­cles and achieve their objec­tives.

While a sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge comes in the form of Israeli set­tlers destroy­ing Palestinian olive groves, Khan cited cli­mate change as a more con­se­quen­tial chal­lenge fac­ing olive farm­ers across the region.

Aside from the destruc­tion local con­flict causes to dis­rupt human­i­tar­ian project work on the ground, we have also faced a chal­lenge with dete­ri­o­rated water sup­ply in the West Bank and Gaza that is needed for the irri­ga­tion of farm­lands,” he said. Working with local experts and our own water-related ini­tia­tives, we have man­aged to find solu­tions to ensure olive plan­ta­tions get the water needed and are sus­tain­able.”

The olive tree has long been a sym­bol of peace, from the Biblical tale of Noah’s Arc and Virgil’s Aeneid to the uni­form of United Nations peace­keep­ers.

Khan thor­oughly believes the olive tree can be a tool of peace and said Human Appeal plans to con­tinue its oper­a­tions in north­west­ern Syria, where a dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake killed tens of thou­sands of peo­ple and destroyed local groves and olive mills in February.

We are expand­ing our olive tree plan­ta­tion ini­tia­tive to north­west Syria to assist the liveli­hoods of the local pop­u­la­tion there,” he con­cluded. Our olive trees are three years old and deliv­ered along with other trees, allow­ing farm­ers to have a viable means of liv­ing.”


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