Olive Trees in Gaza Among Conflict's Collateral Losses

As fuel runs out in Gaza, Palestinians are turning to their family olive trees for firewood.
A Palestinian boy pulls tree branches in the southern Gaza Strip, December 2, 2023. (Photo by Ahmed Zakot / SOPA Images/Sipa USA via AP Images)
By Costas Vasilopoulos
Mar. 14, 2024 23:27 UTC

Olive trees in Gaza are caught in the spi­ral of the ongo­ing Israeli inva­sion, with peo­ple in the Palestinian enclave sourc­ing fire­wood from their fam­ily groves for cook­ing and heat­ing.

To make bread, you need a fire,” Khaled Baraka, a Palestinian from Bani Suhaila, a city of 41,000 peo­ple in Gaza, who had to flee the city with his fam­ily, told Al Jazeera. How else was it sup­posed to hap­pen?”

Before leav­ing, Baraka cut down half of the trees in the fam­ily orchard, includ­ing olive, lemon and orange trees, to pro­vide fire­wood for his fam­ily and neigh­bors in need.

See Also:Destruction of Olive Trees in West Bank Is an Attack on Palestinian Sovereignty, Activists Say

I was dis­placed… when Israeli tanks entered the city of Khan Younis, we were already hav­ing a hard time,” Baraka said. My orchard and fields were next to our house, and we had already started burn­ing branches.”

These trees lived through my moments of joy and sad­ness,” he added. They know my secrets. When I was sad and wor­ried, I would talk to the trees, take care of them… but the war killed those trees.”

Ahlam Saqr, a 50-year-old woman liv­ing in Gaza City, was dev­as­tated when her sons had to chop down the four olive trees in their back­yard to source the wood needed to cook and heat their home.

The house felt so empty,” Saqr told Al Jazeera. The trees had their place in the house, and it became dark when they were gone. We have beau­ti­ful mem­o­ries with them. I used to tell every­one that my trees have been my life com­pan­ions.”

The Israeli inva­sion of Gaza came in response to the October 7th attack when mil­i­tants from Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other groups killed 1,143 Israelis. Health offi­cials in Gaza esti­mate at least 30,000 Palestinians have been killed since Israel’s incur­sion.

The start of the war coin­cided with the begin­ning of the har­vest, and as a result, some locals did not gather their fruit in the strug­gle to secure their day-to-day liv­ing.

Instead of [har­vest­ing] olives, we are cut­ting any tree we can find to sur­vive,” Shahd al-Modallal, a res­i­dent of Rafah in south­ern Gaza, told The Guardian. We’ll build a fire and announce to every­one in the fam­ily that we have a fire, so any­one who has food they want to cook should bring it. That’s our daily rou­tine.”

Olives are a major agri­cul­tural crop in Palestine and have been cul­ti­vated for thou­sands of years on the east­ern shores of the Mediterranean.

Nearly half of the cul­ti­vated land in the West Bank and Gaza — an area of almost 41,900 hectares — is planted with more than 10 mil­lion olive trees, mostly local, drought-resis­tant cul­ti­vars such as the Souri and Nabali. Around 100,000 fam­i­lies in Palestine are esti­mated to rely on olive trees for their liveli­hoods.

In 2017, Palestine became the 14th mem­ber of the International Olive Council (IOC). According to the coun­cil, Palestine, includ­ing the West Bank and Gaza, pro­duced 23,000 tons of olive oil in the 2022/23 crop year. Ahead of the Israeli inva­sion, the IOC esti­mated that Palestine would pro­duce 12,000 tons of olive oil, which will almost cer­tainly not be obtained due to the con­flict.

Meanwhile, burn­ing large quan­ti­ties of wood and solid waste has led to res­pi­ra­tory ill­nesses being on the rise in Gaza due to the smoke released. The World Health Organization reported 129,000 res­pi­ra­tory infec­tions in the area in a sin­gle week last December.

According to the World Food Program, a United Nations orga­ni­za­tion that pro­vides food and other assis­tance to peo­ple in dire need, 70 per­cent of the dis­placed peo­ple in south­ern Gaza depend on fire­wood for fuel.

We are liv­ing with sick­ness,” Ali Daly, a man ousted from Rafah who set­tled in Gaza City, told The Guardian. From the smoke of cook­ing, the smoke of the airstrikes, from the cold.”


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