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History & Heritage


In Bethlehem, this olive tree is as old as time

In Palestine, near Bethlehem, there is an olive tree that has proudly occupied its place for over 5000 years… It is the largest and oldest tree in the country, and its guardian watches over it every day.

“It is the most beautiful tree in Palestine,” Salah Abu Ali explains, as he walks around it, carefully inspecting every inch of the olive tree. This 46-year-old man with a shaggy beard has made the protection of this millennial tree a mission, this place a sanctuary.

But why this almost religious approach? Perhaps simply because the olive tree has been planted on its roots for longer than Christianity and Islam, long before the time of the prophets of the Holy Land.

Thus, every morning, he stands in the shade of his tree (the site belongs to his family) and prepares to welcome visitors, with water, coffee, and fruit that he has just picked in his orchard. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture, the tree is estimated to be about 5,000 years old. It extends over 250 m2, reaches a height of about 13 meters and its roots sink up to 25 meters into the ground.

A spiritual dimension

Families in the surrounding area call it the “al-Badawi tree” – a reference to the Egyptian Sufi spiritual guide, Sheikh Ahmad al-Badawi, who reportedly visited and cared for the tree for a few years.

Abu Ali also considers that the tree has a spiritual meaning. “If we do not tend to this tree, we will be held responsible. It is no less important than al-Aqsa or Ibrahimi mosques.”

The locals also consider the tree as a source of luck and blessings. According to the tree’s warden, women would pick up its fallen leaves to protect themselves from evil. Every year as well, families come in the shade of the tree to sacrifice their sheep during the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.

See also

The Bearded Bakers, Palestine’s culture in the spotlight

Published on 27 November 2019