Culture and Liberation in Food Crops: The Olive Tree as Resistance

            In addition to being an indirect means towards eliminating native populations, the supplanting of olive trees in the Israel-Palestine region then illustrates how food crops allow the newcomer to forge their indigeneity in a visible, territorial sense. However, if the visible cultivation of crops is a site of combat for territorial claims, then the colonised, in this case the Palestinians, may also struggle for resistance in this domain. Here again the olive tree can be seen as a case in point: the continued rooting and cultivation of olive trees in occupied territories has been recognized as a means for resistance among Palestinians, allowing them to “strengthen their territorial claims” in the face of Israeli occupation (Braverman, 2009, p. 242). Both because of its status as a visible symbol for resistance and because of its importance as a source of (economic) subsistence, the olive tree, its foodstuff and the practices tied to it have achieved an important cultural status in Palestine (Braverman, 2009, p. 237). Identifying the olive tree as a cultural artefact concurs with Amílcar Cabral’s definition of “culture” in his lecture National Liberation and Culture (1974), where he defines it as a product of the political (e.g. an assertions of claim to land) and economic (e.g. source of subsistence) activity of a society (p. 13).

            Identifying the olive tree as a cultural artefact points to the fact that food, its crops and the practices tied to them in general often have deeply rooted cultural meanings apart from material significance. Consequently, Cabral’s vision of culture as a form of resistance to colonialism may also be applied to food production. Cabral finds that “as with the flower in a plant, it is in culture that you find the capacity (or responsibility) for the production of and the fertilising of the seed”, this seed being responsible for the continuity of a people (Cabral, 1974, p. 13). As such, if food is culture, then the continuity of the Palestinian people partially relies on the continuation of its production, further explaining the continued cultivation of the olive tree as a force of resistance. It logically follows that as colonialism requires the suppression of historical progress of the colonised, it necessarily requires the suppression of culture and its artefacts (Cabral, 1974, p. 13). This fact has not gone unnoticed by Israeli forces and independent Zionist settlers, who have expressed their anxieties in relation to the olive trees both in their mass-uprooting projects, but also verbally: chief inspector Kishik of Israel’s Civil Administration said in a 2006 interview “like children, their trees look so naive, as if they can’t harm anyone. But like (their) children, several years later they turn into a ticking bomb” (Braverman, 2009, p. 237). It herein appears that agents of the Zionist project recognize that national liberation is “necessarily an act of culture”, as Cabral puts it (Cabral, 1974, p. 13). Using olive trees as an example, it can be argued that Cabral’s reference to his definition of “culture” in this phrase is in the case of food production interchangeable with culture’s second denotation: that being the cultivation of plants (Cabral, 1974, p. 13).