Eating an Olive

Dema

Palestinian Olives

My friend Dema is giving me a ride to class. Dema and I have only been friends for a few weeks, but we’ve become close very quickly. She is eating olives from a small, unlabeled glass jar near the gear shift, and she offers me one. 

The olive looks different from any I have ever seen before -- pointy on both ends, a bright, light yellow-olive green, with herbs stuck on it all around the outside. I look up at Dema, surprised, and she answers my unasked question. “My aunt sends them to me from Palestine.”

I’m awestruck. “Palestinian olives!” I say. Dema nods. I know that one of the tactics the Israeli government has used against the Palestinians has been to destroy over a million olive trees, devastating the livelihoods (and the hearts) of tens of thousands of families. This olive in my hand somehow survived that and made it all the way to me, in the Eastern US, at this moment.

I put the olive in my mouth and chew. It tastes different than any olive I have encountered as well: tangy, tart, and more substantial against my teeth than I am used to. I can feel my molecules rearranging as I contemplate what this olive and its ancestors must have been through. The resilience of the olive, the resilience of the people.

I’m a Jewish American, a progressive, and a peace activist. For decades I have opposed Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and all the forms of cruelty that have been used to maintain and expand it. I know a lot of Jews who say they know the occupation is wrong, but they can't really empathize with the suffering of the Palestinians because they identify so strongly with Jewish Israelis. I always thought I wasn't one of those people.

But before I met Dema, my empathy was abstract -- I saw something terrible happening to some faraway people in a faraway land. Having a close Palestinian friend for the first time let me realize that it’s happening to actual, regular people. People just like me.

Back in the car, Dema is nodding. “Yeah,” she says, “Food is resistance.”

“Yeah,” I say. I take another olive.

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