JERUSALEM/BETHLEHEM, November 11, 2011 – On October 29th, Palestinians from Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Beit Jala, along with international visitors, gathered in Manger Square in front of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem to celebrate the 11th Annual Olive Harvest Festival.
The tradition of the Olive Harvest Festival began as an initiative of the Environmental Education Center (EEC) in 2001 as a way to encourage personal and societal care for the land and olive trees, and to highlight the work of local Fair Trade and Cooperative Organizations working in the Olive industry. Ten years later, it has grown to showcase not only the Olive industry, but also various agricultural cooperatives and traditional Palestinian arts including embroidery, wool products, glasswork, painting, music, and dance.
The Festival draws both local and international visitors each year, and has grown to be well known in the community. Local organizations are offered space to showcase their products and teach visitors about themselves. All profits from sales go directly to the organizations and cooperatives involved. Local choirs and dance troupes are highlighted in performances throughout the day.
Dr. Salam Fayyad, Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority (PA) was on-hand to officially open the festivities with Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) at his side.
Fayyad brought greetings from PA President Mahmoud Abbas, as he encouraged all Palestinians to continue to remain steadfast to their land, despite the barriers present in the ongoing situation that can make accessing land and caring for trees very difficult.
Younan also spoke at the opening, calling to mind both the national and religious meanings of the olive tree to the Palestinian people. Younan spoke of the olive tree as a tree of blessing, a tree of peace, and a tree that, in its persistent green leaves reminds us all that the promise of peace is always alive and present.
Younan also spoke to the ongoing dedication of the ELCJHL to educational and ecological awareness in Palestine that has spanned more than 25 years. Younan highlighted the work of the EEC throughout the West Bank in the Environmental Clubs that it supports in more than 30 schools, as well as its work in curriculum development. Younan also spoke of the shared responsibility for the land for all Palestinians—in farming, as well as in supporting the farmers in their work and in their harvest.
Also present at the festivities were Dr. Kholoud D’aibes, PA Minister of Tourism; Abdel Fatah Hamayel, Governor of the Bethlehem Area; Victor Batarseh, Mayor of Bethlehem; Ziad el-Bandak, Christian Adviser to the PA President; Sulaiman Qandil, Leader of the Bethlehem District; and Father Attalah Hanna.
Click here or on the photos above to view more photos from the event.