Daughter of the Olive Trees

views updated

Daughter of the Olive Trees

Excerpts from Daughter of the Olive Trees

Written by Sumaya Farhat-Naser
Published in 2003

"Everywhere...there are checkpoints. Soldiers bar the way and carry out inspections; they are a serious obstacle to everyone on the road."

What is life like for Palestinians living under the occupation of the Israeli government? Born in a tiny village called Birzeit near Jerusalem in 1948, the same year that the state of Israel declared its independence, Sumaya Farhat-Naser never experienced the freedoms of her ancestors who had lived in Palestine for centuries. The year she was born nearly 700,000 Palestinians fled their homes to escape the increasing Jewish population that forced them off their land and sometimes raided their villages and burned their homes.

Sumaya Farhat-Naser and her family did not flee. Her village was located in an area commonly called the West Bank. In 1948 the country of Jordan, then Trans-Jordan, assumed control of this land, including her village. But Israel took control of the area after the Six-Day War of 1967. Farhat-Naser never experienced life in her village without the presence of an occupying power.

Although her childhood was marked by poverty and hunger, Farhat-Naser grew up in a strong, loving family. Possessed of a quick mind and a strong will, Farhat-Naser rejected her grandfather's attempt to marry her off at age fourteen and instead persuaded him to allow her to earn an education. After completing her doctorate in botany at a German university, Farhat-Naser returned to teach at the Palestinian University in her hometown of Birzeit from 1982 to 1997. But she returned from Germany with an appreciation for her occupiers' position, for in Germany she learned of the Nazi Party's extermination of the Jews during the Holocaust of World War II (1939–45; war in which Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, the United States, and their allies defeated Germany, Italy, and Japan).

Dismayed at the difficulties in finding peace with Israel, Farhat-Naser began a quest of her own in the 1980s; she sought out Israeli peace activists from whom she could learn the thoughts of her occupiers. In turn, she told the story of her people. In the following excerpts from Daughter of the Olive Trees, Farhat-Naser explains in detail what life has been like in her hometown.

Things to remember while reading excerpts from Sumaya Farhat-Naser's Daughter of the Olive Trees:

  • At the time Daughter of the Olive Trees was first published in German in 2002, Farhat-Naser had not been able to contact the Israeli peace activists with whom she had discussed peace since the 1980s. The Palestinian uprising against Israel, called the Second Intifada, which began in 2000, ended their discussions.
  • Farhat-Naser wrote in the introduction to her book that her decision to write it was an attempt to continue her efforts for peace in the Middle East.
  • Daughter of the Olive Trees documents not only the difficulties of living under occupation, but also the successful steps toward peace she has experienced over the years.

Text Not Available

Text Not Available

Text Not Available

What happened next ...

Sumaya Farhat-Naser offered a unique perspective on life for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, and she has not stopped working for peace.

Although Palestinians and Israelis had yet to secure a lasting peace by 2005, several indications of progress emerged. Mahmoud Abbas (1935–), who was elected president of the Palestinian Authority, the government of the Palestinian people, on January 9, 2005, after the death of longtime Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) chairman Yasser Arafat (1929–2004), instilled hope in both Palestinians and others for practical steps toward peace. Meanwhile, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon (1928–), who had spent most of his career supporting the establishment of settlements in the Occupied Territories, proposed a disengagement plan that would remove all the Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip and some from the West Bank by the end of 2005.

Did you know ...

  • The Oslo Accords (see entry) of 1993 introduced an idea of "land for peace." Upon signing the agreement, Palestinians agreed that Israel existed within borders that comprised nearly 78 percent of the land of Palestine once governed by the British mandate, a system that gave Britain control of Palestine after World War I (1914–18; war in which Great Britain, France, the United States, and their allies defeated Germany, Austria-Hungary, and their allies). But Palestinians also hoped that Israel would turn over control of the Occupied Territories, which made up the remaining 22 percent of the mandate, to them. This idea of land for peace had yet to be resolved when Farhat-Naser wrote her book.
  • Without an agreement with the Palestinians, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon decided to withdraw troops and evacuate settlements from some of the Occupied Territories in 2005.
  • The Gaza Strip was home to nearly 200 Palestinians for every one Israeli in 2004.
  • There were approximately 140 Israeli settlements in the West Bank in 2005.

Consider the following ...

  • Farhat-Naser considers herself a peace activist. Given her account of life under occupation, what aspects of life for Palestinians are the most important ones for her to impress upon the Israeli peace activists she knows?
  • Farhat-Naser describes the Israeli settlements as seen from the village of Doura. Imagine what a Jewish settler looking from the other direction at Doura would see. Explain in detail the scene from a Jewish settler's position and how he or she might feel about the situation.
  • Farhat-Naser wrote her book in part because her dialogue with fellow peace activists had been cut off by the Second Intifada in 2000. What other means could she have used to continue to work for peace? Explain how they compare to the effectiveness of writing her book.

For More Information


Farhat-Naser, Sumaya. Daughter of the Olive Trees. Basel, Switzerland: Lenos Verlag, 2003.


Derfner, Larry. "Sharon's Switcheroo." U.S. News and World Report (November 8, 2004): p. 40.

"Israeli Cabinet OKs Gaza Withdrawal." Los Angeles Times (February 21, 2005).

Weymouth, Lally. "No Guts, No Glory, No Peace." Newsweek (December 6, 2004): p. 32.