open Menu

The oak tree and its use among villagers in Israel

When touring the Israeli center and northern parts or even a casual visitor to the Upper Galilee can attest to the fact that the common oak (Quercus calliprinos) is the tree dominating the landscape of woodlands. There are various species of trees, such as Terebinth (Pistaciapalaestina), Styraxofficinalis, carob and many more, along with bushes, shrubs and all kinds of herbaceous plants, but despite this wealth of vegetation, the oak is undeniably the most conspicuous for avid hikers and nature lovers.

The oak is also "landlord"in the eyes of the villagers and especially the elderly ones. They were closely connected, for many generations with their natural surroundingsfrom which they earned a living and livelihood. The young people listen to stories about the plants that were usedtoassist them in everydaylife.

The oak takes a prominent stand in these stories.The villagers call it sindian; this name is derived from the Arabic root 'sind' meaning "anything that rises from the ground on a mountain or in awadi". Another meaning of the name sindian is "backrest". And indeed it was used as a support for the elderly when necessary. Artists carved paintings of animals and plants on the backrest for decoration. Such supports were also used as beams in walls and as brackets for domes of old houses. Roofs of these houses were not built of iron and concrete, but the skeleton was constructed of stems and branches of the oak tree, which were weatherprooffor many years. On the stone arches of the house thick oak trunks were laid, all of the same length and with an equal space between each trunk. Upon these were placed thin twigs close together and a layer of a perennial bush in the rose family (Sarcopoterium). The top layer was dark, grayish-brown, humus-rich rendzina soil to prevent water seepage into the house. Occasionally the ground coating was pressed together with a roller made of a heavy round stone, called madhalain Arabic.

Indeed, the oak had many uses, besides being a tree giving shade, under whose branches the farmer might rest after a day of ploughing the land or harvesting.

Until recently the fellahin (local farmers) wouldplough theirhilly lands with traditional oak-wood implements created by village artisans. The choice of oak as raw material was due to it being strong, flexible and durable under pressure. These ploughs were harnessed to animals - donkeys, cattle, mules or horses.

From the oak's thick branches the fellahin made handles forscythes and pickaxes and from the trunks of the treesthey made boards to be used asthreshing sledges. The long, straight branches were usedto beat the treesduring harvest of olives and when there were snowstorms in the area the fellahin would go out and cut off thin branches of oak, to provide food for goats under "siege". The oak is considered to be the favourite food of goats. After the goats had eaten the leaves, the fellahin collected the twigs and kept them on rooftops and in courtyards, to be used as fuel for fires to prepare coffee or food.

On holidays and at celebrations many such branches were needed to makethin pita bread.Oak wood was also neededfor the stage of pounding meat when preparingkubbeh (stuffed burghul croquettes). The women ground the meat in a mortar prepared from a thick oak trunk. Oak was chosen because of its ability to withstand the series of intense blows during the grinding stage.

When there was a shortage the fellah made coffee from the acorns of the oak tree and thebedouinswould collect theseacorns, roast themon the fire in winter, dry them and preserve them. Another oak in the Upper Galilee, worthy of special mention, is the Boissier Oak. These trees are attacked byinsects which form gall nuts, and the fellahin would collect these gall nuts in late summer, grind them up and soak the powder in water for several days. In this way they prepared ink with which they wrote their letters. Their children played marbles with the gall nuts.

If you ask a fellah which wood he might choose for firewood or charcoal, he would point to the oak without hesitation for it is a long-burning wood which generates a lot of heat. Even the coals that are left over at the endare of the highest quality.

Widespread use of this tree harmed the woodland badly, and as a result of thebrutal logging of trees many oaks have developed in the form of shrubs, with thin trunks;in several areas the oaks have even been eliminated altogether. However there are a few trees that were saved and cared for by the fellah. These are the trees by the roadside leading to the graves of sheikhs, prophets and holy persons. The villagers kept these as shady places to lie down and rest. Coloured rags hanging from the branches distinguish the trees from a distance proclaiming that these are sacred trees which must not be harmed, and this custom has been passed down from generation to generation.

Walk through the oak woodlands in one of our Galilee and Golan Heights trails - our trips