The villages in Bethlehem’s periphery are renown for their ancient olive trees. In fact, the oldest known olive tree in the world is located in the village of Al Walaja on the outskirts of this holy city. These trees are coveted because their olive wood has an exotic burl. These trees are pruned twice a year to ensure that they continue to produce plump olives for pickling and pressing. Yet, the people of Bethlehem have historically recycled these pruned logs by cutting them into blocks, slabs and blanks, which they dry and then into handicrafts to sell to pilgrims who seek to take home a part of the holy land with them as souvenirs and gifts.
Olive wood is very hard and is prized for its durability, color, high combustion temperature, and interesting grain patterns. Because of the commercial importance of the fruit, and the slow growth and relatively small size of the tree, olive wood and its products are relatively expensive. Common uses of the wood include: kitchen utensils, carved wooden bowls, cutting boards, fine furniture, and decorative items. The yellow or light greenish-brown wood is often finely veined with a darker tint; being very hard and close-grained, it is valued by woodworkers.