Palestinian olive farmers say “Trade not Aid”

Palestinian farmers have managed to earn better livelihoods through working with Zaytoun – producing olive oil as their communities have for millennia – despite the roadblocks and checkpoints of the Israeli military occupation… and to provide us with their delicious organic and Fairtrade certified olive oil.

Zaytoun is a community based British company was founded in 2004 to create and develop a market for Palestinian produce and have arranged a UK wide tour for the producers to meet consumers as part of Fairtrade Fortnight.

In Reading two Palestinian olive farmers – Rigig Abu Nasser and Bassema Basalat were the guest speakers at a meeting held on Tuesday the 1st of March at Pakistan Community Centre. The event was arranged in collaboration with Reading International Solidarity Centre, Pakistani Community Centre and Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Rizig Abu Nasser, lives in the village of Deir Istya in West Bank.

He spoke of the olive oil production process that includes ploughing, harvesting, pressing and shipping. It is a labour intensive and complex process. Producing olive oil that must adhere to European standards and regulation adds to the complexity of the process. The oil must have a certain level of acidity that can only be achieved if the farmers press their olives daily.

Once the olive is pressed the resulting oil must be stored in special containers to preserve it and reduce its acidity. So with the help of NGOs and supporters, stainless steel containers were provided to store the oil. The bottles will also have to have certain qualities to protect the oil from sun light.

The shipment stage consists of getting the olive oil to the port through the numerous checkpoints and it involves the swapping of trucks many times. This adds to the cost of production and introduces delays.

The illegal Israeli settlements close to the farms adds to the struggle farmers have to deal with on a daily basis. The apartheid separation wall has seized a lot of the land and prevented other parts of their land from being reached easily. Some of the settlers would use extreme methods to terrorise the farming population ranging from introducing pigs and snakes, setting small fires to some of the trees to harvesting the olive themselves with the help of armed guards. Raw sewage was also pumped from the illegal settlement into their valley, polluting their water.

Bassema Basalat is a member of a women cooperative who lives with her farming family in Haja village. Much of her family grove is no longer accessible due to illegal settlement building

She explained how her community has reaped the benefits of being Fairtrade Zaytoun farmers. They are able to provide an income now to their families otherwise was impossible to achieve due to high levels of unemployment.

She stressed that they need trade and not aid because they need to be able to live with dignity. She told the audience how sacred the olive tree is for Muslims, Christians and Jews alike and it’s mention in the holy book. She talked about the health benefits of olive oil as well as it’s usage to treat many ailments. She added that they also produce a variety of other products in addition to olive oil such as actual olives, soap, Za’atar,dates, couscous and almonds.

The speakers emphasised that before Zaytoun was set up it would have been impossible to export their produce, because all the different stages of the export process are controlled by Israelis, who imposed restrictions that prevent the Palestinian farmers access to the European markets.

Fairtrade gives farmers a fair price that more than covers the cost of production and long term commitment. It also provide a special premium which is used to benefit the wider community which means they can send their children to schools and university.

The farming communities now plan their marriages and the any building projects of homes etc. to take place after the harvesting has ended as they rely on the income generated from it.

The speakers emphasised that they would not have been able to achieve all this without the support of the Zaytoun and the people that buy the olive oil here in Britain. They urged the audience to continue this support as it has become the lifeline of these farming communities and helped people to survive the occupation. The Palestine Solidarity stall sold all their delicious Zaytoun olive oil and nearly all their jars of olives, Za’atar herbs, dates & almonds that night.

The Chair of Pakistani Community Centre, Mian Saleem pledged to sell Palestinian olive oil in his shop as Reading has only one outlet at the moment and The World Shop 35-39 London Street RG1 4PS www.risc.org.uk

If you want more information or become a distributer of their Palestinian olive oil contact Zaytoun on 0207 609 5699 or 0845 345 4887 or visit their website: http://www.zaytoun.org

To know more do not miss Afif Safieh’s talk on Wednesday 10March 6 for 6.30pm start Booklaunch of The Peace Process from Breakthrough to breakdown  Afif Safieh served as Palestinian General Delegate in London, Washington and Moscow from 1990 – 2008. The book includes Afif Safieh’s articles, lectures & interviews from 1981, when a staff member in Yasser Arafat’s Beirut office to 2005. His writings, which centre on the Palestinian struggle for independence, are a testament to his vision of humanity and provide a unique map of thee decades of Palestinian diplomacy.

Palestine Solidarity Stall & Fairtrade drinks & snacks.

World Shop 35-39 London Street, Reading RG1 4PS FREE but phone to book place: Bente: 0118 958 6692 bente@risc.org.uk