Michael Riordon

the view from where I live

37. Home of the olives

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In today’s Today in Palestine, I noticed this item:

“IOF units stormed five villages in Jenin province at dawn Tuesday and rounded up two young men in Burqin village after searching their homes and combing the vicinity of the village…”

The bulletin goes on to list similar Israeli military assaults on several villages.  Another day under occupation.  By the way, IOF stands for Israeli Occupation Forces.

On my first trip to the West Bank, I visited Burqin village, the site of the Canaan Fair Trade processing plant.  From there, extra virgin olive oil and other delicious fair trade products from Palestinian farmer cooperatives go out to fifteen countries on three continents.

Nasser Abufarha, the dynamic founder of the Palestine Fair Trade Association and Canaan Fair Trade is featured, along with two Palestinian farmers, in Naming Palestine, a chapter in Our Way to Fight.  Nasser described fair trade as an effective way to resist the occupation.  It enables Palestinian farmers to make a decent living, and it supports production of a food that’s essential to the Palestinian diet and culture.  Farmers told me that fair trade has been transformative for them, making it economically viable for them to do what they do best.

An excerpt from the chapter:

Shortly before the new processing plant opened, Nasser Abufarha gave me a tour.   In any context it would be impresssive, but under the strictures of military occupation it’s astounding.  Set in an olive grove, the plant is huge, 4300 square metres (46,000 square feet) on three levels, the lowest of them carved deep into bedrock.

Olives arrive here from farmers across the West Bank, to be pressed, filtered, and stored underground at a precise temperature in oxygen-free tanks, preventing the build-up of peroxide that would cost the oil its highest quality extra virgin status.  From storage it goes to bottling, labelling, packing and shipping.  In other parts of the plant, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, spices and grains are processed into a growing range of Canaan fair trade products.

Under military occupation, assembling the necessary materials was a staggering challenge.  The tanks came from Italy, the grinding stones from Turkey, the ecologically-friendly furniture from reclaimed lumber in Indonesia.  The plant even has its own nitrogen-generator.  “This is because we live under conditions which might make it difficult to get nitrogen tanks refilled,” says Nasser, with an ironic smile.

The ‘conditions’ he mentions are never far away.  While we stood on the roof of the new plant, an Israeli military helicopter hovered above.  Like many other Palestinians, Nasser hardly notices the shriek of war-jets any more, as long as they aren’t actually shooting, but up on the roof he stopped talking to watch the helicopter warily.  Why the difference?  “Unfortunately a helicopter often means they’re going to assassinate someone in the area.”

In ‘Anin village I ask the two farmers how the occupation affects them.  By way of response they take me out to see where their land is, downhill from the village, more than half of it now cut off by the wall – a broad white slash through the landscape, wavering in the heat.

To reach their olive groves, now on the other side, the farmers have to request permits from the military authorities.  If a farmer is lucky enough to get one, often it allows him only one hour on the other side.  Any longer and he will be arrested.  Whether farmers can plough, prune, maintain and harvest the trees when these functions need to be done depends entirely on the whim of the soldiers.

Olive groves throughout Palestine are also subject to attack by both settlers and the army.  Since the occupation began in 1967, it’s estimated that at least a million trees have been destroyed, and the wall threatens to destroy or cut off twice as many.  Even in a land so richly endowed with olives, the loss is catastrophic.

We emerge from the cool interior into encircling olive trees, the heart of this enterprise.  I ask Nasser Abufarha about a particular tree, thick and gnarled, with a broad canopy – it must be very old.  “No,” he replies, “that one is young.  It’s only three to four hundred years old.”

Sources for Palestine Fair Trade Association products:

In Canada, Zatoun.

In the UK, Zaytoun.

In the US, Canaan Fair Trade, LLC-USA.

Also Dr Bronner’s Magic Soaps.  They buy 95% of their fair trade olive oil from Canaan Fair Trade.

For other sources, check the Canaan Fair Trade list.

Author: Michael Riordon

Canadian writer and documentary-maker Michael Riordon writes/ directs/produces books and articles, audio, video and film documentaries, plays for radio and stage. A primary goal of his work is to recover voices and stories of people who have been silenced or marginalized, written out of the official version: First Nations (aboriginal) youth, Mozambican farmers, inmates in Canadian prisons, traditional healers in Fiji, queer folk across Canada, Guatemalan labour activists. Michael also leads courses, workshops and seminars for community organizations, trade unions, schools, colleges and universities.

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