Latest report from Gaza on the continued closure of the Rafah crossing and its implication on life in the world’s largest open air prison

Gaza’s Ark: A bid to break Israel’s blockade… from within

GAZA CITY: Palestinian labourers and foreign activists are working tirelessly to transform a large fishing boat into “Gaza’s Ark” with the aim of exporting local produce in the latest bid to break Israel’s blockade on the coastal strip.

The Ark, which is being fitted out to carry goods and more than 100 passengers, is near completion and is expected to set sail for Europe in the latest high-profile attempt to challenge Israel’s maritime lockdown on the tiny Hamas-run territory.

If they are successful, this will be the first time goods from Gaza have been exported by sea since the signing of the 1994 Oslo Peace Accords.

Significantly, this attempt to alleviate the effects of the seven-year blockade comes from within Gaza, where locals refurbishing the 24-metre-long (78 feet) vessel want to take matters into their own hands, rather than waiting for help from the outside world.

“This will help fishermen, farmers and factory workers in Gaza to market their products,” said Abu Ammar Bakr, who was a fisherman for 40 years before turning his hand to repairing boats.

Mohammed Abu Salmi, who owns a furniture shop, was equally buoyed by the prospect of shipping products overseas.

“Export by sea will resuscitate farming and light industry in Gaza and will ease unemployment… and help to lift this oppressive blockade,” he told AFP.

“We have great experience and produce great furniture,” Abu Salmi boasted.

“We exported to Israel and from there to Europe before the blockade, and people abroad are asking for our products,” he said, pointing proudly at the dining tables and chairs fashioned in his workshop.

Among the items which are to be carried on board for export are fruit and farm produce, furniture, embroidery and other crafts, organisers say.

“The aim is not aid or humanitarian like the boats that were coming to Gaza, it’s a commercial venture to support the Palestinian economy and pave the way to exporting Palestinian products,” project manager Mahfouz Kabariti said.

But a sense of apprehension marks the preparations.

A plaque at the entrance to the quay on which the Ark is being built remembers the nine Turkish activists who were killed in May 2010 during an Israeli raid on a six-ship flotilla trying to reach Gaza in defiance of the blockade.

Although the international outcry which followed the deadly raid forced Israel to significantly ease the terms of its blockade on Gaza, which was first imposed in 2006, tight curbs remain in place on exports and travel.

Breaking the siege ‘from within’

Under the terms of the current restrictions, Gaza fishermen are not allowed to enter waters more than six nautical miles (11 kilometres) from the shore, with naval patrol boats known to fire on those who step out of line.

It is the prospect of a confrontation with Israeli forces that is worrying some of those planning to join the boat on its blockade-breaking mission, with Abu Salmi afraid the navy might “open fire and sink the Ark, or arrest those on board like they did in 2010 and seize the goods”.

Organisers of the project are unsure what action Israel might take.

“I hope Israel won’t stop the boat from sailing to European countries,” said Kabariti.

“It is natural that the Israeli authorities might not allow a boat to set sail from Gaza. But we want to send our message to the world, whether the occupation allows it to sail or not,” he said.

“We want to draw attention to the blockade which is preventing Palestinian products from being exported, and we have an ark that we can use to do it.”

Among those planning to join the Ark on its maiden voyage are a number of foreign activists, who include Swedish national Charlie Andreasson who also took part in the ill-fated Freedom Flotilla of 2010.

The aim, said Andreasson, is “to break the siege”.

“Why would they stop it?” he asked, somewhat naively.

“We’ve been sending ships to Gaza to try to break the siege, and this time we are turning it around and sending a ship from Gaza out to Europe with goods — so we’re trying to break the siege from within,” he told AFP.

Andreasson has been working on the project since early June, when activists managed to raise enough money from European donors to buy up the old fishing boat.

From its purchase to completion, including labour, Gaza’s Ark will have cost an estimated $150,000 (114,000 euros), with its website showing that so far, $110,000 has been raised.

Dozens of people are working to restore the Ark, with local fishermen receiving a salary for their labour and foreign activists volunteering.

The project’s mission statement, according to the website, is to “challenge the illegal and inhuman Israeli blockade”.

For fisherman Bakr, it would be a huge blow if the Ark — which will sail under the Palestinian flag as well as several international ones — never left port.

Fisherman and factory workers would have to watch their goods “festering in warehouses because they’re unable to export them”, he said.

This article first appeared here

Recipes, Not Rockets: Cookbook Offers New Lens On Gaza

By EMILY HARRIS

For NPR

March 20, 2013 3:17 PM

When you think about the Gaza Strip, do you think “organic farming”? How about “family dairy”? Would you expect California pistachios to flavor made-in-Gaza baklava? Have you heard that Hamas has a 10-year plan to develop sustainable local agriculture?

new cookbookThe Gaza Kitchen, weaves little-known stories of Gaza food and farming among Palestinian home-cooking recipes. It highlights flavors particular to Gaza — both the crowded, skinny, famous strip of land pinned between Egypt, Israel and the Mediterranean, and the more extensive, southeastern Gaza District of historic Palestine that existed before the first major Arab-Israeli war in 1948.

“Cumin, garlic and chilis are kind of the quintessential trio of the cuisine,” co-author Laila El-Haddad, a Gazan now living in Maryland, tells The Salt. “Herby, peppery, lemony, piquant. A lot of green dill, as well as dill seeds, as well as sour flavors in all their forms — lemon, sour pomegranates, lots of peppers.”

El-Haddad and co-author Maggie Schmitt dreamed up this cookbook after Schmitt visited Gaza in 2009 and wrote a piece in The Atlantic, “Eating Under Siege,” describing how Israel’s severe restrictions on Gaza affect what people eat.

Doing background research, Schmitt found almost nothing online about local food, save for a few columns from El-Haddad’s blog-turned-book, Gaza Mom. The two talked and emailed, but first met in person on the ground in Gaza, when the Rafah border crossing to Egypt opened in 2010 and they could both travel there. They discovered people who have been displaced for decades preserving a very precise sense of identity through food.

“Third- and fourth-generation Palestinian refugees, who make up the bulk of Palestinians in the modern-day Gaza strip, really held on to the very specific food traditions of their villages, down to how they would finish a stew,” says El-Haddad. “Someone from the village of Beit Timma might finish their stew with fried onion, never garlic. Whereas someone from Gaza City would add dry red peppers, or generally add a lot of heat. And that would never be the case with the fahaleen, those from the farming, interior areas.”

Recipes cover salads, stews, breads, appetizers, desserts and drinks. Kishik, we learn, are breadlike disks of fermented wheat traditionally stored for months as a way to preserve milk products for cooking. The Gazan version uses sheep’s milk and red pepper flakes. Fattit ajir is a spicy roasted watermelon salad, a specialty of the southern Gaza strip. There is advice on what basic ingredients to have on hand, and Gazan “common sense” cooking traditions. For example, rinse chicken, rabbit or fish in cold water, with a bit of flour and lemon juice, before cooking.

By spending time in private kitchens, El-Haddad and Schmitt aimed not only to capture and codify Gazan cuisine, but to tell a new tale of Gaza. “For us, describing life in the homes, family economy, households, was really important,” says Schmitt, “because that side of the story in Gaza is almost completely unknown and underrepresented.”

The Gaza Kitchen tells a political story, too, with sidebars on U.N. food rations, electricity and water shortages, Israeli limits on trade and restrictions on fishing.

“Gaza was once famous for its fish,” El-Haddad and Schmitt write. “Now the Israeli Navy limits Palestinian fishing boats to just three nautical miles from the coast. Violations are punishable by violent harassment, boat seizure, arrest and gunfire.”

As part of the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel after shooting exchanges last November, the fishing limits were increased to six nautical miles off Gaza’s shores, still short of the 20 set by the Oslo Accords two decades ago.

However, an Israel official confirms a three mile limit was re-imposed March 21, in response to rockets fired from Gaza during President Obama’s visit. The official NPR spoke with did not know how long the three-mile limit will be enforced.

Setting food overtly into a political context is one way this culinary exploration of the region differs from the high-profileJerusalem: A Cookbook, published last year by the Jewish-Muslim duo of celebrated chef Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, the head chef at Ottolenghi’s London restaurants. Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s cookbook summarizes the city’s centuries of upheaval and disputed ownership today and takes on the “hummus wars” — passionate discussions over whether Jews or Palestinians bring the dish closest to perfection. But it mostly sticks to food.

“I think we dive further into the politics, and they kind of skirt it,” Schmitt says. “But reading between the lines, I feel like our intentions are kind of parallel, or sympathetic at least.”

Schmitt and El-Haddad say they’ve been asked to be part of a discussion with Ottolenghi and Tamimi, something The Gaza Kitchen authors would welcome.

“We like to say that when you’ve entered someone’s kitchen, when you’ve tasted their food, it’s harder to bomb that person,” El-Haddad says. “You begin to think of them as human beings.”

She hopes this peek into home cooking in Gaza starts a conversation about the place and people that “doesn’t include the words terrorism, fanatics and rockets.”

Below, two Gazan recipes for spring.


Recipe: Shay A’shab (Herbal Tea)

El-Haddad and Schmitt write that herbal tea, particularly sage tea, is a traditional way to end a meal, along with fruit and nuts. They found this refreshing herb combination at the Gaza Safe Agriculture Project organic farm.

6 sprigs lemon verbena

6 sprigs fresh mint

3 sprigs oregano or flat-leafed thyme

2 sprigs dried sage

2 sprigs Italian basil

1 sprig rosemary

Combine herbs in a pot and add boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes or until color is a pale yellow-green. Sweeten as desired.


Recipe: Avocado Salad

This recipe says avocados are not native to the Gaza area but were introduced by Israeli settlers. Israel pulled out all settlers from the Gaza strip in 2005, but El-Haddad and Schmitt write that “the avocados have been adopted with enthusiasm.” This mash may sound somewhat similar to guacamole but brings distinct flavors and presentation. El-Haddad and Schmitt call it “an elegant starter, part of the new Gazan repertoire.”

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cloves garlic

1 green chili, chopped

2 small ripe avocados, peeled and seeded

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon yogurt

Extra virgin olive oil

Paprika, cumin and sliced lemon for garnish

Mash garlic and chili pepper with salt in a mortar and pestle. Add avocado, yogurt and lemon juice and mash until smooth, stirring the bottom of the bowl to make sure all the garlic is mixed in. Swirl the top of the salad with the bottom of a spoon in a circular motion creating a small canal, then drizzle with olive oil. Decorate with paprika and cumin as follows: Wet your thumb with some water, place it in a bowl of paprika, then press down on edge of avocado salad, leaving a red fingerprint. Repeat procedure, alternating paprika with cumin, all around the bowl. Garnish with thinly sliced lemon. Serve with Arabic bread.

Emily Harris is NPR’s Jerusalem correspondent.  This article first appeared here..

 

Let Gaza surprise you!

By Samah Sabawi

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Gaza is one of the most reported on and yet least understood places on earth.  Its mere mention conjures up images of war victims, war criminals, piles of rubble, militants with guns, dead children and weeping mothers.  A simple google search will bring up disturbing images of heart break, terror and destruction.  But all of this is an infliction on a place that has neither surrendered its identity nor lost its beauty to decades of violent Israeli occupation.

Gaza is a city of many tales.  While some are about loss, grief and misery, many others are about enduring love, triumphant moments, tenacity, passion, music and hope that lives beyond the confines of the siege and the occupation.  If you dig deeper than the negative headlines and the devastating news reports you will find many pleasant surprises.  You can take a walk along Gaza’s gorgeous fields, enjoy its magical sunsets, get to know its warm people, visit its ancient sites and eat its delicious dishes.  You will find in Gaza everything that would make you love life with a passion!  So join me here to explore some of Gaza’s unknown side.

The Arts:

There is a common belief that Gaza’s art scene is all but dead.  While it may be true that art in general is not a great priority for the people in Gaza who are too concerned with bigger financial and political issues, Gazan artists continue to create and to excel in their fields.  There is also an appreciation of the need to encourage art in children starting from a young age.

One establishment worthy of salutation for supporting the arts is the Qattan Centre for the Child in Gaza.  This cultural centre is an oasis for the hearts and the minds of children.  Equipped with a large library painted in vibrant colors and comfortable eye soothing furniture the QCC in Gaza focuses on developing the children emotionally and intellectually through visual art, music, education, cultural events and much more.

Below are some images of the QCC in Gaza.  Keep in mind all of the paintings you’ll see in some of these photos were in fact painted by children under 15 years of age at the centre.

The Qattan center was built on land donated by the Gaza municipality and has succeeded in meeting its goal of creating an educational and stimulating space for children and their caregivers.  Parents are encouraged to join their children in the library, engage with them over art and craft activities, or just watch them proudly as they perform their song and dance routines.

Membership at the QCC is free of charge to all children in Gaza from all walks of life and some of the classes offered charge a small symbolic fee.  Many of the events are also free of charge such as the concerts captured in the video below that took place as part of the winter camp activities in January 2013.  In this video below you’ll see a variety of instruments, you’ll hear music of both Arab and western origins ranging from Gershwin to Darweesh.

Also worthy of special salutation is the Gaza Music School and its incredible teachers and talented children.  The children featured in the next video are nine years of age.  They are very dedicated to the art they practice in spite of all the challenges they face including Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Music School  in 2009.

 

The landscape

The Gaza Strip is densely populated mostly by refugees who fled Israel’s war of ethnic cleansing in 1948 and have not been allowed to return to their homes since.  As the population continues to grow in the besieged strip the natural landscape changes to make way for more cement structures and buildings to accommodate this growth.

However, population growth is not the only challenge facing Gaza’s green spaces.  Agricultural land  is shrinking as Israel usurps more of Gaza’s water supplies and if that’s not enough, Israel’s siege, blockade, frequent bombardment and occasional land incursions have left their mark on many of Gaza’s farming land.  A recommended report that sheds great light on this is the UNISPAL report Farming without Land, Fishing without Water.

Below are two pics of bombed trees in our farm in Gaza. The first depicts a tree totally uprooted from the power of a one ton bomb blast.   The second photo  depicts a tree that was uprooted from the blast, flew in the air and actually landed straight on top of another tree.

Despite all of the challenges and the uncertainties of Israel’s incursions and bombings, some farmers have insisted on maintaining their land.  When visiting their farms you get a sense of what Gaza’s landscape looked like before Israel’s war of ethnic cleansing began.   You can imagine how before the refugees were chased into the far corners of their homeland to settle into camps under occupation, how most of Gaza’s natural landscape would have looked like.

The Sea

Perhaps the most important feature of Gaza is its sea.  It is the only landscape that remains unchanged, unaffected by the occupation and the aggression.  The sea is an open recreational space that is free of charge.  For Gazan families the sea is a cure for all of life’s problems.

The food

Finally, no matter where you go to in Palestine, you will always be overwhelmed with warm hospitality and great food.  Gaza is no different.  Here are some pics of some of my favourite dishes, but if you’re looking for a more comprehensive list along with recepies I highly recommend you visit The Gaza Kitchen.  Bon appétit or as they say in Gaza Saha we afya!

Gaza 2012: Palestine’s Long Walk to Freedom

By: Haidar Eid

Published Wednesday, December 12, 2012

AlAkhabar English

 

The long walk to South Africa’s freedom is marked by two immensely tragic events: the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 and the Soweto Uprising in 1976, both of which led to the galvanizing of internal and international resistance against the apartheid regime. Ultimately, these events would lead to the long-called for release of Nelson Mandela and to the end of one of the most inhumane systems the world has ever seen.

Without Sharpeville and Soweto, among other landmarks towards victory over settler colonialism, South Africa would still be ruled by a minority of fanatic, white settlers claiming to fulfill the word of (their) God.

Palestine’s long walk to freedom has gone through similar harrowing events, beginning with the 1948 Nakba to the latest eight-day onslaught on Gaza.

In order to understand Gaza in 2012, one ought to trace its origin back to 1948. Two thirds of the Palestinians of Gaza are refugees who were kicked out of their cities, towns, and villages in 1948. In After the Last Sky, the late Palestinian thinker Edward Said argues that every Palestinian knows perfectly well that what has happened to us over the last six decades is “a direct consequence of Israel’s destruction of our society in 1948…”

The problem, he argues, is that a clear, direct line from our misfortunes in 1948 to our misfortunes in the present cannot be drawn, thanks to “the complexity of our experience.”

At 139 square miles, Gaza is the largest refugee camp on earth, a reminder of the ongoing Nakba. The inhabitants of Gaza have become the most unwanted Palestinians, the black heart that no one wants to see, the “Negroes” of the American south, the black natives of South Africa, the surplus population that the powerful, macho, white Ashkenazi cannot coexist with.

Hence the calls to “flatten” Gaza and “send Gaza back to the Middle Ages.”

In 2008-9, Gaza was bombed by Apache helicopters and F-16 jets for 22 days, killing more than 1400 civilians. As if that was not enough, Israel decided to return to Gaza in 2012 and repeat the same crimes in eight days, this time killing more than 175 civilians and injuring 1399. These are massive losses for a population of just over 1.5 million people.

Israel’s airstrikes, which damage essential infrastructure and terrify the civilian population, are a form of collective punishment against the Palestinian people. Even more, they are war crimes forbidden under international humanitarian law, specifically the Geneva Conventions.

Yet Israel consistently gets away with war crimes. The official, government-based “international community” does not seem interested in the suffering of the native Palestinians. The much-admired, “better than Bush” American president, Obama, thinks that “Israel has the right to defend itself.” The same right does not apparently apply to Palestinians.

Likewise, the British Foreign Secretary William Hague believes that Hamas is “principally responsible” for the current crisis, as well as the ability to bring it most swiftly to an end. This is in spite of the deadly siege imposed on Gaza for more than five years, so much so that Israel even used calorie counting to limit the amount of food that entered Gaza during the blockade.

The fact that Palestinians in Gaza are not born to Jewish mothers is enough reason to deprive them of their right to live equally with the citizens of the state of Israel. Hence, like the black natives of South Africa, they should be isolated in a Bantustan, in accordance with the Oslo terms. If they show any resistance to this plan, they must be punished by turning the entire Strip into an open-air prison.

Both the US and the UK display deliberate and unconscionable ignorance in the face of the brutal reality caused by Israel to Gaza. As a result of Israel’s blockade on most imports and exports and other policies designed to punish Palestinians, about 70 percent of Gaza’s workforce is now unemployed or without pay, according to the UN, and about 80 percent of its residents live in grinding poverty.

But don’t Obama and Hague know this?!

As Hamid Dabashi put it:

Obama is fond of saying Israelis are entitled to defend themselves. But are they entitled to steal even more of Palestine, terrorise its inhabitants and continue to consolidate a racist apartheid state…? Was South Africa also entitled to be a racist apartheid state, was the American south entitled to slavery, India to Hindu fundamentalism?

The only option for Palestinians is to follow the same route as the South African struggle. The South African internal campaign aimed to mobilize the masses on the ground rather than indifferent governments around the world. What hope could they have gotten from the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Helmut Kohl? It was left to ordinary South Africans and global citizens to show their moral rejection of crimes committed by the ugly apartheid system.

In South Africa’s long walk to freedom, there was no compromise on respect for basic human rights. Apartheid’s attempts to point fingers at “black violence” and “intrinsic hatred” toward Western civilization and democracy, did not hold water.

Similarly, international civil society, and some governments, have seen through Israel’s propaganda campaign where the aggressor is turned into the victim. Across the years, Palestinians have been completely dehumanized. Instead of Reagan and Thatcher, we have Obama and Hague, blaming the victim and condemning resistance to occupation, colonization, and apartheid.

But South Africans did not wait for the American administration to “change its mind.” The global BDS campaign, steered by South African anti-apartheid activists, coupled with internal mass mobilization on the ground, was the prescription for liberation, away from the façade of “independence” based on ethnic identities. Similarly, the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions has been gathering momentum since 2005. Gaza 2012, like Soweto 1976, cannot be ignored: it demands a response from all who believe in a common humanity.

Gaza 2012 has, undeniably, given a huge impetus to this process by making all Palestinians inside and outside of historic Palestine realize that “Yes, We Can!” We are no longer the weaker party, the passive victim who does not dare bang on the walls of Ghassan Kanafani’s trunk in Men in the Sun, but rather Hamid in All That is Left To You, the Palestinian hero who decides to act.

Haidar Eid is Associate Professor of Postcolonial and Postmodern Literature at Gaza’s al-Aqsa University and a policy advisor withAl-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network.

Original article appeared here https://talesofacitybytheseadotcom.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php

 

As people dig out of the rubble, a Palestinian doctor says civilians were targeted by Israeli attack

Published on Nov 27, 2012 by 

Palestinian farmers turn to organic farming

By DIAA HADID Associated Press

NUS JUBAIL, West Bank—The Palestinian olive harvest, an ancient autumn ritual in the West Bank, is going upscale.

In an emerging back-to-the-land movement, Palestinian farmers are turning the rocky hills of the West Bank into organic olive groves, selling their oil to high-end grocers in the U.S. and Europe.

The move is a reflection of the growing global demand for natural, sustainable and fairly traded products, albeit with a distinct Palestinian twist. The hardships faced by local farmers, ranging from a lack of rainfall to Israeli trade obstacles, mean that organic growing is one of the few ways Palestinians have to compete in outside markets.

“The Palestinian future is in the land,” said farmer Khader Khader, 31, as he stood among his organic olives in the northern West Bank village of Nus Jubail.

Organic farming has grown into a thriving business, by Palestinian standards, since it first was introduced in the West Bank in 2004. Now, at least $5 million worth of organic olive oil is exported annually—about half of all Palestinian commercial oil exports, said Nasser Abu Farha of the Canaan Fair Trade Association, one of the companies that sells high-end organic olive oil to distributors abroad.

The West Bank-based company purchases the oil at above market prices and pays what’s called a “social premium”—extra money to farming cooperatives to improve their communities.

About 930 farmers have fair-trade and organic certification, while another 140 are “converting” their land—a two- to three-year process during which they stop using chemical fertilizers and pest controls while monitors from Canaan and the Palestine Fair Trade Association provide training and check soil for chemical levels.

Their work is overseen by the Swiss-based Institute for Market Ecology, which is accredited to certify organic products for the U.S., E.U., and Japan. Hundreds more farmers are simply certified as fair-trade, where they and their workers are paid decent wages for their work and produce.

The trade is tiny when compared to major olive growers like Spain, Italy and Greece. But it’s significant for Palestinians, for whom harvesting olives is a cultural tradition that gathers even the most urbanized families.

An average of 17,000 tons of olive oil is produced in the West Bank every year by thousands of farmers, according to aid group Oxfam, which works on the olive industry. Most is for local or personal use, and only about 1,000 tons is exported a year, though that number is likely higher since many farmers sell oil informally through relatives abroad, Abu Farha said.

Organic farmers hope the high-end trade will keep them on their lands, despite difficult odds and high overhead costs.

Palestinians seek the West Bank as the heartland of a future independent state. Most of the 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank live under a semi-autonomous government. But Israel, which captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, wields overall control. Roughly 500,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank and neighboring east Jerusalem, taking away resources.

More than 120 Jewish settlements dot the West Bank, often encroaching on Palestinian farmlands or preventing farmers from reaching their land. Israel’s separation barrier, built to prevent militants from entering Israel, has swallowed nearly 10 percent of Palestinian farmland, according to U.N. estimates, limiting access and lowering yields.

Israel also controls more than 80 percent of the West Bank’s water in lopsided sharing agreements, said Palestinian water official Ribhi al-Sheik. In other areas dilapidated water pipes have wasteful leaks. Most farmers depend on rain and unlicensed wells, depleting already-stressed aquifers. In some parts, Israeli military authorities also ban rain-collecting cisterns. Badly planned Palestinian towns have paved over fertile lands.

Outside markets for fresh produce aren’t profitable. Goods must cross through Israeli-controlled export crossings, causing delays and lowering quality through exposure to sunlight and constant reloading from one truck to another.

Israeli military spokesman Guy Inbar said the long export process was solely for security reasons and “not intended to harm” exports, noting that Palestinians export some 100,000 tons of fresh produce a year. He said Palestinians access more water than what is allowed for under sharing agreements and that farmers with permits are able to reach land on the other side of the separation barrier.

The challenges sparked a new way of thinking: Palestinians had to make finished goods that could survive the rough growing conditions and lengthy journey to outside markets.

Fair-trade, organic products that can be rain-fed, particularly olives, were the perfect solution.

“It’s the future of Palestinian exports. The future is in added value, through environmental and social accountability,” said Abu Farha of Canaan Fair Trade. “People want to know: “Where is this oil coming from? Whose life is it changing?”

The changes are visible in Nus Jubail, a village crowded with olives and pines, its 400 residents in houses with blue doors and rooftops sheltered by grape arbors. A decade ago, most residents pressed their oil for personal use. Little was sold commercially and prices were low, said Khader, the farmer.

Around 2004, agricultural activists formed the Palestinian Fair Trade Association, seeking out farmers across the West Bank. They persuaded Khader to establish an organic cooperative of five farmers, allowing them to collectively press their olives and sell better-priced oil.

During the three-year conversion process, Khader and his colleagues were taught to grow olives without chemicals, pruning and plowing instead of using herbicides and fermenting sheep droppings into fertilizer. Once certified, Khader and his partners sold their oil above market prices, attracting other recruits. Now 18 of the village’s 30 farmers are organic.

This year, organic oil is selling for about $5.40 a liter—a dollar higher than conventional oil, said Abu Farha of Canaan Fair Trade, which purchases much of the oil. Other independent farmers are selling directly to consumers for $9 a liter, far above market price.

Farmers are going organic on other products, such as maftoul, a chewy sun-dried staple resembling couscous, as well as dried almonds and a spicy herb mix called hyssop.

But high-end oil is key.

In Whole Foods supermarkets in New York and New Jersey, it’s sold under the “Alter Eco” brand, Abu Farha said. It’s in Sainsbury’s in Britain, and in boutique shops globally through Canaan and other distributers. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, a popular organic, fair traded vegan soap, sources 95 percent of its oil—some 165 tons—from Palestinian growers, the soap company said.

Even so, challenges abound. Palestinian oil production is irregular because they can’t irrigate their crops and export costs are still high. Abu Farha of Canaan said some farmers have cheated by mixing conventional oil into their products.

Still, the move toward organic, sustainable farming is an important, elegant fight.

“I don’t throw rocks,” said farmer Khader, referring to young men who frequently hurl stones during demonstrations. He pointed to his rock-built terraces. “I use them to build our future.”

This article appeared in http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_21962774/palestinian-farmers-turn-organic-farming