Zaytoun celebrates ten years of support for Palestinian farmers
Guest blog from campaigner and journalist Lucy Dunne
Sandy Stuart is a softly spoken man who hails from a small village near Arbroath, about 16 miles North East of Dundee. I meet him on a cold wintry night in Central London, but our discussions are not of rural Scotland, but of Palestine.
Sandy Stuart with Abu Kamal, an olive farmer with the Palestine Fair Trade Association. Image: Nik Pickard
For every couple of years since 2006, Sandy has joined the annual olive harvest in Palestine with the help of fair trade Community Interest Company Zaytoun. Each year the company runs two visits to Palestine for customers and supporters to enable them to join the harvest and to meet Palestinian farmers and communities for themselves. Now an old hand in the olive groves, Sandy is in London to celebrate 10 years of Zaytoun, and he’s eager to share his stories with everyone he meets.
Zaytoun first began life in 2003 when Heather Masoud and Cathi Pawson visited Palestine as human rights observers accompanying Palestinian farmers harvesting their crops. Witnessing the Israeli occupation first hand, they sought to transform their anger at injustice into action, and Zaytoun was born soon after. The company was officially founded by both Heather and Cathi along with Atif Choudhury and Saleh Achhala in 2004.
Zaytoun is certainly different. It appears to inspire a loyalty and passion among volunteer distributors that is hard to beat. Although originally only selling olive oil, the company has now diversified into offering a range of products including za’atar, dates, couscous, and almonds. Freekeh, a form of cracked bulghar wheat, is its latest offering.
A fair trade company and member of the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO), Zaytoun also supports a model of agriculture that is naturally organic, sustainable and that is “rooted in time and tradition”.
This lies in stark contrast to the formula for Palestinian development currently being pushed by the Quartet in collaboration with the Palestinian Authority (PA). Policy group Al Shabaka, for example, argue that the PA is undermining Palestinian self-determination in a relentless drive to create new industrial zones which further reliance on the Israeli state and strengthen the occupation. Zaytoun is proof of a better way.
Back in London, and Sandy, one of the volunteer distributors for Zaytoun, tells me he considers himself both an activist and a businessman. Rather than opting for a quiet retirement, Sandy spends his time selling Zaytoun products and lobbying his MP Mike Weir; he also plans to travel to Palestine for the olive harvest again next year. I ask him what motivates him to keep going. “Friends in Palestine”, he tells me, “and things haven’t got any better.” “People say ‘Please keep coming – we know you’re going to tell our story.’”
I spoke to Sandy after Zaytoun staff and supporters celebrated their first 10 years with a dabke, of which Sandy was a lively participant. The dabke, a traditional Palestinian dance, is emblematic of the life and vibrancy of a people who continue to resist occupation on a daily basis. It was an extremely joyous affair, and a rightful celebration of a company that should be proud of its hard-fought achievements. Inshallah, Zaytouners will keep dancing for many more years to come.
Christmas solidarity shopping
Shopping for dates this Christmas?
Foodies and ethical consumers would be wise to invest in the Medjoul date, grown in the Jericho region of Palestine.
Situated in the Jordan Valley, the area has witnessed the growth of numerous illegal Israeli settlements in recent years, leaving Palestinian farmers with less and less land on which to grow their crops.
According to a 2012 Oxfam report, Palestinians can only use 6% of the land in the Jordan Valley, while settlers, accounting for 13% of the population, control over 86% of it.
You can buy Palestinian Medjoul dates from Zaytoun directly or from your local independent retailer.
You can purchase other Zaytoun products from the company directly, or from your local independent retailer.
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