Harvest Time in Palestine

Buying Palestinian is an act of solidarity with farmers living under occupation and oppression, writes Cathi Pawson.

Zaytoun is a social enterprise established almost twenty years ago to support Palestinian farming communities through trade, who are facing the challenges of illegal Israeli occupation and settlement. For these communities, farming offers not just a vital livelihood, but is a way to hold on to land that has been passed down through generations. The traditional culture of Palestinian food and farming is emblematic of the wider context of everyday resistance to an occupation that has eroded freedoms, land and livelihoods for decades.

Our conflict is about our right to stay on our ancestral land and the olive oil is a powerful tool that we use to share our story. It’s a form of non-violent resistance.

Mohammed Ruzzi, manager of the Palestine Fair Trade Association

We source olive oil, dates, nuts, za’atar and grains from West Bank farmers who live and work under the stifling conditions of a military occupation. Until 2006 we also sourced maftoul, an iconic Palestinian grain, from Gazan farmers. The closure of borders around Gaza since then has made this impossible.

Farmer in Palestine
Dosa Asous, farmer and community leader

Increasingly, the groves and fields surrounding Palestinian villages have been subject to illegal land grabs by Israeli settlers who are moving into the West Bank. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that since 2022 nearly 2,000 Palestinians have been displaced amid settler violence; 43% of these since 7 October 2023.

In this situation, protecting the land is paramount, and cultivation of crops is one way to perpetuate the link between farming families and their land. Israel uses an ancient law dated to Ottoman Empire times, whereby land can be expropriated if it is deemed ‘absentee’ or not officially registered to a Palestinian.

Farming is also important to support food sovereignty for these communities. West Bank shops and markets are dominated by imported produce, and travel is challenging because of the system of roadblocks and settler-only roads. And at the time of writing, as curfews are imposed across the West Bank and roadblocks are set up outside villages, access to fresh produce close to home is vital.

Harvest season
As we write this, it’s olive harvest time in Palestine. Every year we co-organise trips to Palestine to visit producers, take part in the harvest and support farmers to bring their valuable harvest safely home. This year, all trips have been cancelled as it is not safe to visit, but we continue to keep in touch with producers and friends.

A colleague in Palestine told us:

We always know to expect an increase in violence and harassment from settlers and the army at this time of year – just when the crucial harvest of olives is due to take place. But this year that violence is increasing and it is not specific to the olive groves.

We have been hearing directly about attacks around Nablus, and we know many farmers and workers have been prevented from going to their farms. There are more roadblocks and checkpoints springing up everywhere. We heard three people in Kasera village were killed by settlers, and we heard of Marda village being attacked, and then there were air strikes on Jenin. We hear of arrests happening every night and shops being burned down.

You can feel the escalation of violence and tension everywhere. Most recently and disturbingly we have heard that there has been a massive distribution of weapons to settlers across the West Bank – perhaps 20,000 settlers have been armed.

This means the value of the olives to us is correspondingly increasing – the more we are prevented from working and getting an income – the more we depend on the land. It is a time to encourage agriculture more than ever simply so people can be self-sufficient.

In time of war you go back to your land – and your land will be there waiting for you. For many young people, this is the first time they are experiencing violence and destruction on this scale. They too are therefore learning the importance of the land.

Supporting climate resilience
Farmers in Palestine, like farmers the world over, face increasing challenges as the climate changes. Yields are affected as seasonal patterns shift. Recently, summers have been longer and hotter, yet many farmers cannot put in place additional irrigation to mitigate the damage to crops. The West Bank is divided into three parts, Areas A, B and C. Area C includes 63% of agricultural lands in the West Bank and is under exclusive Israeli civil and security control. Water scarcity is a severe problem in Area C (and problematic in all areas), with Israel controlling 85% of Palestinian water sources. Israel forbids Palestinians to drill new wells or even to build new cisterns to catch rainwater.

The farmers we source from are increasingly turning to regenerative farming practices that boost yields through building soil health and conserving water. The traditional varieties of olive and almond trees they cultivate are rain-fed, meaning they are resilient to drought. Through trade of the produce they grow, the land can remain fertile and green as it has done for centuries.

Supporting livelihoods in Palestine
With unemployment in the West Bank running at 13.1%, and movement and travel restrictions imposed by the occupation making daily commutes arduous, agriculture offers a possible livelihood for many families. This can be an alternative to working in Israeli construction sites, an option that some workers resort to.

“The work isn’t easy, it’s tiring, but it’s joyful at the same time and brings economic benefit for us Palestinians, especially for those keen to find work in the West Bank.”

Doha Asous, farmer and community leader, who is pictured on the previous page.

Buy Palestinian
With lives, land, and livelihoods at stake now more than ever, buying Palestinian is important. It is a way not only to financially support communities living under a restrictive occupation, but it also offers a way to show solidarity with a people threatened by increasing violence and dispossession.

We continue to stand by, and with, the Palestinian people and the land they have cultivated for centuries. We celebrate their food and farming culture, which remains vibrant even as they navigate the many obstacles to daily life imposed by the occupation.

We keep our customers and supporters up to date with news as it affects the communities we support in Palestine, via our newsletter and social media. That’s our way of sending a message in a bottle.