Farmers in Palestine create amazing produce in adverse conditions – and are fighting to export them
(Joanna Blythman is an food writer, investigative journalist and broadcaster)
Palestine produces some of the finest olive oils in the world, not to mention dates, nuts, tomatoes – even wine. Now, despite the conflict, farmers are finding ways to export their produce – and show the world that their country is still the land of milk and honey.
That tenacity in the most challenging circumstances has produced results. It started with a trickle of extra-virgin olive oil available from activists and church groups. But now organic olive oil from Palestine, certified by the Fairtrade Foundation and sold under the Equal Exchange label, is finding mass distribution on supermarket shelves. Earlier this year the Co-op started stocking it, followed by Sainsbury’s, representing a massive triumph for beleaguered farmers like Taysir. “It makes us happy to know that British consumers are appreciating our oil. It allows us to present an alternative picture to the propaganda that portrays us as fanatics or hopeless victims who must rely on aid. It shows that we are a peaceful, productive people.” Fairtrade, he says, has been a vital support. “It guarantees us a market, and the extra profit we get from it means we can reinvest and improve the quality of our oil.”
Don’t think for one minute that Palestinian olive oil is a “solidarity” product to buy out of compassion or to show support for the Palestinian cause. It may come from a UN conflict zone, but its sheer quality puts it up there with Europe’s finest. Palestine has the world’s most ancient olive groves, but agricultural statistics show that more than 1m olive trees have been uprooted or destroyed by Israelis since 1980 to make way for settlements. Yet still that oil keeps coming. There’s the Nabali olive which produces a buttery, attractively peppery oil or the Rumi, which gives an oil that is quite fruity but more robust. These oils are smooth, persuasive ambassadors for a remarkable range of Palestinian foods that are slowly becoming available in the UK, US and Europe…