Olive Oil Lubricates Peace in Israel and Palestine

druize druze pitaMunching on a Druze pita with Labneh, olive oil, and some zaatar spice.

The Irish call it “the troubles”; over in Israel, they euphemistically call political problems “the situation”. As sad and complicated as the situation may be for every human being involved, a few individuals have risen above the crowd, like oil on water, and banded together to make business over a much-loved Middle Eastern commodity: olive oil. And converts to organic farming are emerging from unlikely places.

Thanks to the help of the environmental group Green Action and the braveness of some entrepreneurial Palestinian farmers, organic and fair trade olive oil is now available in Israeli shops.

Last November, the issue of fair trade in Israel was brought to light when Palestinian farmer Nazeeh Shelab from the village Mas’hah came to Tel Aviv to speak with some curious folks at the new anti-mall Beit Banamal. Over a raunchy cigarette, I chatted with him about what it is like living so close to Tel Aviv, yet worlds away, and what it is like being an organic pioneer in Palestine.

Shelab said that when he started working with Green Action not long ago, his neighbors thought he was insane. After seeing the fair trade olive oil project flower into a growing business, Shelab is now advising other farmers on how to think organic, which is a relatively undeveloped concept in the Palestinian territories.

Much of the resources and literature Palestinians are turning to, Shelab noted, are coming from Egypt, where organic farming is growing rapidly.

Za’atar, a spicy mix used to season hummus and sprinkle on pita bread (see our pesto za’atar recipe) is a second fair trade commodity Green Action is pushing into the Israeli community. Besides being extremely tasty, my Arab friends in Jaffa say it is great for the brain.

A handful of other fair trade products, such as coffee and cocoa, are being imported to Israel from countries such as Costa Rica and Colombia and being distributed to shops mainly in the Tel Aviv district.

While not close to the fair trade options available in the US or Europe, shwaya shwaya (“slowly, slowly”), Israel is getting there.

Image via orcaman

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