Apart from the children’s singing and some fine music from Kefaya and Nizar al-Issa we also got a chance to buy some Palestinian goodies courtesy of Zaytoun – a ‘community interest’ fairtrade company which distributes products from the Palestinian farmers who have been so badly affected by the intifada and the ongoing troubles. We happily (but quietly…) munched wonderfully flavoured almonds and intense little black olives throughout the concert and came home bearing bottles of the most delicious olive oil and bars of honey and lemon soap.
You can check into Zaytoun’s website to find out more about the products and the farmers but the leaflet that came with the olive oil was so delightful that I could not resist reproducing some of it here. It told us all about olive farmer, Abu Rafat Odeh al Qadi.
Sitting under his pear tree Abu Rafat explains how joining a farmer coop is all about building lasting relationships. With vivid enthusiasm he describes one of his happiest moment as a farmer supplying Zaytoun customers.
“Last year when we had our olive harvest festival, I met a woman from England who buys my olive oil. I could almost fly from joy! I felt so amazed and inspired, how a farmer like me can have a relationship with someone from so far away because of my olive oil, something we have been producing in our homes for many years. I could never have imagined this in a million years. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.’
The benefit of being a fair trade farmer, he says, is “feeling like you are treated as a human being, not as an invisible machine that makes food for invisible people. Fair trade makes me feel free and trusted to make something really good not just from my land but also for my life.”
Abu Rafat’s land, in his home village of Mazara’al Boubani, stretches across several different terraces, his orchards planted with almost every indigenous fruit tree and a line of tomato seedlings especially for Ramadan. The view from his terraces is magnificent but is only a stone’s thrown away from the political reality that restricts farmers like Abu Rafat and all too often burns their trees or prevents them tending and caring for them.
Zaytoun offers a ‘harvest tour’ to see these orchards to a select number of visitors each year. It also combines with the International Women’s Peace Service to send volunteers to Palestine during the olive picking season to provide protection for the farmers by their presence while they pick. Check here on the Zaytoun site for a long report from Ali Smith, who volunteered in 2011, on exactly how difficult the situation can be for the farmers.
As for Abu Rafat. “As a young man”, he says, “I studied English literature and worked as a teacher until I was arrested for my political activism. But when I came out of prison, I was broken and that is when I started working on the land.” Today nine members of his family benefit from his land, including his two daughters and three sons who he says, are the promise. “If I build a future for my children then this will be the highest form of resistance I can offer right now.”
On a more frivolous note, it was not until we had left the concert (and the chance of buying any…) that Khulood started to tell me about the delights of za’atar – a herb mix of wild thyme, sesame and sumac which is an everyday staple in the Middle East. But for anyone who can lay hands on some, this is what she suggests….
lots of thick (Greek?) yogurt or even thick kefir
generous sprinkling of za’atar
very generous amount of Palestinian olive oil – the za’atar needs to be positively ‘swimming’ in oil on the top of the yogurt
1 warmed pitta bread for dipping
Eat at any time from breakfast to a late night snack!