Solidarity with olive farmers

June 5, 2024

Zaytoun at 20: Journalist Fiona Dunlop has been a constant supporter of Zaytoun and the producers in Palestine, and has given them all important media coverage, informed by her own experiences volunteering with olive farmers.

Zaytoun first entered my orbit in 2008 when I was looking for a way of spending time in the West Bank following a research trip to Syria as a food and travel writer. Before I left for the Middle East, somehow I tracked down Zaytoun and soon connected with Heather Masoud. In turn, she put me in touch with a group of British and Irish volunteers supporting Palestinians during their autumn olive harvest. The timing was perfect. So, a few months later, I found myself crossing the Allenby Bridge from Jordan to enter this biblical land that I had heard so much about.

It was totally enlightening – the harvest itself, the luscious, fresh olive oil that we consumed in vast quantities during picnics in the groves, and the warmth, humour and hospitality of the Palestinians themselves. Not just that, but also the atmosphere of the sprawling village where haunting calls by the muezzin echoed across the valley. All this I managed to convey in a piece for the Financial Times. Since then I have returned many times, only prevented by work commitments and more recently the pandemic. Each time I’ve been struck by the extraordinary resilience of the farmers in the face of vicious attacks by hilltop settlers and the occupation itself. This has inspired me to write blog posts and articles as well as regularly devour Zaytoun products – a taste of Palestine back here in Blighty.

Over the years I have often met up with Heather to give news of the farmers in the Nablus area where the volunteers work. On one occasion I mentioned a particularly feisty, outspoken and very active woman farmer, Doha Asous. The seed was planted, Heather did not forget my enthusiasm, and a few years later, in 2023, achieved the miracle of funding and arranging Doha’s trip to the UK for Fairtrade Fortnight. Her talks about farming under duress were a huge success, motivating many people who had previously known little about the issues, even resulting in an article about Doha in The Observer.

Another spin-off from Zaytoun is a charity founded by two of the original harvest volunteers which aims to help village schools suffering from limited resources. The Olive Harvest Trust, of which I am a trustee, has implemented numerous projects – from structural ones to educational aids to more recreational ones like a school orchestra and a school farm.

Behind all this lies the incredibly wise and supportive motor that is Zaytoun, now an impressive, ethical brand that grew out of an idealistic enterprise set up by two young supporters of Palestine – 20 years ago. Happy birthday!

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