Back in Palestine: Zaytoun’s latest visit 

July 7, 2023

In June, Zaytoun’s Managing Director Manal Ramadan White travelled to Palestine to meet up with our partners and suppliers across the country, accompanied by our Chair Susan Ralphs. It had been 18 months since her last trip, and the first time in Palestine for Susan. Here Manal shares her account of the visit.  

Trip to Palestine June 2023

Ideally, I like to get out to Palestine two or three times a year but recently travel has been prevented by escalating military and settler aggression, and earlier by COVID. Not wanting to wait any longer, we decided to travel in mid-June. It felt gratifying to see everyone again, breathe in the beauty of the landscapes, and witness the bustling preparations for the harvest. I particularly enjoyed seeing the wonders of the land and the people afresh through Susan’s eyes. 

First stop: Burqin

After a night in Ramallah, our first stop was Canaan, our long-standing supplier in Burqin, just 4km from Jenin, from whom we source our olive oil, almonds, and grains – freekeh and maftoul.  There was a buzzing atmosphere as they prepared for the wheat harvest! Their display of various landrace wheat varieties was a real showcase of the team’s collaborative efforts with farmers to revive these ancient grains. 

The almond harvest was coming up too so we took the opportunity to visit olive and almond farmer Mohammed Hamada (he visited us during Fairtrade Fortnight in 2018) who cracked open a few nuts for us the traditional way with a stone. Eating nuts and grains in their ‘green’ stage is quite common in Palestine – just a different (and sometimes more nutritious) way of enjoying them! Together standing looking across Mohammed’s beautifully maintained groves, he reflected: “UK market access means a lot to me – it enables me to keep farming the land this way.” 

During our stay, we also managed to go to the church in Burqin – one of the holiest and oldest Christian sites in the world – where Jesus is thought to have healed lepers.  We were glad to spend some time with  Mohammed Ruzzi, the manager of the Palestine Fair Trade Association (PFTA) who visited the UK for Fairtrade Fortnight 2020 (just days before  the world went into lock down), and we were lucky enough to stay in a great guest house in the little village of Nus Ijbeil. Here we caught up with olive farmer Khader Khader who visited the UK for Fairtrade Fortnight in 2019. 
We would have liked to visit Nablus to see our soap producer but were unfortunately advised to avoid the area at this time.  

The women of Deir Ballout

The women’s co-operative in Deir Ballout produces our very special hand-rolled maftoul. We watched the amazingly skilled Ibtisam as she rolled, steamed, and cooked the grains with a mix of aromatics and spices. She and her colleagues are very proud of the Great Taste Award the Zaytoun maftoul won in 2017.  We also met the immensely capable Amneh who runs this successful co-operative which has given women an opportunity to be entrepreneurs together, undertaking diverse activities throughout the year in a protective and supportive community.  During our visit we not only witnessed maftoul being made, but also got to taste another one of their products: delicious pickled snake cucumber – a local variety – all packed up in the traditional way in re-used plastic bottles. 

Medjoul dates from the Jordan Valley

Enjoying breathtaking views, we wound our way down to the Jordan Valley to visit Nakheel and Palestine Gardens. Up in the trees on the date farms near Jericho, the dates are green, but poised to go yellow and then ultimately dark brown, sweet and caramelly and ready to eat in just a few months’ time! Jericho is 260m below sea level and has its own micro-climate – around 10 degrees hotter! Perfect for date ripening and sweetening.  
Our visit was serendipitously timed to witness the packing of our fruit for a shipment that is about to leave Palestine, allowing us to remain well-stocked through the autumn ahead of the new harvest in September.  


We then headed north, around 10km north east of Nazareth, where we caught up with Sindyanna – a female-led non-profit that works with Palestinians growers and artisans who produce our zesty za’atar. We called into their HQ at Kafr Kanna and had the chance to enjoy an inspiring cooking workshop being run by a Palestinian chef showcasing traditional vegetarian Palestinian dishes – featuring delicious za’atar of course! 

And last of all…

We ended our trip with a wonderful bit of luxury – staying at the Kassa Hotel in Bethlehem where we were fortunate to be the guests of Fadi Kattan (whose fantastic new restaurant Akub has been sourcing Palestinian ingredients from us since it opened in London earlier this year). The hotel is an impressive example of investment in Palestine from the Palestinian diaspora. Chilean Palestinian Elizabeth Kassis founded the hotel and is passionate about encouraging others to invest back in the homeland. Fadi kindly took us on a walk around the fabulous markets where we chatted to Um Nabeel with her mouthwatering spread of fresh produce. He then introduced us to a fantastic bakery run by the Shweiki family – and just breathed in that gorgeous smell of baking bread. We snacked on warm loaves as we ambled around stopping to chat to locals – Fadi seems to know absolutely everyone! 

A lovely way to end a journey of discovery for Susan, and to reflect on the incredible food Palestine has on offer – at which point I need to say a huge thank you to all the people we visited who just could not have been more generous or hospitable, producing the most wondrous meals – packed with flavour and freshness. 


Just a day after our return from Palestine, Jenin was hit by a series of ground and aerial assaults. This was devastating news – knowing that everyone we had just visited would now be in a heightened state of alarm and fear. We have heard directly from friends and producers who we visited during our trip and who live alongside the refugee camp there, that the situation is extremely dangerous and frightening, particularly for their young children. We are thinking of them and their families – and everyone caught up in this latest assault. 

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