It’s said that every idea has its moment. That certainly seemed true in 2004, the year Zaytoun was launched in the shadow of drastic Israeli restrictions on Palestinian rights to travel, trade and access their lands and livelihoods.
We bought 200 bottles of olive oil on our return from Palestine. Our initial invitation was for friends and family to buy a case of this oil, yet the idea spread like wildfire among Palestinian solidarity networks and brought home to us the need felt by so many to do something tangible to support Palestinians, something that both supported their existing activism and reached beyond it. To buy a case of olive oil was a form of activism that could create immediate change. A simple purchase forged a direct connection to Palestinian farming communities that not only supported their livelihoods but carried a message in a bottle – the story of the people of Palestine, their love for their lands and the rich heritage they carry and are happy to share with us.
Reading back over articles written about Zaytoun in its early days, we are struck by how little has changed at the heart of the company. The mission that drove us then is the same as the one that drives us now – to support the livelihood of Palestinian producers via fair trade rather than aid.
We are still nourished by the energy, passion and commitment of people around the country who not only buy our products but organise events to host Palestinian producers, distribute Zaytoun products among their communities and offer financial investment to support our growth.
We are still bowled over by the tastes and flavour of Palestinian food, and the expertise of the farming communities who, year after year, share their harvests with us. Their love of good food and the way it has of bringing people together, inspires and delights us as much as ever.
Of course, Zaytoun is not the same company as it was in those early days. Although we focussed only on olive oil in the beginning, we now sell several products grown by different farming communities in Palestine. These products are now widely available from high street shops – from delicatessens to Fairtrade stores and wholefood retailers. We no longer drive around the country in rented vans to deliver these products ourselves (though we had a lot of fun doing so!), instead benefitting from a network of wholesalers.
Our team has grown from our original four and each new person brings a unique mix of expertise, skills and dedication to support our mission. We are also grateful to be supported by board members who bring a wealth of commercial experience along with backgrounds in social enterprise, Fairtrade and Palestine solidarity.
We’ve won awards for our social enterprise, as well as for our products. We’re delighted at the recognition that Palestinian food has received – for its exceptional quality as well as for the ethics of the supply chains that work behind the scenes to bring each product to homes and shop shelves around the country.
And of course none of this would be possible without the incredible hard work, devotion and passion of the Palestinian producers with whom we work. They remain our inspiration, along with the people who have bought our products since we first set up and who continue to spread the word about our mission.
Simply put, Zaytoun may have grown a lot, but our passion for Palestine – for her people, her land, her food and farming heritage – remains as bright as ever. We have so many people to thank for the enduring success of the company we started 17 years ago, and we hope you’ll be part of our story as it unfolds. We have so much still to do together!