Israel heavily restricts trade in Palestine, depriving farmers from accessing their own lands or selling their homegrown goods.
Gifts from Nablus, Gaza, Hebron, Jenin and various other Palestinian cities are regularly packaged to make their way out of the borders of occupation and sent around the world.
In Qatar, Shafiq Abdo has been working with farmers in Palestine to share authentic Palestinian goods from the source. The 50-year-old owner of ‘Khairat Nablus’ – The Wealth of Nablus – established the store in 2017 after resigning from a previous engineering job.
“I saw that the market needed more authentic Palestinian goods and as the son of Nablus I can easily recognise them, an example is olive oil,” Abdo said, sitting behind a counter surrounded with jars of Zaatar and spices from Jerusalem.
In 2001, Abdo moved from Palestine to Qatar with his wife and child after facing decades of struggle under Israeli occupation
“Business in Nablus became so complicated,” Abdo recounted.
“Israeli forces used to raid my house and conduct random arrests for simply resisting the occupation.”
For Abdo, trade has always been an integral part of his upbringing, working alongside his grandfather since as young as 15.
“I used to help trade fridges and home appliances. Right after school was over, I used to step in and help my grandfather.”
As reflected in its name, the store is filled with all products and produce offered by Palestinian farms, from herbs, coffee, olives, seeds as well as traditional dresses and clothing stitched in Jerusalem.
When he first opened the store in Al Aziziya, Abdo first shipped Zaatar, sumac and olive oil. Since then, people of all nationalities have grown accustomed to visiting the shop to pick up novel Palestinian goods, all of which are directly sourced from farmers.
“Our Qatari customers can now differentiate between genuine Palestinian olive oil and other types…Palestinian goods can be distinguished mainly from their quality and their fresh smell,” he said.
Taking a trip around his store, Abdo explained where each product is sourced from in Palestine, pointing to some products that have been imported from other parts of the world as well, including Turkey.
“Each Palestinian city is famous for a different product. Hebron is famous for its jameed [hard dry yogurt] and gee, Nablus is famous for its zaatar and olives, Jenin is known for its sumac, Gaza is known for its duqqa as well as pottery work,” he said.
To lower costs, Abdo’s products are delivered from Palestine by land, a process that was recently disrupted with the latest Israeli aggression against Palestinians, most notably in the besieged Gaza Strip.
“Things have now become more complicated now due to the circumstances in Palestine, from the coronavirus to the attacks on Palestinians…right now I just worry about the people in Palestine,” said Abdo, commenting on the latest flare-up in the occupied land.
But despite the complications, Abdo said Palestinian farmers remained steadfast and determined to continue exporting their goods.
“Regardless of the circumstances, the support should always be there. Right now, we are not stopping our trade,” he said.
“We have to support Palestinian products, not to say that they should be their number one product, but to consume them to support Palestinian farmers,” he explained.
Olive harvest disruption
Palestine is known for its olive trees, which carry a major cultural significance to Palestinians around the world.
Olive trees are known to be drought-resistant and are able to grow despite poor soil conditions, a characteristic regularly used to describe resistant Palestinians facing more than 70 years of occupation.
According to Abdo, the annual olive harvest season begins on October 16th in Palestine, when farmers go out to collect produce that has sprouted on their lands, pressing olives to create Palestinian olive oil and placing them in jars for consumption.
“Settlers try their best to disrupt the olive harvest season and follow them in every area. Farmers really face so many obstacles,” said Abdo.
Palestine olive trees are as old as 4,000 years, making them some of the oldest olive trees in the world. The plants are passed on from one generation to another, leaving behind wealth that is even older than the Israeli occupation.
However, 80% of Palestinian farmers have lost access to their own lands due to the Israeli occupation. While just a few have some sort of access to their farms, they still cannot freely use them due to restrictions imposed by Israel.
As part of ongoing aggression by Israeli forces and settlers, olive trees are constantly uprooted and damaged to provoke Palestinians or to expand illegal settlements. In 2018 alone, Israel uprooted 7,122 trees, raising the total to over 1 million trees destroyed since 2000. The number also rose by 16% in 2019 and by more than 100% in comparison to 2017.
More recently, a biweekly report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [OCHA] reported that Israeli forces bulldozed 120 Palestinian-owned olive and almond trees as well as terraces in Al Walaj, Bethlehem between April 13th and 26th. Israel justified its actions by claiming that the farms were “state lands”.
“Purchasing Palestinian goods helps boost the Palestinian economy, of course they [Israelis] are now restraining farmers from accessing their olive harvest which they use to create olive oil and sell it,” said Abdo.
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Besides land access, Israel controls 85% of Palestine’s water sources in the occupied territories, forcing Palestinians to purchase their own water from Israel’s national water company at exploitative prices.
The UN also said that 97% of Gaza’s water, pumped from the coastal aquifer, does not meet the World Health Organisation’s [WHO] standards.
Consequently, Palestinians struggle to irrigate their own crops, forcing farmers to abandon their own farms and thus causing an agricultural decline.
Having Palestinian products on foreign shelves also adds a sense of being to farmers, especially given the restrictions imposed by the occupation.
In total, Israel has placed at least 705 permanent obstacles and checkpoints that heavily affect mobility of individuals as well as trade trucks. This further complicates the transportation of trade and can lead to delays in exports, blocking access to international and local markets. As a result, the Palestinian economy continues to suffer.
“Palestinian farmers feel a great sense of relief because their own blood and sweat are invested in those products,” he said, reiterating the importance of supporting Palestinians.