Vivien Sansour
This Week in Palestine
May 20, 2010 - 12:00am

Abu Adnan does not talk about a global movement to save the earth. He doesn’t know much about Greenpeace or the Kyoto Protocol; but he does know everything about keeping his soil healthy and fertile, and the terraces he builds to protect his soil make his mountainous piece of land a visual paradise. A farmer since childhood in his home village of Faqua in the Jenin district, Abu Adnan Abed El Salam, who is now 78 years old, has built over 60 terraces in his lifetime, one stone at a time. When people come to talk to him about the “new” trend of organic agriculture he smiles. “My grandfather, my father, and I have been planting trees all our lives without using any chemicals.” He declares proudly, “I have a thousand olive trees, and I remove all the weeds from under each one of them with these bare hands. I never get tired.” He is aware that he could buy a bottle of pesticide for 70 shekels and get the job done in half a day, but such an idea would be considered criminal in his book.

Abu Adnan is not alone in his thinking. More than 1,700 farmers in the villages around Jenin and Nablus are making the same commitment to the land. And their dedication is paying off. Through their collective organisation, Palestine Fair Trade Association (PFTA), they work with Canaan Fair Trade to find markets for their products. They are constantly working to improve oil quality. With Canaan Fair Trade operating as their exporter they have successfully built a wide market for their organic crops. They earn three times as much as previously while still competing in the world market. Today, Palestinian olive oil is considered the first certified Fair Trade olive oil in the world and is available across the globe in esteemed groceries such as Whole Foods Market in the United States and Sainsbury’s in England.

Organic farmers in Palestine are contributing to a national shift that is moving Palestinians from being passive recipients of foreign aid - and herbicide-heavy technology - to being active producers. Fortunately, the innovation of these farmers does not stop at increased profit. While people across the Western world are struggling to return to the land and find a healthier way of life, Palestinian organic farmers are offering the world an inspiring movement model that is taking the old traditions of the past as a guide for a greener future. As the word agri-culture implies, most cultures are shaped by their agricultural heritage. When that is lost, the culture is lost and so are the people.

In their own way, farmers such as Abu Adnan are revolutionaries. They understand on an experiential level that healing for us as a community suffering from oppression and occupation requires the restoration of our sense of self - a self that is defiant but not defined by its oppressor.

On the international front, Palestinian farmers are not only partaking in the global renaissance of agro-ecology, they are leading the way because what they have is an ancient knowledge of how to work with trees and nature. Their holistic approach permeates even their linguistics. Serving the tree, for example, is an honoured concept. Farmers who have inherited their trees from their great grandfathers feel that it is their duty to give the tree the utmost respect and service because it gives them food and life. That is why they refer to their work as al-khidma, “the service.” When asked about their crop expectations for any given year their answer is almost always: depends on the service.

In that same spirit, farmers have been taking their families for generations to the fields where everyone enjoys picnicking and singing while the children learn how to be good stewards of the family trees. As Abu Rabi, a farmer from the village of Rumaneh in Jenin district remembers, “My grandmother, Fatoum, would go to the wild and cut off a seedling from the Roman olive trees. She would bring it home and plant it, water it, and take care of it so that I would have trees today. In my turn, I teach my children about serving, and the tree is passed on from one generation to the next.”

And in many ways what the Palestinian agro-resistance movement is doing is just that! It is making sure that our culture does not stop with the likes of Abu Adnan. That is why it is bringing back to life our depleted Palestinian sense of self worth, our defiance, and our beauty using the most basic of things: our trees and our food. Equally as important, even as we struggle for our freedom, our agricultural traditions are being passed from one generation to the next and reinvented to be of service today.


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