Montreal’s Plateau and the Palestinian Olive Grove

Posted on April 11, 2011

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Olives, olives and more olives. There are so many wonderful things that can be made from olives and Big Brosky is not talking about cuisine nor rhymes. Chef Brosky and olives do go way back. There is no denying the fact that I love hip-hop and I do love olives and there is no doubt that Palestinian olives would be put at the top of the list however, olives from Italy, Spain, California, Iran and Greece are undoubtedly insatiable. Some Lebanese olives are wonderful however, for some odd reason, they can be salty and not flavoured with that wonderful picklesque flavour. Despite my taste bud views on Lebanese olives, I appreciate all olives no matter where they are from on this good earth however, I am a strong advocate for any natural resource to be lawfully and justly cultivated and if this phenomena is not placed in proper injunction, well then I’d have to simply boycott that given producer.

Enter the story of Palestine and the Palestinian olive grove and its cultivation. It took a while for me to get used to olives with giant seeds in them that are so hardened that it felt as if I was about to crack my molars or wisdom tooth. Despite such givens, I did get used to them. What I dont believe anyone should get used to is the story behind the Palestinian olive. Simply put, the struggle of the Palestinian olive is one that one should simply not swallow and savour so easily.

Oxfam has reported that Palestinian olive groves are frequently attacked by Israeli settlers

Politics do grapple with nature and the ultimate fate of natural resources, one simply does not need to look too far into Iraq and Afghanistan and the oil and gas pipelines that were immediately dug and established after 2002 and 2005 respectively. Moreover, BP has currently commenced on some very serious offshore drilling in Libya’s waters while crazy Ghadafi’s runways are being bombed in order to enforce a no-fly zone over his airspace. With contemporary examples over natural resources and the pretexts to war that their presence has prompted is nothing new to human history, ask Columbus and ask the Hasidic cats Crown Heights who do the cuts on those blood diamonds from Angola and Sierra Leone.

Diamonds being sought for in Sierra Leone

Olives are not diamonds nor are they gold, oil or gas deposits. Nevertheless, olives are olives and their presence translates to a large-scale industry, an industry that was one a practice that brought peoples of different faiths and races together, now divides them in some very unfortunate cases. In a nutshell, no pun intended here, the illegal Israeli occupation of the West bank and the siege of the Gaza Strip are seriously harming and even halting Palestinian olive oil production which contributes up to $100 million US annually for some of the most underprivileged Palestinian families (source: Oxfam).

Olives and olive oil are one of the primary sources of income for the Palestinian economy. In essence, they represent around half of agricultural land use in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip as well as being a major export, and provide employment and a large source of income for around 100,000 farming families. According to Oxfam reports, there are approximately 10 million olive trees with the potential to produce up to 34,000 metric tons of olive oil in a good year, but only 5,000 tons in a bad year. The average quantity of oil produced annually between 2001 and 2009 was around 17,000 tons. Now, in context of numbers and not dollars, this is a large amount of olives, especially considering the fact that one single olive does not weigh very much and that the Palestinian territories of the West Band and Gaza Strip are very tiny pieces of land. Considering this, one can also estimate how much revenue from olive production Israel has taken from the territories they illegally occupy – much food for thought here.

Enter the AMP Invitation.

I was cordially invited to visit the offices of AMP – aide medicale pour la Palestine – to learn more about Palestinian olive products being sold locally in Montreal. In essence, I crossed the aide medicale pour la palestine table at Imaging Apartheid which was held at Kaza Maza restaurant on Parc Ave. The young man tabling, Yves Elmir, caught my attention as I was doing photography. I was approached and curiously delved into the products on the table. In essence, there is a rather large but interesting story about these wonderful products from the occupied territories.

Upon entering the offices I was actually taken aback by how stunning the place was: pristine, clean, casual, warm, inviting. In all sincerity this was not what I was entirely expecting. I was literally expecting a very tight space that was not roomy and rather crammed and cramped – I was wrong, the place was bright and roomy and very cozy. The non-profit in itself is utterly a pleasure to be in with a collection of stunning frames of photography taken in Palestine by a local photographer.

A photograph of some of the wonderful Palestinian products now available in Montreal and the greater province of Quebec. For more info on where to purchase these Fair Trade products, please be sure to read the following article.

After touring the place, I immediately interviewed Julie in her office. I asked her about the non-profit and how things were being operated there. In essence, she actually shared her experience with aide medicale pour la palestine by relating some of the ground work she had recently done and what things she crossed over this period of time. Julie had traveled to the West Bank for a three week period in order to visit and meet with the non-profit’s partners in Palestine. In essence, she had passed through a few West Bank villages and met with local date and olive farmers. While a report with radio-Canada was also simultaneously being done, Julie vividly recalls the difficulty of Palestinian farmers when it comes to the aspect of cultivating the land as Israeli soldiers do constantly mark their presence.

Living the rhythm of these farmers is something that cannot be experienced nor described. Julie related the socio-economic and socio-political challenges of these farmers in the West Bank and how the occupation has undeniably rendered life difficult on a quotidian basis. Julie herself was staying in a district set-up by the Red Crescent where she would also cross refugee camps while also experiencing the family-oriented activity of olive picking. Olive picking in itself is a family-oriented tradition in Palestine and this very tradition is still vivid to this very day despite the menace of an illegal occupation that makes life so difficult for the Palestinian populous.

A photograph of Julie just before I interviewed and spoke to her about her visit to the West Bank. Her insight on the olive groves are truly refreshing and provide a realistic image of what is going on in the occupied territory of the West Bank.

Despite such givens, there is the presence of a good number of Israelis that do stand in solidarity with Palestinian farmers and families when it comes to harvesting these olives. As result, the plight of who has rights to these olives becomes a struggle in which the olives themselves in question have no say in context of who they want to be picked by and who they want to be eaten by. From here, I went on to ask Julie about the particulars of the olive season and how does the aspect of olive picking go about.

On a very personal note, this was a learning experience as I had done any form, fashion or manifestation of olive picking or harvesting in my lifetime. Julie’s insights on the practice ere very eye-opening and even jaw-dropping at times. Olive picking season falls in the months of October and November respectively. The practice is done by hands and no machines are involved. Julie defines the process as a very “neat” one. For Julie, seeing the olives being hand-picked is only one facet of the greater struggle. Within this, she sees the current reality of Palestine and the direct effects of colonialism over a minority. As a tourist, she accounts how these things are solely witness, as an individual who lives this reality on a daily basis, it is another thing.

From Palestine to the Plateau.

After twenty-five years in service, how does aide medicale pour la palestine bring the products from Palestine to the shelves of local businesses in the Plateau Mont-Royal? Which businesses have these items stocked on shelves?

There is no denying or hiding the fact that by purchasing equitable products of the likes of Zeitouna Palestinian olive oil, one is making a very mammoth and significant difference in the life of someone else on the other side of the world living a completely different reality. While the olive harvesting itself not only represents a 3,000 year-old tradition, it also tells the story of women’s agricultural employment. Palestinian women represent the largest proportion of Palestine’s agricultural workforce. Moreover, from here what I was also pleased to learn was the fact that the olives in themselves are all natural, in other words, not laden with pesticides.

The notion of pesticides is rather alarming if one thinks very critically and wisely. I recently saw a Concordia University film screening done by Cinema Politica: The Vanishing of the Bees. The Vanishing of the Bees is essentially concerned with the aspect of bees vanishing without any concrete reason until it has been determined that these very pesticides we either spray or dip or expose our vegetation and agriculture with are actually damaging and harming the environment in context of bee population. The olives in this case, are not littered and sullied with any genre of chemical products, this without doubt, is a plus in the Big Brosky book of pluses.

In context of fair trade, well fair trade is present in the form of being imported via the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee which is a member of the World Fair Trade Organisation (www.wfto.com). Beyond this, the olive oil itself is actually cold pressed. Cold pressing the olive oil connotes that the extra virgin olive oil has its original flavours preserved which hence leaves its nutritional value untampered with. By consequence, all of the aforementioned brings about a specific pigment and flavour to the fore. The olive oil itself carries a nice pale texture that is obviously yellow and finishes off in the mouth with a rather spicy aftertaste which compliments the za’atar well that is also provided by AMP.

Once one enters the offices of Medical Aid Palestine one will spot the Jean Charest photograph along a beautiful frame from Palestine. The non-profit organization truly stands for a very generous and commendable cause.

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