Talking to Yves – Palestinian Olive Products in the Plateau

Posted on April 11, 2011


Brosky Style Olives

As some may may know, Yves is a Brosky. Before one reads any more, one may be questioning: “well, what the hell is a Brosky exactly?” One should delve more thoroughly into the Big Brosky article on Broskies to learn more. In any event, staying on topic, Yves is one of the Broskies that roles with myself, Big Brosky. I first crossed Yves at “Imaging Apartheid” where he was tabling at the back on behalf of Medical Aid Palestine (aide medicale pour la palestine).

Big Brosky was taking photographs when Yves approached. Yves asked if I could photograph some of the wonderful fair trade products on the table, and so I did. From here, Yves and I spoke however, Yves extended a very warm and cordial invitation to come check out the non-profit’s offices and so like a Big Brosky does, I accepted and went down two weeks later.

I sat in Yves’ office and asked about the Palestinian olive products not entirely expecting that there was also Za’atar, soap, dates, as well as Keffiyehs–all from Palestine and all of which undeniably came as very very pleasant surprises. I asked Yves about what it felt like working for such a non-profit organization that brings environmentally friendly fair trade products from a land of conflict to Montreal. In response, he gave a very compelling answer in which he uttered with a sheer conviction from across his desk, “Empowering. Truly empowering, this is one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve had…this is the first meaningful job I’ve had.”

As Yves and I spoke, the phone rang a couple of times in which he was pleased to answer inquiries concerning the Palestinian fair trade products now available in Montreal.

Vividly passionate and illuminated by non-profit work, Yves further mentioned, “Palestine is wherever I am.” I asked him to expand on this in which he mentioned that now that he works in the field he has become more aware and involved with the plight of Palestinian mass. In essence, he feels rewarded in context of seeing Palestinian olive oil and za’atar on the shelves of grocers and health food businesses in the Plateau due to the fact that he knows that he is one of the catalysts actively involved in helping to put these products on those given shelves; “It feels so good inside to be part of something that is making a significant difference…selling something you believe in and helping others on the other side struggling to make ends meet just to survive.”

As result, there is no doubt that Yves is spreading the good karma around and has noted that his experience with the non-profit organization has inspired him to find more work opportunities in the NGO realm. As Foreigner’s “Cold As Ice” played in the background, Yves went on to mention how humanitarian work distances one from the negativities portrayed by mainstream media and brings a more human and authentic touch to what is happening in the region. Moreover, each purchase of a Palestinian product will essentially help and contribute to improving olive oil quality and the productivity of farms, compliance with international standards and strengthening of marketing skills which will collectively bring about positive impacts on the quantities exported and consequently on the distribution of income generated in the olive oil industry.

To Yves, a Keffiyeh is not just a Keffiyeh. The Keffiyeh is not just any garment or piece of fabric, it is a culture, a people’s heritage and a people’s struggle.  With this in mind, Yves, brought me to the stock room to show me the boxes of newly arrived Keffiyehs while everyone else in the office was busy printing working and giving courteous smiles. In essence, Julie from the organization had mentioned to me how there was only one Keffiyeh factory left in all of Palestine. As I was already well aware of this, the Keffiyehs themselves, laden in boxes were of a variety of colours, each hand made and shipped from the last Keffiyeh manufacturer. The Keffiyehs themselves go for $15 and are well worth the investment because after all, everything one purchases is helping another in a very dire situation and in the case of Palestinian culture and heritage, one would not want to see this art of making scarves become extinct.


Fresh from the Herbawi Textile Company, the Keffiyehs are now available in Montreal and go for $15 which is a price that will support the last remaining Keffiyeh manufacture left in all of Palestine. To learn more about the Herbawi Textile Company, please read the following article.

Montreal – A City Open to Palestine?

To Yves, Montreal comes off as a beautiful city in which its inhabitants are open to other cultures. In essence, he feels that the cosmopolitain aspects of the city and its numerous diasporas gives Montreal a rather unique taste which renders the city as something more than just a cultural melting pot of so many different people from so many different backgrounds. As result, Montrealers have embraced the Palestinian products extremely well and consumers themselves have received these products in open arms by means of continuing to purchase these products. One can only hope that the demand continues to exponentially grow.

Politics effects agriculture. Oppression effects agriculture. While fruit and vegetation may grow, blockades and bulldozers can impede advancement. Talking to Yves about the politics of the region is a big conversation. Yves himself is Lebanese and being born in Lebanon means that Yves cannot enter the occupied territories for ground work. In Yves’ perspective, Palestinian olive oil enjoys a very high export potential. Tests  themselves have shown that it could be classified as a first-class extra virgin olive oil. In order to develop and win markets, the industry must integrate international safety and food quality constraints.

Yves Elmir: the phone rang again, he took the call, yup yup.

To compensate for the high costs of production, Yves mentioned that producers’ best hope is to capitalize on the superior quality and special marketing niche of Palestinian oil and move toward the high end bottled market. In essence, this costs money and a bottle of olive oil only goes for $15 which is well worth the investment. Despite such givens,  entering the global market is a major challenge (and this is not anything new for anyone running any genre of business that needs to grow and sprout from the ground up). In essence, over the past forty years, most Palestinian exports have gone through Israeli distributors and, as result, local producers are only now developing the necessary contacts and marketing skills necessary to independently get their products out to a larger market and in this case, this is where Medical Aid for Palestine plays a significant role.  As in all facets of the industry, the closures bring with them the baggage of adverse effects on marketing. There is no hiding the fact that it is undeniably difficult and costly for Palestinian entrepreneurs to travel abroad to make these very much needed and highly lucrative market contacts. Foreign buyers themselves will often not enter the Palestinian territories and Palestinians are often not permitted into Jerusalem to meet with them.  Sending samples, attending trade fairs and the other basic acts of establishing presences in new markets are all rendered much more difficult by default and it is in this that the difficulty really sets in for the Palestinians.


I personally admired the calandar behind Yves, can you read the names?