Issue No.
173, September 2012 Latest update 9 2014f August 2014, at 4.39 am
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Students at the Spanish School preparing a vegetable garden. Photo courtesy of Sharaka.

Defy Free Trade, Eat Palestinian!
By Aisha Mansour
Go into any local supermarket, and you are sure to find an array of products from all over the world, but mostly Israel. The Paris Economic Protocol has ensured that the Palestinian market is free of barriers for Israeli products. Although Palestinian products should receive similar benefits, they are often prevented from entering the Israeli market because Israeli authorities claim that they do not meet their standards.

Post-Oslo, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has dutifully complied with international expectations to impose a neoliberal economy with zero government interventions. In this environment, products from all over the world flow freely into the Palestinian market where they are sold at cheap prices. The government is not allowed to intervene in this neoliberal paradigm, so Palestinian producers are unprotected in their own economy and, thus, are unable to compete with the influx of cheap imports.

While the developed countries of the North advocate for a public and global policy, which reduces government’s role in the market, the developing countries of the South and their still underdeveloped markets are experiencing slowed economic growth and a rise in inequality and poverty. The countries of the North did not always advocate for these policies. In fact, most countries that are rich today practiced a protectionist and state interventionist policy in the past. After the Great Depression, for example, the US government subsidised loans to farmers, ensured price stabilisation, and financed agricultural research, extension services, and irrigation. After World War II, the United States and Europe relied on their agricultural sectors to employ their populations and increase their national production.

In an effort to put more cash in the pockets of Palestinian producers, most donor interventions have focused on temporary job creation and production for export. In the Palestinian agricultural sector, donor projects have focused on the production of cash crops for export. In this scenario, Palestinian land is cultivated to benefit the North. High-quality Palestinian produce is harvested for consumption by an external market, while the Palestinian market receives cheap food products from abroad. In other words, the northern market is hijacking whatever bits of land that still remain in Palestinian hands. As the Palestinian market is flooded by cheap food products, Palestinian producers are quitting, since they cannot make ends meet in this economic atmosphere. As more Palestinian land is allocated for the luxury consumption of the North, food availability on the local market will continue to diminish, leaving the Palestinian population in an even more precarious state of food insecurity.

If we allow this to continue, we will enable Palestine’s transformation into a non-producing nation consuming the second- and third-rate products exported to our market. As a result, our health will continue to plunge. Palestinian consumers experience poorer nutrition and health and are relegated to cheap labour serving the interests of the dominant North.

According to a World Health Organisation survey, 99 percent of the Palestinian population has at least one risk factor for a non-communicable disease. In order to protect our health and our local producers, it is critical to create alternatives.

Get to know Palestinian producers
Venture out to nearby villages to meet small-scale Palestinian farmers. You will soon create a network of local producers that will provide you and your family with fresh produce directly from their farms. Acquaint yourself with the fellaheen (rural folks) who sell produce on the edge of the hisbeh (local vegetable and fruit market). While many of them are not the actual producers, most purchase their products from Palestinian farmers.

Grow your own
After moving to Palestine, I did not eat broccoli until last winter. The broccoli in our market is Israeli and unattractive in its cellophane and Styrofoam packaging. Last year, I grew my own broccoli, which was 100 percent Palestinian. Plant the seeds in October, and you will be eating broccoli in February. If you live in an apartment, plant your seeds in large pots on your balcony. If you are affiliated with a school or community group, start a garden. With the support of Sharaka Community Supported Agriculture and Farashe Yoga Centre, the Spanish School in Al-Bireh recently started its own vegetable garden using the land on campus. A young Palestinian friend of mine recently started her own personal vegetable garden using the rear trunk of her classic VW truck. Options are limitless.

Make your own
I owe my last roommate, Sarah, for teaching me to make my own. There are cases where only the Israeli product exists in the Palestinian market, such as brown sugar. Brown sugar is basically a combination of white sugar and molasses. You can find imported molasses and make your own brown sugar. Or, better yet, you can rely on Palestinian local products and make a Palestinian version of brown sugar, mixing white sugar with dibis, a Palestinian syrup made from carob, grapes, or pomegranates. The homemade brown sugar will be sweet and tangy, and is delicious when used in homemade dark chocolate chip cookies.

I have also avoided purchasing imported processed peanut butter, which is packed with sugar and hydrogenated oils that are bad for you. Instead, I buy roasted peanuts and grind them into a paste with a bit of local extra virgin olive oil. Instead of purchasing processed fruit-flavoured yoghurt imported from Israel or abroad, I have learned to make my own. Using your favourite Palestinian plain yoghurt as the base, add any baladi (local) fruit that is available, such as plums, figs, askadinyas, pomegranates, apples, or pears. In order to go Palestinian, choose the fruit that is in season. Sometimes I make my own granola and add a couple of spoonfuls to my fruit and yoghurt mix.

Use substitutes
Sometimes, the food you want is just not available. You probably know that most of the watermelons sold in our market are grown in Israel. Our farmers in Jenin, once known for their watermelons, no longer produce sufficient quantities for local needs. But nonetheless, many of us buy these watermelons so that we can indulge in our watermelon and white cheese summer salads. In order to enjoy this sweet and salty summer treat in 100 percent Palestinian fashion, I mix figs with the white cheese. It’s different, but delicious. And, most importantly, it’s 100 percent Palestinian.

Going Palestinian and supporting local producers requires some initiative and creativity. Sometimes, there will be no alternatives, such as Schweppes Ginger Ale. But this drink is far from a nutritional necessity and can be eliminated from your diet. Eating local and Palestinian in our neoliberal free market is possible. The right to good food and a just food system is a human right, and we must reclaim our country’s bounty. Palestinian producers must be supported in all aspects, economic as well as social and cultural. The PA must lead the discussion on national policy. We must decide to what extent the PA should participate in the free market and to what extent the domestic market should be protected for the Palestinian producers, especially those that are small-scale.

Aisha Mansour is a co-founder of and a volunteer with Sharaka-Community Supported Agriculture, a local Palestinian movement focused on food sovereignty in Palestine. Sharaka works to preserve Palestinian agricultural heritage and reconnect consumers with small-scale traditional Palestinian farmers. For more information, go to the Sharaka Facebook page, or email Sharaka at sharakainpalestine@gmail.com.

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