Faversham’s Fleur Hall was filled to capacity on 18 November for a film screening, discussion and a talk by a recently-returned local researcher about the situation facing Palestinian olive-growers trying to make their living under Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank.
The evening began with a screening of the short film, The Uprooted, which gave an insight into the challenges facing olive farmers but which also focused on the work of international volunteers who visit at olive harvest time to help bring in the crop and during tree planting season in order to help replace the thousands of trees that are maliciously uprooted each year by the Israeli army and by illegal settlers. They also, the film showed, provided a crucial witnessing presence that helps to protect Palestine’s farmers from being attacked.
Local PSC chair Penny could be seen in some frames of the film, helping with work in the groves, and she urged the audience in Fleur Hall: “If I can do it, so can you!” She emphasised that there were suitable (and enjoyable) volunteer roles available for people of all abilities.
The film was followed with a fascinating slideshow by a local PSC member. Palestinian himself, he had just returned from conducting research with the olive-farming community in the Bethlehem area.
As well as giving the audience a startling sense of the daily struggles faced by farmers – such as land confiscation, attacks by settlers, restricted access to their own land and punishingly high prices charged by Israel for water pumped from under the farmers’ own land – he spoke powerfully about the beauty of the landscape and the ingenuity and ecological harmony of indigenous Palestinian approaches to agriculture, with stunning terraced hillsides, ingenious irrigation systems and mixed groves of different fruits rather than extensive monocultures.
We also learned more about olive oil making, and many were surprised to see that the wide range of by-products include briquettes that can be burned as fuel, made of the waste olive mash left over from the pressing process.
He gave a particularly strong sense of how connection to and stewardship of the land – and steadfastness in remaining on it – are central to the identity of the indigenous Palestinian community.
After a great Q&A session, the evening ended with the chance to buy some Palestinian olive oil and other products and to pick up information about the situation in Palestine.
Those interested in volunteering to plant olive trees during the coming February can get more information on the JAI website. If you can’t make that, then there is also the opportunity to help with the olive harvest in October 2015.
Thanks to everyone who came, and of course for your generous donations.