Palestinians in the occupied West Bank have been making a conscious effort to support local farmers to help them face Israel’s efforts to annex their farms.
Volunteers of the Sharaka group, in cooperation with the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre, launched “Souk El-fallaheen“, a weekly Farmers’ Market that began this month and is the first of its kind in Palestine.
Palestinian famers traditionally sell their produce to merchants who sell them onto shops, taking with them the majority of the profits. The farmers themselves often work at a low profit margin or at a loss as they try to compete with lower quality items which flood the markets.
As a consequence, farmers abandon farming and therefore their land. This has a direct impact on Palestinians resisting Israeli occupation because it makes it easier for Israelis to grab the land.
By contrast, the Farmers’ Market gives local small-scale producers a platform to promote their products directly to consumers at a much lower price and enable residents of Ramallah to shop for local seasonal vegetables, traditional bread and home-cooked foods. In addition, it promotes environmentally friendly practices.
A form of resistance
Lina Ismael – one of the Sharaka volunteers who organise the market – thinks the farmers’ inability to harvest and market their produce has left them unwilling to plant them in the first place, many leave their farms and facilitate Israel’s annexation of the vital regions. For the Palestinians, not only is land a source of food, but it also stands for resistance, freedom and sovereignty, while farmers are considered defenders of the land.
Lina says the goal of the market is to support small-scale farmers by enabling them to sell their produce directly to the consumers at a fair price in an environment that allows social interactions. This in turn allows them to stay on their land and protect it from confiscation.
Naser Rabie and his wife Muna, who come from the village of Turmusayya, north of Ramallah, sell tomatoes, courgettes, cheese and many other products at the market.
“The market is a very good chance to sell at a good price the harvest of my land which is located near the settlement. The Farmers’ Market encourages me to continue cultivating my land and next year I will plant more lots of land,” Naser explains.
Samer Nowwar, a member of a youth cooperative of nine members from Saffa village, west of Ramallah, came to sell his products of olive oil, wheat flour and zaatar (thyme). “We started our project last year by cultivating 35 dunums of land; our goal is to make a living farming. We think that in this way we contribute not only in producing but also in protecting our lands from being grabbed by the Israeli occupation.”
The market, he adds, “Gives us a platform to sell our products and tell our story because we are proud of our produce and of our land.”
Consumers are also happy with the market, Mary and Juwana Diek say: “Here we can talk to the producers and learn from them how they produce, we listen to the challenges they face and to their stories because every one of them has a different story and most importantly: it is produced by Palestinian hands.”
I prefer small grassroots markets because you feel a warm atmosphere between the producers and the consumers talking and sharing their stories and building a relationship with them.
The market is held just outside the office of famous Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. From a first-floor room overlooking the garden where the Farmers’ Market is held, Darwish worked on editing the Al-Carmel magazine during the last decade of his life. Portraits and poems by Darwish can be seen on the walls giving the market another dimension, as a cultural event.
Renad Shqeirat, director of the Sakakini Centre, says that the other goal of the event is “to provide a space that brings together all those who are aspiring for an alternative model of consumption and production and whose values are rooted in the Palestinian communities’ growth from within.”
“We believe that the Farmers’ Markets are significant indicators to the presence of conscious individuals who question the quality and the source of what we consume daily,” she adds.
Up until half a century ago, the residents of Ramallah used to grow vegetables, grapes, olives and figs, in addition to keeping herds of goats and sheep for meat, milk, cheese and yoghurt. Nowadays, most of Ramallah’s lands have turned into urban centres, while others have been confiscated for illegal Israeli settlements and cannot be used by their Palestinian owners.
The Farmers’ Markets, many have said, allow locals to revive the area’s ties to its rich agricultural heritage
Good for people, good for the environment
Though the market has been ongoing for years, this year’s event has been different as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and Israel’s plans to annex up to 30 per cent of the occupied West Bank.
Organisers hope, not only to provide support for Palestinian famers, but to make the event green and environmentally friendly through by making it plastic-free. “So we encourage buyers to bring their own textile bags or buy paper bags we offer,” event organiser Sharaka explains. Farmers are also local, to reduce the levels of pollution emitted during their journey and the products sold are seasonal “produced in traditional and ethical ways”.
A unique event, the Farmers’ Market has given hope to many who were at risk of losing their livelihoods, and as a result, losing their land and homes. For Palestinians it is not just about shopping local and supporting the community, it’s about finding new avenues to stand up to the occupation, and the unity at the market is exactly what is needed.