From La’Isha Magazine’s Woman of the Week Feature (January 2014, Anat Mordechai)
Hadas Lahav is CEO of Sindyanna of Galilee, a Fairtrade association that provides employment for Arab women. The company’s olive oil has recently won first prize in the First Harvest (Rishon Hamasik) competition, run by Israel Olive Growers’ Association.
You studied Communication Disorders at Tel Aviv University; what brought you to olive oil production?
I have been an activist for social causes since I was 20. Many of my contemporaries were injured or died in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The war was a wakeup call for a generation. We lost our sense of security, and I understood that if we don’t find a way to live in peace with the Arabs we will lose the reason to be here. This realisation has dictated my life choices ever since. I have found my way in Sindyanna of Galilee, which we established in 1997 together with seven other founders, Jews and Arabs. Today we are a women-only staff.
What does the association do?
Our association operates in the Galilee with the aim of creating employment and other economic opportunities for Arab women. We produce quality olive oil, olive oil soap, herbs, traditional food produce and crafts, and sell these in the domestic and world markets. We run workshops and organise events at our Visitors Centre with the aim of creating connections between the Jewish and Arab sectors.
How did the idea come about?
In the 80’s I was involved in a project in Majdal Chrum, in which we taught Arab mothers how to help their children with homework. The aim was to improve schooling standards in the village. We noticed that although these village women were highly motivated, their ability to make a difference was limited. The reason was that they had never worked outside the home, didn’t have an income and thus lacked both independence and influence. Together with friends from the village, we decided to develop an economic initiative in order to give them work and financial independence. At first we thought about selling olives; later on we added olive oil and soaps, and today we also sell weaved baskets, carob syrup, honey, almonds, anything that can be got or produced in the village. All of our production and marketing is done according to Fair Trade principles. We give the women the best kind of instruction in order to enable them to become the best they can in what they produce and sell. We don’t want people to buy our products out of pity, but because they are excellent products. These women want to work and support their families and it is our way of making their voices heard.
You won a prestigious prize for the quality of your olive oil. Do you also deal with agriculture?
We have two olive plantations. One of them is an organic plantation in Waddi Arrah, planted on land which was for years a military firing range. About a decade ago, the state agreed to release the land. The owners, who are farmers, could not afford to rehabilitate 100 dumans (10 hectares) of land, so they offered it to us as a shared initiative. We also have another plantation in Yizrael Valley, also established on land that had been neglected for years. This is a shared project between Sindyanna of Galilee and the Church of Scotland centre in Tiberias. The results of this cooperation is a well tended and inspirational plantation in which we also grow Za’atar between the trees. All our profits are invested in new initiatives and in professional development.
Who are the women who enjoy these activities?
Arab and Jewish. Since 2006 we have a Visitors Centre, run by ten women from Kufr Manda. We run enrichment and Hebrew courses, taught by volunteers. We also run basket weaving courses, attended by both Arab and Jewish women. Every year we provide training for hundreds of women. We are also in the process of building another Visitors Centre, in Nazareth.
Family status: married with a 23 year old daughter.
Lives in: Haifa
Would take to a desert island: The book ‘Brodeck’s Report’ by Philippe Claudel, a reminder why not to wage wars.
Translated from Hebrew by Ya’ara Lahav-Gregory