Just one year after the project was launched, the olive saplings planted by Sindyanna of Galilee in partnership with Al-Juzur have taken root and are thriving against all odds. In what was fallow land covered with stones and thorns, without any tracks or infrastructure, a modern organic olive plantation is growing over an area of 10 hectares – one of the few such plantations in Arab agriculture in Israel, if not the only one.
Dozens of volunteers, friends of Sindyanna, agricultural workers from Wadi Ara organized with WAC, and the landowners, all came for a day of labor in the olive plantation. The volunteers weeded around the trees, strengthened supporting ties, pruned the trees and planted za’atar (hyssop) between the rows.
Nabil Younes, one of the partners in the Al-Juzur group, is responsible for day-to-day care of the plantation. “Al Bassa” (The Swamp), as the land is known because of the water that collects there in the winter, is like a second home for Nabil. With evident satisfaction he noted the great atmosphere during the volunteer labor day and the connection that formed between the local residents and the volunteers. “It warms the heart to meet people who have come to help and understand the importance of this place,” he said.
The labor day marked one year since the plantation project was launched, on March 27, 2010, close to Land Day (which has been held on March 30 each year since the first Land Day in 1976). While the “city-dwellers” rolled up their sleeves and got down to uprooting the thorns and thistles, and while children from Haifa, Tel Aviv, Ara and Kufr Qara ran around the trees looking for beetles and caterpillars, some women from Jatt and Baqa el-Gharbiyeh set up an oven and began kneading the dough which would soon become aromatic za’atar pastries.
After lunch, Badiya Younes addressed the participants. Badiya is one of the landowners and the eldest son of the Younes family which established Al-Juzur. He told those present that the Roha lands were always the family’s most treasured lands, and as a child he knew every stone. He said he was very proud of the new plantation, and hoped it would set an example to all the farmers in the area who would learn modern farming techniques and would understand the advantages of cooperation among themselves and with those who seek peace in the state.
Moghira Younes, the project’s agricultural advisor, spoke about the difficulties that were encountered in turning the land into a modern plantation, and the considerations over the variety of tree to plant and how to care for them. He said the most challenging aspect, which was also expensive, was connecting the irrigation system because there is no water infrastructure in the area. A pipe over one kilometer long was laid from the main road and connected to a pump, without any assistance from the authorities. However, he was certain that irrigation was vital for a good olive harvest, so he insisted the pipeline be laid despite the cost and difficulties. He added that he hope the success of the project would persuade local farmers to lay irrigation systems in their own plantations.
Hadas Lahav, Sindyanna’s director, noted the wide support for the project in Israel and abroad. Since 2009 the project has been cofounded by Italian Fair Trade organization – Cooperativa Chico Mendes from Milan, with the support of Fondazione Cariplo as well as other Italian organizations from Regione Puglia and Regione Lazio. Five years ago, she said, when the landowners turned to Sindyanna and requested assistance in establishing the plantation, it seemed like a distant dream. “The plantation you see today is proof that any dream can be realized, if you work in the right way, with faith and determination,” she said. “These trees will live a long time after the racist laws and the discrimination and the occupation have disappeared off the face of the earth.”