The Women Who Harvest

In Israel, toiling away in dusty groves or inspecting huge barrels of wine has never just been a man’s job

Naama Barak / March 4, 2021 / Israel21C

Hanan Zoabi Manadreh, Sindyanna of Galilee’s manager of social projects and women’s empowerment. Photo by Oren Shalev

Strictly speaking, Hanan Zoabi Manadreh doesn’t make olive oil.

But as the manager of social projects and women’s empowerment at the female-led Sindyanna of Galilee NGO that promotes business for peace and fair trade in Israel, she knows plenty about breaking barriers and, of course, the local olive oil industry.

Sindyanna of Galilee was established in 1996 by a group of Jewish and Arab women to improve the literacy of Arab-Israeli mothers. With time, it moved to the olive oil business and today exports quality olive oil manufactured by Arab-Israeli women.

Their work at the factory helps them make a living, improve their status in society, learn Hebrew and new technological skills and meet with a wide array of Jewish and Arab women, all while empowering local olive growers.

Sindyanna of Galilee’s annual olive harvest showcases the NGO’s ethics on cooperative work and a just and equal society. Photo by Erez Wagner

Manadreh notes that for the participants, working outside the home was more of a difficult issue than working in the olive oil industry.

“Palestinian society was an agricultural society so women were always also involved in agriculture,” she says. “There’s more conservative prejudices about a woman’s place being in the home, raising children, cooking and working as a housewife. When a woman wants to go out to work, she has to break a lot of barriers, a lot of conventions.

“But this situation is slowly changing. We come across it less and less because the financial situation and the cost of living forces women to go out and work. You can’t live off one salary anymore,” she notes.

Sindyanna’s olive oil comes from both local olive growers and two olive groves leased from Arab farmers. One of these is Israel’s only experimental olive grove, where scientists try out breeds that have yet to be registered in the country, and the other was established by Sindyanna and produces organic olives.

Once the oil reaches the factory at the Arab-Israeli town of Kafr Kanna, the female employees strain it, store it and see it all the way to the finished product – high-quality, fair-trade olive oil that is mostly shipped abroad.

The women do go to the grove once a year for the harvest, which highlights the values that Sindyanna stands for.

“It’s an activity through which we show the close cooperation and through which we show both societies [Arab and Jewish] that we can have a cooperative economy, cooperative work, that we can build a more just and equal society,” Manadreh concludes.