Bringing Palestinians and Israelis Together Through Olive Oil Production

In northern Israel, Sindyanna of Galilee helps farmers produce and sell extra virgin olive oil, using the proceeds to invest in the local communities.
Nadia Giol (left), Hanan Zoabi Manadreh (center) and Hadas Lahav (right) picking olives in Deir Hanna
Apr. 11, 2022
Daniel Dawson

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Olive oil is the tool that is bring­ing us together,” said Nadia Giol, the chief group facil­i­ta­tor at Sindyanna of Galilee.

Giol is a Palestinian cit­i­zen of Israel who works at Sindyanna’s vis­i­tors cen­ter, where she shows off the high-qual­ity local olive oil pro­duc­tion and explains the pur­pose of the women-led, Arab-Israeli com­pany.

Sindyanna is try­ing to bring an alter­na­tive nar­ra­tive to Arab and Jewish com­mu­ni­ties.- Hadas Lahav, CEO, Sindyanna of Galilee

Sindyanna of Galilee is not a tra­di­tional olive oil pro­ducer. Instead, the non-profit buys olive oil and other agri­cul­tural prod­ucts from local farm­ers in the oil-soaked Galilee – a large coastal plain stretch­ing from north­ern Israel to south­ern Lebanon – bot­tles the oil and sells it domes­ti­cally or exports it abroad.

With the money earned from sell­ing the olive oil, the com­pany invests in the local com­mu­nity by plant­ing olive trees, help­ing farm­ers become cer­ti­fied fair-trade and organic and installing the nec­es­sary infra­struc­ture, such as irri­ga­tion.

See Also:Producer Profiles

Hadas Lahav, the non-profit’s co-founder and chief exec­u­tive, told Olive Oil Times that she has spent her life try­ing to forge a deeper con­nec­tion between Palestinians and Israelis with the olive tree – a mil­len­nia-old sym­bol of peace – at the heart of her efforts.

My whole life, I was look­ing for ways to improve our soci­ety,” she said. Whether it’s through women empow­er­ment, Arab-Jewish col­lab­o­ra­tion or employ­ment projects, every­thing that can make our soci­ety more just and fair.”

She started Sindyanna of Galilee in 1996 after rec­og­niz­ing the untapped eco­nomic poten­tial of the region’s boun­ti­ful olive groves.

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There is a lot of olive oil in the Galilee,” she said. Twenty-five years ago, the olive groves mostly belonged to Arab farm­ers. And there was a big prob­lem with mar­ket­ing and adjust­ing the olive oil to the require­ments of the mod­ern mar­ket.”

At the time, most of these farm­ers were pro­duc­ing olive oil to con­sume at home, but Lahav saw the eco­nomic poten­tial that a lit­tle invest­ment in har­vest­ing and milling tech­niques could bring to the rural com­mu­nity.

We saw that we can not only con­tribute to the improve­ment of the qual­ity of the olive oil but also find the bridges between the Arab farm­ers or the Arab olive oil pro­duc­ers and the Israeli mar­ket, and later on to the global mar­ket,” she said. This is where our jour­ney started.”

Sindyanna of Galilee is based in the Arab town of Kafr Kanna, which Christians cel­e­brate as the loca­tion where Jesus Christ mirac­u­lously trans­formed water into wine. At the company’s ware­house, they trans­form raw olive oil into the end prod­uct that sells for up to €18 per half-liter in Western European cap­i­tals.

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Once they have pur­chased the oil from the farm­ers, Lahav and her team trans­port it to the ware­house. Here, they fil­ter the olive oil, store it in state-of-the-art con­tain­ers, bot­tle the oil and even­tu­ally ship it to stores across the coun­try and around the world.

We know almost all of the pro­duc­ers,” Lahav said. We know them per­son­ally. We visit them and bring back not only the food prod­uct but also the story. It is very impor­tant for us that peo­ple who con­sume our prod­ucts know where they come from, what they rep­re­sent, and their story.”

We are try­ing to build an alter­na­tive nar­ra­tive to the over­whelm­ing Israeli nar­ra­tive, which is based on sep­a­ra­tion and build­ing walls between the two dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties instead of bring­ing them together,” she added. Sindyanna is try­ing to bring an alter­na­tive nar­ra­tive to Arab and Jewish com­mu­ni­ties.”

While Lahav, Giol and the rest of the team at Sindyanna are work­ing to share a vision of hope and com­mu­nity through extra vir­gin olive oil, they face plenty of chal­lenges in real­iz­ing this vision.

On the agri­cul­tural level, the biggest chal­lenge of say local farm­ers is devel­op­ing irri­ga­tion sys­tems,” Lahav said. Because of cli­mate change and the fact that sum­mers in the Middle East are get­ting hot­ter, the effect on the olive trees is very dra­matic.”

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Traditionally, olive groves in the Galilee are not irri­gated,” she added. They are rain­fed, but we found out that you can get much big­ger crops and much bet­ter qual­ity by irri­gat­ing the olives.”

The team at Sindyanna of Galillee also works to edu­cate farm­ers about mod­ern har­vest­ing and pro­duc­tion tech­niques. Lahav believes that olive oil can fol­low in the wine sec­tor’s foot­steps in Israel, which has seen the value of its exports triple in the past 20 years.

We are a lit­tle bit behind the wine indus­try with olive oil, but I think we are get­ting there,” Lahav said. There is a global effort, and with the col­lab­o­ra­tion among all the olive oil pro­duc­ers, we can bring the olive oil to a new stage of a high-qual­ity com­mod­ity.”

One of the ways in which Israeli pro­duc­ers will arrive at this point is by demon­strat­ing their qual­ity at inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions.

To that end, Sindyanna of Galillee has earned var­i­ous inter­na­tional acco­lades, includ­ing a Silver Award at the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition for a del­i­cate Barnea mono­va­ri­etal.

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This year, we sent two olive oils to New York,” Lahav said. One is a Coratina from our fair-trade olive grove near Nazareth. And the other is an organic olive oil, which is a blend of Coratina and Barnea olives.”

Lahav said that Sindyanna of Galillee would be very happy to win more awards at the NYIOOC but cel­e­brates the fact that so many peo­ple are invested in olive oil com­pe­ti­tions, espe­cially at a moment of increased uncer­tainty about the future due to con­flict.

We are opti­mistic that the world is con­cen­trated on an olive oil com­pe­ti­tion,” Lahav said. Everyone who is now fight­ing for a bet­ter world, against the war [in Ukraine], every­thing that is not blood­shed and vio­lence is good, is absolutely opti­mistic.”

Let’s do olive oil com­pe­ti­tions and not war,” she con­cluded.


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