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#Seed022: Unearthing the Struggle: Palestinian Food Sovereignty
How food sovereignty serves as a tool of political resistance and self-determination
“The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it. Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine; And the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that thou madest strong for thyself.” - Psalms 80:13-15
In light of the recent events in Israel and Palestine, I felt compelled to write about the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Many friends and colleagues view what is going on as “complicated.” The truth is, it’s not. Oppression and colonization aren’t “complex issues.” For those who don’t know me or my family, my wife’s grandmother lived through the Nakbah. In 1948, she not only lost her home but her innocence. For the rest of her life, she was left with a what ifs. “What if the Zionists didn’t throw me out of my home and my land?” “What if we weren’t seen as the enemy by the so-called international community?” Nevertheless, her history and traditions were preserved. Her love of Palestinian gastronomy, music, and art were passed down through the generations. In that, we find hope in the resistance.
Today we are seeing images of war in Gaza and we seem to be responding with either anger and despair, or apathy. Perhaps our hearts have grown hard from images of a war torned Middle East? Or perhaps we are trying to protect ourselves with the belief that ignorance is bliss. Regardless, Gaza is under attack and we want to shed light on the resistance efforts of the Palestinian people. Resistance comes in many forms but perhaps the most effective are efforts to instill food sovereignty. This piece explores why this is important, how Palestinians are taking measures, and ways the international community can support.
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The Wild Boar: An Invasive Instrument of Dispossession
In the Psalms, we read about the wild boar ravaging through grape vines, turning crops into waste. Wild boars are known to be one of the most invasive terrestrial mammals worldwide. They ravage through crops, proliferate quickly, and are almost impossible to kill without the use of firearms. It is not surprising to hear the claims of Palestinians that Israeli settlers are releasing wild boars1:
Mohammad Hassan from Salfit has indicated to the Land Research Center (LRC) that he personally saw Israeli colonists unload wild pigs in the area of al-Ashara located between the city of Salfit and the village of Iskaka. Some of those I interviewed in the village of Aboud near Ramallah said they witnessed settler trucks unloading wild boars in the village’s nearby mountains. Moreover, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority has been documented to collect wild pigs from inside the Green Line and dump them into the mountains of the West Bank, where they can roam freely away from Israeli population centers.
This tactic not only weakens Palestinian agriculture but also hurts the local economy. Furthermore, The Israeli Nature and Parks Authority regulation provides a policy mechanism protecting wild boars within areas designated as “nature reserves” in the West Bank. Using wild boars as an invasive instrument of dispossession is not unique to occupied Palestine. Wild boars continue to ravage through farmers and ecosystems in Kashmir, while India’s wildlife laws “stripped the region of its partial autonomy, has made it virtually impossible for the local government to do something about the wild boars without the federal government’s approval.”
Instruments like these are used to reduce the yields of local farming, to weaken ecosystems, and the undermine food sovereignty. Since time immemorial, disrupting a people’s natural economies has been an effective colonial tactic. At its core, this process begins at eradicating a people’s food sovereignty. If you take away a population’s ability to grow crops, you will take away their livelihood.
Food Sovereignty: A Root of Identity and Autonomy
“Eating is an agricultural act.” - Wendell Berry
Food sovereignty is the idea that the people who produce, sell, and buy food have control over the mechanisms and policies of the food system. On a human scale, people have food sovereignty when they are able to grow, sell, and eat their food with little to no outside influence. Food sovereignty can be lost when a people lose control over a part of the food system. This happens through the degradation of soils due to chemical fertilizers, cash crops replacing time-tested annual and perennial crops, appropriation of culinary traditions, and scorched earth tactics. In other words, food sovereignty is deeply intertwined with cultural heritage and self-determination. The strategy, for example, of appropriating hummus into Israeli cuisine is just another way to undermine food sovereignty. Hummus becomes more than just stealing the gastronomy of the Palestinian people, it becomes about erasing their memory and identity.
In terms of political resistance, there are three main strategic areas to work towards food sovereignty. A people must strive to take control of their local market, to establish a culture, and to establish clear policies. In Figure 1, we find examples of tacts that can be used to achieve self-determination and preserve cultural heritage: movement building, local production and markets, and policy. Re-establishing food sovereignty requires a whole systems approach that not only looks at one issue.
Unfortunately, traditional societies all over the world are hit by forces that deplete the earth, disempower people, and turn their suffering into profit. These natural economies, Aimé Césaire writes, “have been disrupted – harmonious and viable economies adapted to the indigenous population – about food crops destroyed, malnutrition permanently introduced, agricultural development oriented solely toward the benefit of the metropolitan countries, about the looting of products, the looting of raw materials.” The following graphic, designed by Visualizing Palestine, highlights the extent of Israel’s colonial encroachment of natural economies in Palestine.
Land Stewardship and Farming: Seeds of Resistance
Local farming (or what some call agroecology) and land stewardship are forms of resistance and empowerment among Palestinian communities. I recently watched this beautiful and inspiring documentary on food sovereignty in Palestine:
“Untold Revolution documents the beginning of the journey of the agricultural movement towards food sovereignty in Palestine, from an emancipatory ideological standpoint that seeks to break away from the dependence on the Israeli occupier and the global monopolistic companies. The movement advocates for the adoption of food production systems that are based on natural resources, local production inputs, values of cooperation, and agricultural practices that are culturally, environmentally, socially, economically, and nationally appropriate for the Palestinian context.”
People who want to support food sovereignty in Palestine can do so by purchasing products that support Palestinian local economies. Zatoun is a project that connects North America to Palestine by offering olive oil and other products to consumers who want to empower local agriculture in Palestine. Community-led agricultural initiatives, local seedbanks, farmer’s markets are all efforts to reclaim food sovereignty.
Permaculture and Agricultural Resistance
“The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone. Hence the futility of revolutionaries who have no gardens, who depend on the very system they attack, and who produce words and bullets, not food and shelter.” - Bill Mollison
Unfortunately, it is in the interest of the oppressor that oppressed peoples become violent. Oppressive regimes, under the guise of security, justify breaking international laws to ensure that a population is subjugated and no longer considered a “threat.” Peaceful resistance has a much more profound impact.
An agricultural resistance can be grounded in the three permaculture ethics, earth care, people care and fair share. These ethics lay the groundwork to revive local economies and any people who have ownership of their local economies will be in a better position to resist forces of oppression. The health of the land leads to the health of a people and the health of a people leads to their prosperity. The work of Dr. Vandana Shiva is a prime example. Dr. Shiva has advocated for small farmers, especially in India, to resist the corporate control of agriculture and preserving biodiversity. Another inspiration is the food sovereignty work done by Honor the Earth. All around the world, we find instances where indigenous populations are using agriculture and land stewardship as tools of resistance against colonial or oppressive forces. If we return to the case of the wild boar, we can look at a few different tactics of resistance:
Working with local and international human rights and environmental organizations to change wildlife laws;
Supporting local farmers by purchasing Palestinian produce;
Creating public global food sovereignty campaigns; and
Creating work-trade opportunities where activists can come and work on a small-scale farms in occupied Palestine.
These are just some actions that we can do to support Palestinian food sovereignty. I believe this work to be foundational. To resist Israel’s oppression, we must support those who are working from the ground up.
I invite you to explore the additional resources and information below, and to consider supporting food sovereignty efforts.
Additional Resources and Information
Anera: Working on farm-to-market access roads to support local farmers.
Growing Palestine: Providing education and resources on sustainable farming.
Marda Permaculture Farm: A model and center for sustainable agriculture attracting international volunteers.
Hakoritna Farm: A permaculture family project growing in Tulkarm city for the past 17 years.
Maan Permaculture Center: Adapting sustainable agricultural solutions for Palestinian farmers based on permaculture principles.
Palestine’s Olive Industry Infographic: Highlighting challenges faced by Palestinian farmers during olive harvest season.
Designing the Future in Palestine: Discussing decolonization of the food supply and cultivation of indigenous seeds.
The Besieged Palestinian Agricultural Sector – UNCTAD: Assessment of agriculture in the occupied Palestinian territories.
El-Beir Arts and Seeds: A project to salvage and propagate agricultural heritage
Union of Agricultural Work Committees: A large agricultural development institution in Palestine working to set the priorities of farmers and implement community activities.
Israeli Colonization of Palestinian Agriculture Infographic: Visualizing the impact of Israeli colonization on Palestinian food sovereignty.
Working Towards Food Sovereignty in Palestine: Discussing the farms practicing agroecology as a form of non-violent resistance.
Israeli citizens, almost exclusively of Jewish identity or ethnicity, who live in the West Bank on lands occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War in 1967.