The Church of Scotland is providing support to replant olive trees in a land that an Israeli family is leasing to an Arab-Jewish cooperative. Photo: Tomo Jesenicnik
An Arab-Jewish agricultural project in northern Israel that helps empower women "is a sign of hope for a people and a land," according to the moderator of the Church of Scotland, which is investing in it.
During a 12-day visit to the Holy Land, the Rev. David Arnott on Dec.18 participated in the inauguration of an olive plantation on lands belonging to the Abu Hatum family in the Jezreel Valley area of Galilee.
The Church of Scotland is providing an initial five-year investment to replant 1,000 olive trees and rehabilitate land which the family is leasing to the Sindyanna of Galilee for Free-Trade organization — an Arab-Jewish cooperative providing employment for women through fair-trade projects. They will eventually harvest olives and produce olive oil using modern and sustainable agricultural methods.
"The Church of Scotland is investing in the future of the people. This is giving the people dignity and respect … we are delighted to be involved in a Jewish-Arab cooperative project," Arnott said.
Arnott said he was pleased the project involves cross-cultural and religious cooperation in an ecological sound agricultural venture that fits the church’s own ecological agenda and goal of empowering people.
"I was really moved by the people and their vision of wanting the land to be used by a group for the good of people rather than for their own gain. It is a very strong statement," Arnott said in a phone interview following the ceremony.
The Abu Hatum family has not been able to cultivate the land and the olive grove has grown into disrepair, noted James Laing, Regional Manager Israel/Palestine of the Church of Scotland.
Ghassan Abu Hatum, the oldest son of the Abu Hatum family, said he had turned to Sindyanna with the idea for the project after he realized that private individuals all wanted to buy the land from the family rather than lease it. The family was excited to be able to lease the land for a project with social and environmental benefits and ideologies, Abu Hatum said.
Hadas Lahav, a Jewish member of Sindyanna, noted that the cooperative has gained experience in developing olive plantations for the benefit of the community and last year launched their first organic plantation in partnership with farmers from the Wadi Ara region of Israel.
She said Sindyanna was committed to turning the neglected plot of land into "a modern, flourishing and profitable" olive plantation over the next 15 years, at which time they then will return the land to its owners.
"We greatly appreciate the support of the church in this project. The entire income from this project will be invested in initiatives to benefit the Arab population, promote the employment of women, and develop sustainable agriculture," she said.