Fair Trade Conferencing: Taking the Power Back Through Creative Resistance

Fair Trade Conferencing:  

Taking the Power Back Through Creative Resistance  

BY Gen Sander 

Ramallah, Occupied Palestine 

March 30, 2009 – Land Day 

 

One of the goals of the ongoing Israeli military occupation of Palestine is to dampen and, 

over time, completely destroy the incredibly resilient spirit of Palestinians. But, as it 

stands, this amazing strength of mind and resoluteness continues to present itself as the 

biggest obstacle to a complete Israeli takeover of Palestinian land and identity. In the face 

of so much injustice, when it would be so easy to give up and proclaim defeat, 

Palestinians resolve instead to carry on their struggle for land and self-determination. 

Regardless of how debilitating and damaging the occupation is, they continue to live as 

best they can and to find creative ways in which to resist occupation while improving 

their common situation under the unjust circumstances in which they find themselves. 

 

This unique determination and resistance was most recently exhibited during the very 

successful and well attended second national fair trade conference in Palestine, which 

coincided with the inauguration of the Palestinian Fair Trade Network 

(PFTN), made up of the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees 

(PARC), the Fair Trade Development Centre (FTDC), the Union of 

Agricultural Work Committees (UWAC), the Palestinian Farmer’s Union 

(PFU), and Holy Land Cooperative Society (HLCS) – with Oxfam Great 

Britain as a supporter. From March 16 to18, representatives from 

Palestinian NGOs and cooperatives, farmers, academics, and politicians, along with 

representatives from fair trade organizations and solidarity groups from Japan, Europe, 

and North America, gathered amid the blossoming landscape of Al Zababdeh, Jenin, to 

discuss “Market Potentials for Palestinian Fair Trade Products.”  

 

Given the difficulty for Palestinians to engage in any kind of trade, especially at the 

national/regional level where the majority of their market is, the fact that a national 

conference on fair trade even took place, let alone the creation of the fair trade network, 

is commendable. Israel has made it very difficult for the West Bank to trade both 

regionally and internationally by imposing restrictions on, and barriers to, trade, and by 

flooding the Palestinian market with cheap Israeli goods, creating an incredible amount 

of competition locally, while forbidding Palestinian products from being sold in the 

Israeli market. Trade in the Gaza Strip, in contrast, has been completely forbidden under 

the crippling Israeli imposed siege that has now lasted over two years. Sadly, because of 

movement restrictions, farmers and cooperative representatives from Gaza were unable to 

attend the conference, which, according to Saleem Abu Ghazaleh, Director of the Fair 

Trade Department of PARC and one of the conference organizers, was the weak point of 

the conference. “When we talk about fair trade in Palestine, we are obviously talking 

about fair trade in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank,” he said, “so the fact that there 

is no Gaza representation is very detrimental.” This absence could be felt throughout the 

conference, with whispers of “They [the people of Gaza] are in our hearts,” heard in 

many circles. In spite of these dispiriting setbacks, however, there continues to be a  

 

groundswell of energy and dedication being put towards the advancement of fair trade 

and sustainable development agendas.  

 

Fair trade in Palestine is definitely a model worth fighting for. For a people who have 

been made dependent on aid, much of it conditional and all of it more destructive than 

helpful, the concept of a homemade economy, based on principles of equality and justice, 

is not only appealing but also essential. Fair trade also plays a significant role in the 

Palestinian struggle for land and independence because, as stated in a presentation given 

by Dr. Taha from UWAC during the conference, it works to “protect indigenous seeds, 

maintain control over food sources, and ensure food security.” Furthermore, as explained 

by Saleem Abu Ghazaleh, fair trade is the best way to support, create opportunities for, 

and sustain, small and economically marginalized producers in the agricultural and 

handicraft industries in Palestine, both of which play a huge role in Palestinian culture, 

tradition and, therefore, identity. 

 

The conference was attended by a number of partners from France, Italy, Canada, 

Belgium, Japan, Switzerland, and the U.S.A, who are involved in one way or another in 

importing fair trade Palestinian products. Their presence and 

participation, despite the difficulties even they faced by 

coming into Palestine, was testament to their solidarity with 

the struggle of the Palestinian people. However, while 

supporting fair trade in Palestine is a great way to show 

solidarity, it is also, according to CTM Italy representative 

Giorgio Dal Fiume, more generally about fostering a 

“relationship between producers and consumers,” no matter where they are from. This 

reciprocal relationship benefits producers, consumers, small communities, countries, the 

global community, and the environment.  

 

Crucial to this reciprocal relationship is the concept of transparency, which ensures 

accountability, openness, and communication. The importance 

of transparency to the function of fair trade was clearly reflected 

in the attendance and participation of every stakeholder in the 

chain of Palestinian fair trade – from producer to consumer – 

during the conference. Also central to the integrity of fair trade 

is the fair and equal representation and participation of women, 

which was demonstrated in the high attendance and active 

contribution of women in the conference.  

 

The themes that kept resurfacing throughout the conference were that of unity and 

cooperation – important topics of conversation in Palestine these days generally. The idea 

to unify many of those working in the fair trade sector in Palestine by creating the PFTN 

was, in effect, a response to suggestions made at the last fair trade conference, which 

pointed out that a united strategy on fair trade was lacking in Palestine, and that a true 

and serious partnership needed to be established in order to move forward with any sort 

of momentum. Furthermore, Tarik Abu Laban, board member of the Palestinian Olive 

Oil Council, affirmed that in order to be successful, strategies need to be based on the 

principle of collectivity. During his presentation he drove this point home when he said, 

“I advise all the farmers that this is the only solution. It can’t be done alone. It needs to be 

done collectively.” Certainly, the 900 active cooperatives in Palestine are, for the most 

part, models of what unity and cooperation have the potential to achieve; namely, justice, 

equality, and sustainability — or, in other words, success.   

 

Considering the success already achieved in the fair trade movement in Palestine, it is 

easy to imagine how it might take off if there was no belligerent Israeli occupation. 

Instead of becoming discouraged by thinking of what could and should be, however, the 

focus somehow remains on what can and will be done now, in order to improve the 

situation down the road. The second national conference on fair trade was inspiring on so 

many levels, but mostly because it reflected a unified Palestinian voice, as well as 

dedication and perseverance. By stepping up and taking initiative, the fair trade 

movement has effectively demonstrated that it is taking the survival of Palestine (reliant 

on the survival of its culture, traditions and identity) out of Israel’s hands, effectively 

putting it back into the safety of Palestinian hands, where it belongs. In a land of 

unfathomable injustice, it is this type of creative resistance, a far cry from what the world 

thinks of when they picture Palestinian resistance, which has the power to affect the most 

positive change.