“They planted so we ate. Now we plant so they eat. Past generations planted these trees that we’re eating from and are supporting our lives, and we plant trees for our future generations to support their lives.” — Palestine Fair Trade Association founder Nasser Abufarha
What do olive trees mean to Palestinian farmers? Olives are their livelihood, their source of sustenance and the way they root themselves, historically and spiritually, to the land. But Palestinians are denied access to nearly 30 percent of their beloved olive trees in the West Bank as they struggle to live under Israeli military occupation. How do they persevere? And what should the international community understand about Palestinian olive farmers, who love their land and harvest it every season to feed their families — just as farmers across the world do?
To raise awareness about the struggles of Palestinian fair trade olive farmers — and to replant uprooted olive trees — six Americans set out in February 2012 to run 129 miles in five days across the West Bank of Palestine. The Run Across Palestine was organized by the Traverse City, Michigan-based nonprofit On the Ground, which works to support sustainable community development in farming regions across the world. Joining them was a media team comprised of a filmmaker, two journalists and a musical ambassador.
The runners faced many barriers in the endeavor – barriers that represented a microcosm of what their Palestinian friends face every day. Along the way, they forged deep bonds with their hosts while witnessing the harsh political reality and uplifting beauty of life in the West Bank.
The run was supported by the Palestine Fair Trade Association, a collective of over 2500 farming families in the West Bank who have embraced fair trade practices to sustain their future and to sell their products worldwide.
During the run, filmmaker Aaron Dennis and journalist Jacob Wheeler created a daily web series that told the story of these farmers. The videos have received over 10,000 views worldwide. Dennis and Wheeler have since created a feature-length documentary, The People and the Olive, which narrates the drama of the run and the challenges and uplifting stories of the farmers.