During the week of Thanksgiving and Indigenous People’s National Day of Mourning, we focus on Gaza in the Palestinian Territories, another place once colonized and still controlled by outsiders on stolen indigenous land.
Gaza’s 1.8 million people are often described as living in the world’s biggest open-air prison, because they have no freedom of movement as all land, sea and air corridors are under Israeli control. Conditions are dire for most people living there, with severe daily shortages of food, clean water, medicine and electricity.
U.S.-based activist Laura Schleifer is co-founder and co-director of the group Plant the Land Team. Her co-director, Anas Arafat, lives in Gaza and works with volunteers to grow plant-based food for free distribution to their neighbors. They also distribute other essential items including blankets and heaters. In conversation with Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus, Schleifer talks about the typical Palestinian diet and the aid distribution her team has been doing in Gaza over the past five years.
LAURA SCHLEIFER: The interesting thing, of course, about the traditional Palestinian diet is that it is almost entirely vegan! So it wasn’t really that much of a leap, because when you think about what Palestinians typically eat, it’s hummus, it’s baba ganoush, it’s tabouli, it’s falafel, sesame tahini – it’s all made from plants. So it was easy to veganize it because the olives, the eggplants, the chickpeas, the sesame – all the stuff they already eat is overwhelmingly already vegan.
So the foods that they’re planting are the foods they would traditionally eat. A lot of it is olive trees. Olive trees are a really big deal there, because, obviously, you know, you can get olives and olive oil out of them, and then you also get olive leaves and you can make tea out of that and you can make olive leaf extract. You can do all kinds of things with the olive trees, and they’re actually very cheap. And they will live for centuries. That’s a huge part of the planting that they do, and from what Anas has told me, he said that to a Palestinian family it’s like having another child. They value the olive tree so much there, that it’s such a huge gift and a huge help to have an olive tree. So they plant a lot of olive trees and lemon trees and oranges, and all kinds of fruits and vegetables. But it’s totally indigenous, it’s not anything that would come from outside that land.
MELINDA TUHUS: So, how many families benefit from the work your group is doing?
LAURA SCHLEIFER: Yeah, actually quite a large number. I know Anas has said it’s in the thousands. I know it’s hundreds of families at a time. Like, we’ll do a campaign and it can be several hundred families that benefit from it if it’s a big campaign.
MELINDA TUHUS: This is using land in Gaza that these folks have access to?
LAURA SCHLEIFER: When they plant the land, sometimes it’s publicly held lands, and sometimes it’s for farmers. If it’s a farmer they will provide the farmer with tools and seeds and help with the labor, but sometimes it’s like just, public lands that aren’t owned by anyone.
MELINDA TUHUS: Is there anything else you want to say that we didn’t talk about that you think it would be helpful for listeners to know about the work?
LAURA SCHLEIFER: First of all, this is very direct aid to Palestine! You can’t get any more direct; 100 percent of every penny that we raise goes directly to Gaza. It is local Gazan people that are organizing this. They use 100 percent of the proceeds to directly help their neighbors so there’s no outside control, no hierarchical control. It is totally Palestinian self-organizing. No overhead. You know, it’s a great way to help Palestinians directly in Gaza.
It’s difficult to get aid into Gaza because of the Israeli sanctions and the U.S. is backing Israel. So that makes it difficult to get aid into Gaza, but they’ve managed to do it in spite of that.
Of course, for anybody who doesn’t know the situation, Israel is blocking Gaza in what is considered the world’s biggest open-air concentration camp, in a sense, because they are blocking all the entrances and exits out of Gaza and they can’t get food in there and they can’t get medicine and they can’t get fuel and electricity and all the basic supplies. And the being bombed sporadically and people can’t escape. They can’t leave Gaza even if they want to. That’s why we need to get this aid directly to Gaza.
And, of course, another way that people can support Gaza is to participate in the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement and that is to put international pressure on Israel to end their control and occupation of the Palestinian territories. So that is something that people should definitely get involved with, so they can find information about that by going to www.bdsmovement.net.
For more information, visit Plant the Land Team at planttheland.org; Plant The Land Team on Twitter @laura75109030; Plant the Land Team on YouTube at
@plantthelandteamgaza3395; Plant the Land Team on Facebook @PlantTheLandTeamGaza/photos.
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