As Israel's army removes more checkpoints in the occupied West Bank, many Palestinians are experiencing an economic boom. Some of that growth has come from the production of olives, a staple in the region since ancient times. Many think olive oil exports from the West Bank could be a foundation for the economy of a future Palestinian state. Some entrepreneurs in the northern West Bank village of Berqin are discovering a new kind of oil wealth.
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Money does grow on trees for Mahmoud Samara and his clan. The family is harvesting olives, like it has done for centuries.
But now, he says, things are better than ever. "The prices started at the equivalent of under three dollars and has reached up to nearly seven dollars per kilo. So, incomes for us farmers have become much better than before," he said.
Samara belongs to a cooperative that has raised farmers' earnings by eliminating middlemen. It sells directly to a local company called Canaan Fair Trade.
This year, the firm has exported $4 million in high-quality Palestinian olive oil and other gourmet products sold at high-end grocery stores in Europe and the U.S.
Canaan Fair Trade's founder, Nasser Abu Farha, a U.S.-educated anthropologist, says the venture has helped the economy and image of his people. "Aside from the dollar value that's coming back to the Palestinian economy, it also opens the doors for Palestinian products. It opens a new light [on] how the world sees Palestine and Palestinians, that they see it through the production of excellent products on their shelves," he said.
Israel's removal of checkpoints across much of the occupied West Bank is facilitating this change.
The cooperative's products have easier access to Israeli ports.
Palestinian leaders hope ventures like Canaan Fair Trade will ease their dependence on billions of dollars in foreign aid.
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Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told VOA that Israel's removal of checkpoints has been helpful. "More easing and a lot of faster is absolutely necessary if this economic revival is to be sustained and is to become sustainable, because it is neither feasible nor desirable for us to continue to rely on such large amounts of foreign assistance. It's not part of the vision we have for the future state of Palestine," he said.
With his greater earnings, Samara was able to build a new house. He plans to buy a car next year. For him, the bounty of his olive trees is gold from the heavens, and hope for the future.