The woman who refuses to let Palestine's agricultural roots die

The woman who refuses to let Palestine's agricultural roots die

Vivien Sansour founded the Palestinian Heritage Seed Library in hopes of reviving plants threatened by occupation, climate change, and agribusiness.

Vivien Sansour was working as a writer and photographer in the northern West Bank when she began hearing stories about Jadu’I, a succulent watermelon that was once abundant in Jenin, Palestine, as documented by farmers and family members.

“Everyone was talking about how they gave birth to their children in the watermelon fields, how in the war they used to hide in the watermelon fields, [how] they exported Jadu'I in trucks when the borders were open before 1948, to Turkey, to Syria, everywhere, ”he told Broadly. "But every time I asked about this, they said, 'Oh, you're asking something from the age of the dinosaurs.'

Under the Israeli occupation, Palestinian agriculture has suffered greatly. A study carried out in 2015 by the United Nations documented the devastating effects of the occupation on Palestinian agriculture due to “restrictions on access to land, water and markets; loss of land due to illegal settlements and the Apartheid Wall; the demolition of structures and infrastructure and the uprooting of trees; restrictions on access to essential agricultural inputs; shortage of credit for agricultural production; flooding of Palestinian markets with agricultural imports from Israel and settlements; and environmental damage ".

For years, Jadu’I was considered among the agricultural victims of the occupation, but this narrative of Jenin's beloved watermelon did not sit well with Sansour. "I couldn't accept that I was lost," she explained. "I fell in love with the story of this watermelon." Convinced that the fruit's seeds still had to exist somewhere, Sansour went looking for them, mainly among farmers in Jenin.

In 2014, in the midst of his quest, Sansour founded the Palestine Heritage Seed Library, which serves to "find and preserve ancient varieties of seeds and traditional agricultural practices." With the library, Sansour's goal was essentially to broaden his search for the Jadu’I seed with other varieties, to find farmers across Palestine willing to bring the seeds to life. "The main function of the library is not that the seeds stay in one place," he says. "The primary function of the library is to keep the seeds alive in farmers' fields."

Logistically, Sansour explains, the library works like this:

“We reach out to farmers, we don't expect farmers to come to us. I go to the farmers who have told me about or I meet when I am in a village; I have a large network of farmers that we visit and we say, "Would you like to try growing this?" Or, they tell us how they used to grow something, but it has disappeared, and we tell them: you can bring that back. "

The other side of the library is a physical space called Art and Seeds, which Sansour is moving from Beit Sahour to its original location in Battir this week. There, the seeds are kept in jars surrounded by agricultural and cultural art, and the doors are open to the public who want to learn more about traditional Palestinian agriculture and indigenous varieties.

In 2016, six years after learning about the elusive Jadu’I watermelon, Sansour finally found its seeds in a farmer's drawer among his screwdrivers and hammers. The man pointed out to Sansour that he had had the seeds for seven years, but that no one seemed to want them. "It was a bittersweet moment, because, of course, I was happy to have found them, but it also saddened me that that's where we have come to reject who we are," recalls Sansour.

In Palestine, agriculture has served as more than a means of earning a living or getting a dinner on the table; it has come to represent a national history and identity with pride in its soil and its capacity for self-reliance. The olive tree, for example, has been regarded as a symbol of the resistance of the Palestinians. However, in the decades since 1967, due to permit restrictions, settler attacks, water supply limitations, and further agricultural consequences of Israel's occupation, Palestine is increasingly dependent on Israeli agricultural imports. As a result, many young Palestinians today have replaced traditional agriculture and food with Israeli supermarkets and chains like KFC.

In addition to environmental concerns, the idea that Palestinian society was losing its agricultural traditions was partly what prompted Sansour to start the library. As a child in Beit Jala, Sansour remembers one of those traditions. “We had a very big fig tree, so throughout the summer my mother put them in bowls and sent me to the neighbors to give them figs,” she recalls. “The neighbors, in return, filled the pot with something else they have, perhaps they had a special type of grape or pomegranate, and they sent them to us. It was this exchange that filled our Palestinian land with abundance. "

Eight years ago, Sansour was back at her family home when she noticed that they had grown additional grapes. She filled a bucket and set it in front of her neighbor's door. Weeks passed and Sansour never received the bowl or heard anything from her neighbor, so she decided to ask her if she had enjoyed them.

"She said, 'Oh, I didn't know what that was, so I threw it away,' recalls Sansour. “He told me that not only had the tradition completely disappeared, but we have become so disconnected with the idea that we share our fruits and vegetables. She was so far removed from this beautiful tradition that she thought there was some kind of mistake. I guess in that moment, one of many moments, I was reminded that I don't want to forget where I came from. I don't want to forget to be faithful and trust; that nature will provide; that people will continue to be generous ”.

Next on Sansour's seed revival list is the white cucumber, a variety that was once commonly grown in southern Palestine. "Only about two, three families still harvest it," he explained. “Last year, we were able to involve 20 farmers in the crop again. What we are doing is bringing it back to our fields and bringing it back to our market. This is how the library really works: the farms are the library.

This article was published on March 8, in commemoration of International Women's Day

Original Source:The Woman Refusing to Let Palestine’s Farming Roots Die

Source:Leila Ettachfini, / Translation:

Copyleft:Any reproduction of this article must have the link to the original and the translation from


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