Resistance with wits in Taybeh
Nestled on a rocky hilltop not far from Ramallah, the small village of Taybeh is quickly becoming an unusual model of economic success in the West Bank, where one-third of the population now lives below the poverty line.
Fr Raed Abusahlia started the Olive Branch Fund which has helped to build the elderly home and to support schools in Taybeh
The source of Taybeh’s economic ingenuity comes directly from one man: Fr Raed Abusahlia, the Catholic parish priest in this entirely Christian town.
“The situation is much better here compared to other places. Here, we try to find solutions,” Fr Raed said. He said it is true that many villagers, Muslims and Christians alike, in other towns and villages across the West Bank, have been emigrating due to the nearly untenable political and economic situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Whereas in the 1960s the town had a population of 3,400 people, the number today is 1,300.
“That is our big challenge. How do we get people to stay? Because with each person that leaves, we are weakened. So we have to give them a reason to stay,” Fr Raed said.
“If people have the opportunity to have a job, a house and a family, then they will stay. So we have to make sure we create those possibilities here,” he continued.
Fr Raed said that four years ago, he had his first idea that started a series of small business activities in Taybeh.
“People here are obviously poor. So one year, when it came time to pay for school, I decided that the villagers could pay me with their olive oil. The fee for each student was six 16-litre barrels of oil for the year. In the end, I had 800 gallons of oil left at the school door,” said Fr Raed.
“And I thought, why don’t we sell what we have?” Fr Raed recalled. The town and the surrounding villages are home to 30,000 olive trees.
Several years before, Jordan closed its markets to olive oil imports in order to protect its own producers. So the market for Taybeh’s olive oil was reduced to some buyers in Jericho and Jerusalem, and the fall in demand cut the going price in half. Many farmers, also suffering from the economic effects of the second Intifada that started in 2000 and the resulting Israeli security measures, were no longer even bothering to harvest. By allowing villagers to pay school fees with their olive oil, Fr Raed gave the local product a newfound value.
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