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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

US Customs Forces Palestinian Olive Oil Labels Changed

Reading the below article horrified me, can you believe it, US customs wanted PALESTINIAN free trade olive oil which was legally imported in to the US to change the label to read "product of Israel"? And tell me just how, since this is LEGALLY imported, that US Customs is getting involved in this issue. So now the labels have been changed to read ,
"Product of West Bank" That would be the illegally occupied territory of the West Bank! If US customs is going to play games with this, then who is pulling the strings? I think we all know the answer.

Wherever you can, BUY Palestinian olive oil, it is the BEST olive oil you will ever taste, in fact, I'm having some right now US Customs! And it is PALESTINIAN olive oil!

Olive oil, olive branch

Mark Brouwer Stillwater Courier
Published Wednesday, April 16, 2008

In the near secrecy of a chilly Stillwater warehouse last Friday, a small group of religious adherents from throughout the state met to finish what they considered to be a holy work.

Unpacking boxes of bottles brimming with a viscous, opaque liquid, they spoke quietly and worked quickly, affixing to each of them an evocative message from a distant land as they prepared to deliver them discretely to church doorsteps.

These weren’t volatile foreign terrorists, and the cargo they trafficked was nothing that could cause physical harm. Rather, the collection of mild-mannered Minnesotans was preparing for shipment a pallet goods the likes of which Jesus Christ might have been familiar during his earthly days: fresh-pressed olive oil from the Holy Land.

The group, which calls itself Import Peace, sells the oil in hopes of helping the impoverished Palestinian farmers who grew it and to draw attention to the under-reported injustices they say Palestinian people face daily.

“The bottles were labeled ‘Product of Palestine,’ but that didn’t work for customs so we came here today to re-label them so that we can legally sell them,” explained Peter Mann, a retired businessman from Brainerd who helped found Import Peace, a non-profit organization dedicated to importing Palestinian agricultural goods. “We were told they would have to be identified as ‘Product of Israel,’ but for many reasons, we couldn’t accept that.”

The oil, which the group sells to churches throughout the Midwest and East Coast, as well as via its Web site, was pressed from olives grown by ethnically Palestinian farmers in the disputed West Bank territory between Israel and Jordan. Under international law, the land there is considered to be stateless, although in practice, both the Israeli and Palestinian governments control it to varying degrees.

The group eventually got around its nomenclature issues when the U.S. government permitted the oil to be labeled “Product of West Bank.” About half the shipment arrived from overseas with the correct labeling, with the remainder requiring the group to hand-affix the approved labels last Friday at the warehouse where Stillwater resident Jerry Beane operates his business, Sun Graphics.

“I package it up for him and ship it out,” said Beane, who for the past decade has worked out of the space at 1901 Curve Crest Blvd. Although he is a business associate of Mann’s, Beane said he’s not a member of the group, for which he has shipped about 3,500 bottles.

Peace through


The group began two years ago, when Mann and about 100 other Christians traveled to the region for a “Journey Toward Peace” tour organized by the Presbyterian Church, USA. While touring historic sites throughout Israel and the West Bank, Mann experienced firsthand the trying conditions under which Palestinians exist by meeting with Palestinian families, including one introduced to him by a former Lake Elmo resident.

Nancy Emerson, a Presbyterian minister who leads a congregation in Moorhead, graduated from Stillwater High School in 1986. Her parents, David and Sara, live at Boutwells Landing senior living facility in Oak Park Heights and are longtime members of First Presbyterian Church in Stillwater.

Emerson and Mann met through their work on the board of a Brainerd summer camp, and when Emerson learned that Mann was traveling to the West Bank, she encouraged him to meet with a family in Bethlehem she had gotten to know as a seminarian.

“Majdi [Amro] was consistent with the best of what you see there,” Emerson said this week. “He opened his shop to students, he let us meet his wife and children, and he was absolutely friendly and open with us.”

When, a year later, Emerson learned that Amro’s brother had died and that he would be adopting his brother’s children, she decided to assist Amro financially and in exporting his wares abroad.

Mann decided to do the same after meeting with Amro, whose income from tourist trade was devastated after the erection of the Israeli-West Bank Barrier, a 30-foot-tall concrete wall the Israeli government is erecting around the country’s border. Others working in Israeli-occupied areas encounter similar problems, he said.

“The wall separates these people from their jobs, the property they own and even their own families,” Mann said. “Their mobility is restricted, they’re landlocked, they aren’t being given adequate access to water and electrical power, and their infrastructure is broken.” Farmers, he said, are not allowed to use machinery or to hire labor to help them harvest, for fear that it might be a terrorist gathering.

“The Israelis have reduced suicide bombings but at great cost,” Mann said further. “There’s one-and-a-half million people that can’t get out of Gaza. It’s the world’s largest open-air prison.”

In many cases, said Cynthia Arnold, a St. Paul a media consultant of Arab descent who volunteers on the group’s board, the wall has separated, or even destroyed, olive groves that Palestinian families have cultivated for centuries.

“Some of these trees there are believed to be more than 1,000 years old, so we’re not only trying to help preserve a way of life, but a part of history,” she said, adding that the plight of the West Bank olive trees is similar to that of the Palestinian people under Israeli control. “They’re being neglected and uprooted. They’re dying.”

The two dollars of profit from every $16 bottle of Import Peace olive oil sold goes toward aiding Palestinians. One of the dollars goes toward planting replacement olive trees, scholarships for the children of olive farmers and small loans to assist Palestinian women in starting small businesses, while the other dollar is dedicated to funding Ahli Arab Christian Hospital in Gaza City.

The remaining $14 is absorbed into costs for the oil, transportation and other fees, Mann said, adding that all oil sold is certified organic, and sold under international “fair trade” practices.

While a small group like Import Peace can’t expect to resolve the deep political and religious differences that have fomented the Arab-Israeli conflict, its members believe that small efforts like theirs can dramatically improve the lives of a few Palestinians while influencing public sympathy toward the many.

“As a Christian, I believe it is our responsibility to help mankind, regardless of race or religion,” Mann said. “I don’t look at this as a religious issue, it’s a human rights issue.”


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