This is the earliest report (November 2004) of Zatoun’s work and recognition.

Zatoun awarded 2004 YMCA Peace Medallion for Greater Toronto

The work of Zatoun, the project which bring fair trade olive oil from Palestine to North America, was recognized by the YMCA International. Robert Massoud, Zatoun’s founder, received the 2004 YMCA Peace Medallion (for Metropolitan Toronto) primarily on the strength of the work on Zatoun. He was nominated by Yosher (a Jewish activist group in Toronto). The award ceremony was held on November 25 at the Central Y in Toronto with about 200 people in attendance.

The YMCA must have been taken with the idea of a Jewish group nominating a Palestinian-Canadian and impressed with the achievements of Zatoun which had drawn people from all over the country and from different communities.

Robert hopes is that this award will help give Zatoun greater visibility and credibility in the mainstream. He views it as further proof of what is so right about Zatoun and why it needs to continue and grow as far as we can take it.

The ultimate goal is to help create preconditions for peaceful solutions in Palestine-Israel by encouraging understanding and dialogue between Canadian Jews, Canadian Palestinians and other communities in Canadian society.

This task has been taken up in an exciting and innovative program of social action which has brought many people and groups with a diversity of approaches or perspectives on peace in the Middle East together in a common project and objective.

Through long experience in volunteerism, Robert has learned that individuals wanting to bring about good and do good need concrete programs of actions to feel engaged and to be truly satisfied in their contribution. For most, what is missing in the field of Middle East peacemaking is a personal sense of effectiveness and hope for peace or even progress.

From all accounts and the response received, Robert has been able to achieve this through his initiative to found an organization named “Zatoun” which means olive in Arabic. The name was chosen because it expresses the essence of Palestine.

Since Spring 2004, Zatoun has brought together 1,000s if not of 10,000s people from across the country to work as individuals and in groups to promote and sell olive oil produced by Palestinian farmers.

A basic food such as olive oil reminds us of our humanity and from there an opening to understanding and recognition of our commonality. The olive is the universal symbol of peace, forgiveness and understanding. The focus on something as basic and unthreatening as olives opens a door for North Americans to experience another people’s humble but precarious life.

Zatoun helps to create a context grounded in ordinary everyday life from which to view and to discuss the situation in Palestine-Israel. No longer is it an abstract geopolitical issue involving power relations and undefined national interest.

Zatoun olive oil is meant to bring to North Americans the human experience of Palestine and its people especially farmers who depend on the land and its fruits. Robert believes that it experience of culture, of history, of art which holds the best chance of bringing understanding and ultimately peace. Words although necessary, can become counterproductive and harmful as they are too often and too easily used to confuse and divide.

An important aspect of the vision is that Zatoun be available through activist groups and individuals working for social justice and peace in Palestine-Israel including faith-based groups of all denominations. It is intended as a tool to help promote their work and bring home the message that the struggle of Palestinians is ultimately one of human rights and social justice.

In addition, Zatoun has sought to expand the benefit circle to other organizations offering education to young people in Palestine. One dollar of each bottle go to support Project Hope, a program co-founded by a Canadian for young people living in Palestine. It offers programs in art, drama, ESL and computer training.

With Zatoun’s help we can say that many people in North America have a new and fresh experience of Palestine to bring them closer to the situation and make them feel personally more effective and hopeful for peace and justice in Palestine-Israel.