Ayala Noy Meir (left) and Khaled Hassan Hussein Yaseen Al-Juneidi (right) walk through an olive grove together

An Olive Peace

An unlikely friendship grows without borders

A portrait of Ayala

Ayala Noy Meir's family owns a small olive press in northern Israel.

Khaled poses in front of one of the olive grows he takes care of through the Olive Oil Without Borders program

Khaled Hasan Hussein Yaseen Al-Juneidi, is a Palestinian engineer and olive oil expert.

Khaled stands in his house

Khaled, who lives in the West Bank, has a passion for learning how to make the best olive oil.

"I planted the first olive tree with my father in 1950, when I​ was 5 years old. And since then I've been with the olive and its industry."

Olive oil is also a unique tool for cultivating peace in the region.

Thousands of families in the West Bank, build their livelihoods around the olive oil industry. Olive trees offer economic opportunity and hold cultural significance.

Ayala pours olives into an olive oil press
Ayala examines on of her olive oil groves
A basket of olives

A shared love grows an unlikely friendship

Ayala and Khaled met four years ago through the “Olive Oil Without Borders” project. Workshops and trainings on production techniques united them. But, it was their shared love for their profession that helped them see how much they could learn from each other’s expertise.

Bringing Israelis and Palestinians together

Ayala says this project united her with Palestinian farmers and olive oil producers—people she rarely had the opportunity to meet. A shared passion for olive farming showed her that their similarities were greater than their differences.

The front of an olive oil farm in the West Bank
Ayala (left) and an olive oil producer (right) examine a handful of olives

More than 2,600 Palestinian and Israeli olive farmers and participants have connected through the program.

Together, they are learning about pre-harvesting, parasite control, supplementary irrigation and quality control through olive oil tasting seminars and other activities.

Ayala pours olive oil into several small glasses
A worker shows off a branch of one of his olive trees
A tray of small glasses filled with olive oil
Ayala stands next to an olive tree

The project also renovated 18 mills—approximately 20 percent of all olive mills in Israel and the West Bank.

These renovated mills make manufacturing more professional and increase the quality of oil production.

A worker fills containers with olive oil

Bonding people and economies

In 2013 the project supported an agreement that fostered greater partnership by allowing Israeli citizens to purchase Palestinian olive oil for the first time in a decade. As a result, Palestinian farmers increased their revenue by $20 million in less than two years.

Khaled and Ayala are just two of many who have forged a friendship through this project.

Ayala poses next to an olive tree
Khaled examines a young olive tree
Khaled (left) and Ayala (right) get ready to inspect an olive farm

"The olive branch is a symbol of peace in the world. My wish for this land is an olive peace," Khaled says.

About this story

In the past five years USAID has helped more than 2,600 Israeli and Palestinian growers produce better olive oil through the “Olive Oil Without Borders” project. Implemented by the Near East Foundation, the initiative unites olive farmers, mill operators and olive oil distributors through workshops that improve their farming skills to increase olive oil production and profits.

This project is just one of dozens that are supported through USAID’s Conflict Management and Mitigation (CMM) program. In many cases, these projects bring Israelis and Palestinians together for the first time.

Since 2004, the U.S. government has invested $84 million in more than 100 CMM grants supporting activities that bring together Israelis and Palestinians to work on issues of common concern and promote tolerance and peaceful coexistence.

The CMM program is part of the U.S. Government’s effort to support people-to-people peacebuilding efforts worldwide. These activities bring together individuals of different backgrounds and help communities address conflict, reconcile differences and promote greater understanding. By working on common goals around economic development, environment, health, education, sports, arts and information technology, USAID is building more democratic and resilient societies.

Photos by Bobby Neptune and Lubna Rifi for USAID