Import Peace, a Presbyterian group committed to helping Palestinians by selling their fair trade products, is extending the healing power of olive oil.

While Import Peace’s high-quality, organic olive oil isn’t marketed to U.S. consumers for its medicinal properties, their purchase of a substance used as a salve since biblical times is bringing health care to Palestinians. The Brainerd, Minn.–based organization recently gave $4,000 to St. Luke’s Hospital in Nablus, a key health care provider in the Occupied Territories.

This year, St. Luke’s began performing neurosurgery and is the only advanced neurosurgery center serving the West Bank and Gaza. Its emergency room treats 400 patients monthly and its two delivery rooms accommodate 120 births each month.

“It is heartwarming to give monies from this growing mission to improve health care services available to all in the community of Nablus,” said Peter Mann, president of Import Peace. He noted that Nablus is where the biblical city of Shechem once stood.

In addition to olive oil, Import Peace sells two other Palestinian products: soap and the spice mixture zatar, which is often served with olive oil and pita bread.
Mann said Import Peace seeks to improve the economic plight of the impoverished Occupied Territories by expanding the market for Palestinian products. Import Peace also gives a portion of every sale to charitable causes that benefit the Palestinian people. It distributes funds to organizations that promote youth development, agricultural sustainability and health care.

Mann predicted that by the end of the year, the group’s 2009 donations to Palestinian organizations will top $13,000. He said Import Peace increased sales in 2009 despite an ailing economy and a disappointing olive harvest in Palestine.

“Our shipments are up 30 percent over 2008, suggesting that our heart-healthy, organic olive oil is a welcome addition to the choices offered at an increasing number of church-sponsored alternative gift markets,” Mann said.

As Christmas nears, Mann hopes that sales will follow past trends in the two-year-old organization and surge in December. He said the package of three 750 milliliter bottles of olive oil offered on Import Peace’s Web site for $70 (including shipping) is a popular gift item.
Most sales, Mann said, are to congregations who then sell the olive oil, soap and zatar to their members. Typically, churches buy olive oil by the case at a cost of $215 for 12 bottles.
While the overwhelming majority of sales are to Presbyterians, Mann said that Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists and Lutherans are also purchasing Import Peace’s products.

Last month, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Canaan Fair Trade, the Palestinian organization that buys olives from Palestinian farm families and produces the oil that Import Peace sells.

Blair is the special envoy of the Middle East Quartet, a group committed to mediating the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Its member bodies are the United States, Russia, the United Nations, and the European Union.

“The exportation of high-quality olive oil has reached a level of success when it’s on Tony Blair’s radar,” Mann said. “It’s an exportable product of stature.”

About 10 percent of the 2009 olive yield in Palestine has been sold through the “solidarity religious markets” in the West, according to Mann.

Import Peace was founded after a group of Presbyterians traveled to Palestine with the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program in 2006 and saw the hardships faced by the people there. Serving with Mann on the Import Peace board are Cynthia Arnold, Bob Crum, Sandy Crum and Chad Ellertson.