Zaytoun CIC (Community Interest Company) - the British importer of Palestinian olive oil , olives and other olive-related and agricultural products - has won the 2009 Arab-British Culture and Society award, the Arab-British Centre (ABC) in London has announced. This is pleasing in several ways, given the importance of the olive in Palestinian agriculture and the economy generally (including soap manufacture) and its cultural and symbolic significance in numerous literary and artistic works. Mahmoud Darwish's famous defiant poem 'Identity Card' includes the line: "and to me the most delicious food is olive oil & thyme". The encouragement of olive harvesting and olive oil production in the face of the Israeli destruction of olive tress and harrasment by soldiers and settlers is an important act of solidarity with the Palestinians.
The annual Arab-British Culture and Society award, worth £5000, is made to "an individual or organisation which in the opinion of the judges has made an outstanding contribution to the British public's knowledge and understanding of the life, society and culture of the Arab people". In addition to the prize money, the Arab-British Centre offers opportunities and support to promote the winner's work. A statement from the ABC says the judges unanimously chose Zaytoun CIC for the inspirational way it has marketed Palestinian olive oil and olives in the UK. "Through the background briefings, informative promotions and exchange visits it has organised, it has very effectively raised awareness in the UK of the life, problems and potential of Palestinian farmers. Its success in gaining Fairtrade certification - a first for a Palestinian product and a world first for olive oil - has created new opportunities for extending the British public's knowledge of an important aspect of the life of Arab people." The award will be presented at a ceremony to be held in late May.
Zaytoun CIC was one of eleven candidates shortlisted for the award (which is awfully long for a shortlist!) The ABC says the judges were impressed with the high quality and range of the nominations received and specially commended the following candidates for their notable contributions:
IB Tauris: Publisher of a large and varied list of academic books on the Arab and Islamic worlds.
Professor Tim Niblock: Writer on the Arab world, and teacher of generations of UK and foreign students specialising in the region.He is Professor of Arab Gulf Studies at the University of Exeter, and the author of numerous books.
Raja Shehadeh: Palestinian lawyer and author of engaging and accessible books on life in the West Bank.His widely-reviewed Palestinian Walks was winner of the 2008 Orwell Prize for political writing.
The winner was chosen by a group of distinguished Arab and British panellists with an expert appreciation of the culture of both the Arab World and the United Kingdom. The judges were:
· Sir Marrack Goulding (Chairman), a former British diplomat, Under-Secretary-General in the United Nations and Warden of St Antony's College, Oxford.
· Dr Shelagh Weir (Acting Chair), Research Associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and authority on Palestinian and Yemeni culture.
· His Excellency Khalid Al Duwaisan, Kuwaiti Ambassador to the UK since 1993 and Dean of the Diplomatic Corps since 2003.
· André Gaspard, co-founder of Al-Saqi Bookshop and Saqi Publishers, and winner of the inaugural Arab-British Culture and Society Award in 2008.
· Robert Irwin, Middle East Editor of the Times Literary Supplement.
· Dr Ghada Karmi, Research Fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, Exeter University.
· Margaret Obank, co-founder and publisher of Banipal magazine, Banipal Books and Banipal Trust for Arab Literature.
The other shortlisted candidates were:
Ahdaf Soueif: Egyptian short story writer, novelist and political and cultural commentator, and author of The Map of Love, shortlisted for the 1999 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.
Al Zaytouna Dabke Group: UK-based Palestinian Dabke dance group.
The Arab: English-language online magazine on Middle Eastern political, social, cultural and business-related affairs. Arab Media Watch: Media watchdog working towards objective coverage of Arab issues in the British media. ArtRole: Contemporary arts organisation working to build mutual understanding through international cultural exchanges. Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival: Annual Arab arts and culture festival which works to raise awareness and promote an understanding and appreciation for Arab heritage. Peter Mortimer: Poet and playwright, commissioned to write Riot! based on the little-known Yemeni seamen's riot in South Shields in 1930, and author of Cool For Qat - A Yemeni Journey.
The Arab-British Centre was registered as a charity in 1989 with the object of advancing the education of the public by providing and maintaining a centre for the dissemination of information regarding the culture, art, science, religion, economy and contemporary history of the Arab world. The Centre, at 1 Gough Square, just north of Fleet Street, provides facilities for a number of organisations actively involved in British-Arab relations: The Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding, OffScreen Education Programme, Friends of Birzeit University and Banipal. It has a library, gallery of contemporary Arab art and well-equipped meeting room available to other organisations with similar objectives. The Centre also promotes cultural events in partnership with other charities/organisations working in the same field as well as organising its own programme highlighting aspects of contemporary Arab culture.