For centuries an olive branch has symbolized peace.

Greek and Roman cultures used the symbol as early as 2,500 years ago. The dual image of a dove with an olive branch has been a Christian symbol of peace since the end of the first century CE. This comes (in part) from Genesis 8:11, which tells of a dove sent from Noah’s ark and returning with an olive branch.

The symbol continues today. In Palestine, olive oil is the primary source of income for about 75,000 farmers. Olive trees also produce olives for food, soap, jewelry, woodcarving, and firewood.

Under the military occupation of Israel, Palestinians have suffered the destruction of their olive trees—to make way for illegal settlements. They are often cut off from their farms by checkpoints, roadblocks, or the thirty-foot-high concrete “security fence.” They suffer water restrictions and curfews during peak picking season, and require permits to go onto their own land.

The United Church has partnered with Zatoun to bring you the Unsettling Goods Advent Peace Box. Designed as an introduction to the struggle for just peace, this tool for worship and study includes Zatoun products along with intergenerational worship, workshop, and study resources. In 2015, I ordered an Advent Peace Box for my little congregation in Sicamous, BC and sold out on the first Sunday of Advent!

Items available in the Advent Peace Box
Items available in the Advent Peace Box
Kaitlin Bardswich/The United Church of Canada

Zatoun (the Arabic word for olive) is a Canadian company that imports fair trade Palestinian olive oil, soap, and an aromatic herb mix called Za’atar. With every purchase of Zatoun, you support the farmers of Palestine in the struggle for their livelihood and land.

With the arrival of Syrian refugees to the Shuswap area of BC earlier this year, I took the last of my Za’atar and gave it as a gift to our first refugee. He held it to his heart—it was a taste of home. Several local refugee sponsorship groups have already purchased a welcome gift of Zatoun olive oil, soap, and Za’atar from me, and I will continue as the local distributor as long as the need exists.

The familiar Advent story is given new life when explored from the perspective of the struggle for a just peace in the birth place of Jesus. Our Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine have asked us as a church, “Are you able to help us get our freedom back, for this is the only way you can help two peoples attain justice, peace, security, love?”

Our prayer, attention, and action make a difference!

The Advent Peace Box is a part of the United Church’s Unsettling Goods Campaign. Learn more at Unsettling Goods Campaign.

Rev. Juanita Austin lives in Salmon Arm, BC and currently serves the congregation of Sicamous United Church. In 2013, Juanita travelled to Palestine and Israel to learn about what life is like “on the ground” for Palestinians. It profoundly changed her outlook and her life. She has since written the song “O Town of Bethlehem,” an intergenerational theme conversation called “Where There’s a Wall,” and made a model of the “security fence” to illustrate the magnitude of the wall.