"The Land of Sad Oranges": The Politics of Israeli-Palestinian Citriculture
This summer, I worked with Professor Heather Sharkey as well as three other students, Nadia Mokhallalati, Iman Syed, and Jade Gonzalez. We worked with Professor Sharkey to do research for her book navigating Middle Eastern history through fifteen foods, as well as her concurrent class on the same subject. Furthermore, we also each chose an ingredient to do independent research on in the context of the Middle East. I chose to focus on the evolution of citrus fruits and their significance in the Israel-Palestine region, particularly oranges and grapefruit.
Through my research, I was able to navigate the evolution of citrus in this region and it was fascinating to see the rise and fall of this classification of fruits. Prior to this project, I hadn't known that citrus had any political connections, so it was interesting to see the numerous factors that went into its politicization—trade relations and tariffs, war, land ownership, class dynamics, labor costs, religious turmoil, autonomy (or lack thereof), government interests, and the Israel-Palestine conflict more broadly. There were even a few factors that weren't inherently political—more of just bad luck—like poor climate and insect invasions. Although Jaffa oranges were world-renowned for their taste and quality, their reputation could not withstand the overabundance of issues working against the citrus industry.
Since 1997, citrus production, harvest, and export in the Israel-Palestine region have been steadily declining, and it is highly unlikely that this area will ever be a world leader in citrus production ever again. It is interesting to see, however, that the Jaffa orange is still an enduring symbol of the Palestinian people and their connection to their homeland, and that many older Israeli people feel nostalgia for the fruit as well.