Over the summer, volunteers engaged hundreds of people in conversation about Gaza at ten local farmer’s markets – in California, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Using an AFSC toolkit, volunteers used a survey with a simple opening question to gauge people’s awareness about Gaza – and to spark conversation: What do you know about strawberries in Gaza?
It can be difficult to start conversations about Gaza, since many people have preconceived ideas about violence and politics in the Middle East. But this project helped make it easier by starting with questions - and by surprising people with information about a familiar fruit.
So what did we learn?
- Hardly anyone knew that they grow strawberries in Gaza – just 20 out of 370 people surveyed. Most people were surprised to learn that strawberries thrive in northern Gaza. Palestinian strawberry farmers used to produce an average of 7,000 tons of strawberries a year. But by 2016, that number had shrunk nearly 80 percent to just 1,500 tons of strawberries, according to the Gaza Ministry of Agriculture. Learning about this helped people understand the impact of the blockade.
- While some people at the markets had heard about Gaza in the media or from friends and family, half or more of those surveyed did not know what or where Gaza is. There is more work to do to raise awareness of the situation.
- People are open to learning more. By approaching people with the strawberry poster and asking questions, volunteers found that people were interested in learning more, had follow-up questions, and were happy to take the flyer that was part of the toolkit. Kids especially were interested in the poster. Very few people reported encountering hostile or unreceptive responses. More than anything, people were surprised to learn that Gaza grew strawberries, and were concerned when they heard more about the blockade.
- This research supports what we previously guessed. Recent polls show that young people in the United States are showing growing sympathy for Palestinians, but very few people know about the blockade in Gaza. By raising awareness – through the Gaza Unlocked website, and through activities like the farmer’s market toolkit – AFSC believes that we can build popular support to end the blockade in Gaza.
Those who conducted the surveys reported that they found the activity easy to do, engaging, and more fun and lively than they expected. Although some people were unwilling to stop to chat, most were. Not only were most people “very willing to take the time to take the survey” but one volunteer reported that, at times, “there was an actual line of people waiting to talk to us.” Doing the survey activity and talking to people not already informed about the issue illustrated that “people connect to these issues in different ways.”
This summer, volunteers held hundreds of conversations about Gaza. We found out that people were surprised, curious, and eager to learn what they could do to help. One volunteer said that she ended her conversations with participants by suggesting, “when you eat strawberries with others, talk about Gaza.” After learning about Gaza at their farmer's markets, some 370 people are now better informed to do so.
This is crucial work towards changing the narrative in the United States about Gaza. Next summer, will you join us in this work?