On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, I talk with Robert Massoud about Beit Zatoun, a cultural centre and grassroots space in Toronto. It emerged from a project focused on supporting Palestine to become a multi-issue space, hub, and infrastructural node used by many grassroots initiatives focued on many different issues — while still constantly returning to the importance of Palestinian struggle.
In 2004, Massoud founded an organization called Zatoun, which is the Arabic word for “olive.” Since that time, Zatoun has imported fair trade olive oil from Palestine and sold it through grassroots networks and select independent businesses in North America. Massoud, who is Palestinian-Canadian, has been active in a number of ways in supporting a just peace in Palestine, and this sale of olive oil is a way of supporting Palestinian farmers and building material connections between sympathetic people on Turtle Island and the lives and realities of people in Palestine.
This episode is not about Zatoun, however, but about a space and an organization that emerged from it in 2009 — Beit Zatoun, it’s called, which means “house of olive.” It is a name familiar to anyone involved in grassroots work in Toronto, where the organization managed to secure central, beautiful, and highly affordable space, and established itself as a cultural centre, a gallery, and a meeting and event space for people from a broad range of communities, organizations, and movements. Beit Zatoun quickly became a piece of widely used infrastructure for all sorts of grassroots work in the city. With no government or foundation funding, they have survived based on olive oil sales, space rentals, admission fees, and of course the hard work of volunteers, and have hosted more than 650 events in the last fives years, including cultural events, arts events, films, meetings, book launches, teach-ins, debates, discussions, and many other sorts of grassroots educational endeavours. Though Palestine is never far from the goings-on at the centre, its work is informed by a vision of offering broad solidarity to diverse efforts to create a better world. Though the space is now threatened by gentrification, and will have to move within the next two years, it remains an inspiring example of how determined effort can reestablish what Toronto-based organizer and scholar Alan Sears calls “the infrastructure of dissent.”
To learn more about Beit Zatoun, click here.
Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.
Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Sudbury, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.