Hussam Hallak’s family business provides salt from the Dead Sea for WFP’s food assistance programmes in Gaza and the West Bank. Copyright: WFP/Quique Kierszenbaum
The only Palestinian salt producer on the shores of the Dead Sea produces 100 tons of salt per month for WFP operations, providing food assistance in Gaza and on the West Bank, and also valuable investment in an area where the economy is struggling.
JERICHO—Salt has symbolic significance for Hussam Hallak, whose family business is located near Jericho at one of the lowest points on Earth.
“Salt is our life,” he said. “It’s our livelihood. It’s what we do best. It’s resilience. It’s survival. It’s fighting for what you believe in. That’s what salt means to me.”
The plant was originally part of the Jordanian national potash company and Hussam’s father built it up in 1964. Briny water is pumped from the Dead Sea into evaporation pools where it stands and, over a period of about eight months, turns into crystals of rock salt.
It is then washed, milled and refined before being bagged for sale in local Palestinian shops, for export to Jordan, and for use as part of the selection of products in WFP’s food basket. Having a regular customer has allowed Hussam to invest in his business and expand.
“We have been able to get the WFP market for the salt that’s being given away as donations to the Palestinian people -- which we’re very grateful for – but aside from that we’re also developing new markets in the US and Europe with sea salt, coarse salt and also gourmet salt.”
On display during a visit by WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin were colourful samples of salt flavoured with herbs such as rosemary, tarragon, coriander, pepper and garlic.
The West Bank Salt Company now produces a range of gourmet products named “Salt 424” after the depth below sea-level, 424 metres, of the location and shows them off at international food fairs.
The dazzling white salt crystallisation pools are just a few hundred metres away from the Dead Sea shore, but Hussam remembers that when he was a child the sea was much closer.
Agriculture, tourism and population growth mean that water levels are dwindling. Hussam, an American-trained engineer, explained that water used in the production process is recycled back into the inland sea.
And Dead Sea salt, he claims, is ten times more concentrated than salt produced from ocean water. “As well as being the only Palestinians on the shore of the Dead Sea, which makes it very special and unique, we think we have great tasting salt – it’s very smooth and it doesn’t hit your palate and it doesn’t taste bitter.”