Paul Calvert spoke with the Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative about their aim to provide work for Palestinian people and bringing the community together.

Basma Barham
Basma Barham

Paul: What is the Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative?

Basma: The Holy Land is a cooperative that was founded in 1981, and the aims were to try to give work to our people and to show them how they can work together.

The Cooperative has 35 members, each one has their workshop and we are trying all the time to give the best that we can.

We are supporting maybe 2000 people in the Nablus, Bethlehem area and in Hebron. One of the things that we are doing is to promote their articles and at the same time we are working with them on several projects.

One of them, which is very important and I always like to mention it, is we are a fair trade organisation. Fair trade has 10 principles, including gender equality, fair price and working conditions. The workshops don't have good conditions, so we are trying to do our best to change this. At the beginning it was not easy for us because we didn't have the resources to do it, so we started to do this with the Catholic Relief Services, the HCEF and with our organisation. We have improved 13 workshop, for example all the machines were giving out dust so we installed a kind of vacuum.

Another one of the 10 fair trade principles is to take care of our environment. We were putting tubes outside for all the dust and now we have put a tank outside with the tubes where all the dust goes. We also improved the painting room because a lot of people were complaining about fumes.

Paul: What types of handicraft are in the Cooperative?

Basma: Olive wood, mother of pearl, embroidery and ceramics.

Paul: Is this helping to reduce poverty?

Basma: Yes it is. This kind of work is one of the best sources of income to the Bethlehem area. Talking specifically about the olive wood and the ceramic from Hebron, this is our tradition that we are trying to keep for generations and it does provide a very good income.

Paul: Does this help to keep people connected to the land?

Basma: Yes it is helping, but only if we use it in the right way. There are a lot of people that are buying their products, but don't want to pay a good price, so the sellers are losing money and they eventually have to close. One of the things that we are doing in order to keep them working is to improve the places where they are working. If they feel that there is an organisation here to help them, they may think to stay here and not emigrate.

One of the big problems that we are facing in Palestine is emigration. In our cooperative are Muslims and Christians, we are working all together, but we have a big problem. Christians have emigrated, in the past there were 20% now there are 0.5%. How will these places look if people come from outside tourism and find out that there are no Christian people waiting for them? How are we going to take care of the Nativity Church and all these places that mean not just a lot for us, but mean a lot for people all over the world? I know a lot of people that are saving their money just to come here to see the place where Jesus was born. It's not easy for us to work alone, many of the Catholic or Christian organisations are working outside to help us keep Christians here.
Palestinians are both Christians and Muslims, but if the Christian people are going to emigrate, as they are doing now, I think that in 10-15 years' time there are not going to be any Palestinian Christians here.

Paul: That is very sad isn't it? It's the place where Jesus was born and Christians are diminishing.