Palestine contains much of Christianity’s heart, including the West Bank and Jerusalem. Despite this, Christians in Palestine have suffered alongside their Muslim neighbors, enduring collective punishment from the Israeli government. Since the state of Israel’s founding in 1948, the Christian population in Palestine has dropped from 10% to 1%. This, in large part, is due to higher levels of immigration as a result of the social and political climate Palestinian’s must endure.
Located in the West Bank, Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative Society (HLHCCS) works with dozens of small, family owned workshops in Palestine to provide stable job opportunities. When selling to tourists, this organization specializes largely in Christian inspired craft, including nativities made from olive wood trees. Because of this, the majority of the artisans working at HLHCCS are Christians, a population known to be an important moderate group working to heal extreme divisions within the nation.
As many Palestinians are being forced to leave the country due to the lack of job opportunities and growing restrictions on their freedoms, steady employment opportunities from HLHCCS enables families to stay in their homeland, provide for their families, and continue contributing to important peace-building efforts.
Artisans at Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative Society
In a study conducted by Dar al-Kalima University, one thousand Palestinians were interviewed (half of which were Christian, and the other half Muslim) to understand the increasing number of Christian families leaving Palestine. The results found that Christians were fleeing at an alarming rate due to the many constraints on their freedom, creating a sense of hopelessness for the future where they could not envision a life for themselves and their families.
This was a reality that Basma, the Director of Public Relations at HLHCCS, knew well. Growing up, Basma was taught about the historical significance of her home-country as she walked the streets of the Holy Land. Even as a child, Basma--in her very limited understanding--knew that her family’s rights were limited. Though her parents were taxed by the Israeli government, they did not have the ability to vote in Israeli elections.
Similar to other Christian families in Palestine who are still fleeing the country due to discriminatory policies, land confiscation, inability to freely travel between various destinations, arbitrary arrests, lack of control over market prices dictated by Isreal, and many other constraints, Basma’s family eventually left her home country.
At the age of five, Basma helped her family pack away their life in Palestine to search for a new place that would offer greater social, economic, and political freedom. She and her family eventually settled in Peru, where she lived until she was 21 years old.
At this time, Basma returned to her home country for a short visit. However, after seeing the challenges that her community--her people--were facing, she felt compelled to stay.
Basma, the Director of Public Relations at Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative Society
In Basma’s own words, coming back to Palestine felt like removing a mask from her eyes, and was finally able to see the reality of her people’s struggles--something she and her family were removed from during her time growing up in Peru.
During this time, Basma recognized the political and economic turmoil her country was in, and the barriers Palestinian families had to jump through in order to simply continue living. Basma decided that by addressing employment constraints within her community, she could contribute to keeping families in the country, who would otherwise have no other option but to leave. According to research, job insecurity and joblessness is a reality for many Palestinians, with the unemployment rate at nearly 30%. This rate is even higher for youth, approaching approximately 60%.
Artisans at Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative Society
In 2012, Basma began working with small community and home-based workshops in the West Bank through HLHCCS. She explained, “When I started to learn about fair trade, I knew this was the career I needed to be in. I felt passionate about the principles of gender inequality, giving a good salary, and improving the places of the people who are working for you. It is beautiful to feel like you are working in an ethical way, and to feel like you are doing something for the people you love.”
Through Basma’s work with HLHCCS, 1,017 artisans receive just and fair employment and are able to offer support to approximately 7,628 dependents.
The West Bank
At the heart of Basma’s work is love: love for her people, love for her community, and love for Palestine. Through her organization, Basma seeks to enable the people within her community to stay in their home country--the way her family was not able to--by providing dignified work opportunities.
According to Basma, the large orders Ethik has facilitated have decreased immigration among the network of artisans she works with by enabling individuals and families to earn a more consistent income.
Basma explained, “I do not always understand our situation, but I am hopeful that peace will come. Our situation is not easy. There are times when I am preparing my home, and I wonder if my home will be taken from me. There is a lot of uncertainty, but orders help provide some stability, and help us to stay in our country. My hope is to have peace here; to live together with Israel without any hate. This is the most important thing.”