In the heart of Beit Sahour, a bustling suburb east of Bethlehem, lies a beautifully remodelled space – Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisans (BFTA) Craft Village. This creative haven allows local artisans, creating Palestinian crafts with traditional techniques honed through generations, to showcase their work for local customers and tourists alike.
Visitors to the Craft Village will find an array of hand-carved olive wood, hand-blown recycled glass decorations, hand-painted ceramics and hand-embroidered textiles and will also be treated to traditional Palestinian feasts, Dabkeh dancing and breathtaking views of Bethlehem at the rooftop dining area.
Anwar, 26, has been working with BFTA for just over 4 years as part of the team who hand-paint ceramics with exquisite traditional Palestinian floral designs. She saw the job advertisement by chance and began working with no previous knowledge of ceramics – She admits,
‘I did not know what ceramics were, but I tried it.
It was very hard for the first month but extremely interesting.’
Now Anwar has fallen in love with this artistic expression which provides her a connection with the traditional crafts of her heritage but also with a stable income and a profession to be proud of. She has seen that customers are most attracted to intricate designs with precision line drawing and colour work, so she is especially careful to be precise in her artwork.
‘We are creating Palestinian Heritage and now it is known all over the world.
I feel proud of the quality we are creating.’
For Anwar, working with BFTA and creating new works of art with every ceramic piece completed is an opportunity to better herself and contribute to her whole community and the future of Palestinian handicrafts.
‘As women we need to work to support ourselves financially, to strengthen our characters and build something for ourselves. I hope that one day I will be able to support other people and promote the Palestinian heritage through having my own business.’
Anwar concludes her dreams of the future with the beautiful Arabic word ‘Inshallah’ which means ‘God-willing’ or ‘with God’s help’.
Since launching in 2009, BFTA has grown exponentially and now supports 53 family-owned workshops crafting olive wood, ceramics and blown glass, 50 women’s co-operatives working in embroidery, basket weaving, recycled glass and jewellery making and 5 groups of artisans with disabilities who create felt and wool products and handmade cards from recycled paper. Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisans became the first Middle Eastern member of the World Fair Trade Organisation in 2015, connecting Palestinian fair-trade producers with the global fair-trade marketplace.
Thankfully, fair trade products are now commonplace in UK shops and perhaps we now take for granted purchasing fairly traded products in most areas of life, assured that those who have produced raw materials, manufactured products and even transported them to us are being paid fairly for their work and provided with safe and secure working conditions. Though artisans in the Middle East are relatively new to the Fair Trade arena, through organisations like BFTA and WFTO, they can now access all the benefits that fair trade affords and their incredible products are available to a far wider audience – these strides in Middle Eastern fair trade are just the beginning and open the way for an extremely bright future for skilled artisans across the region.
At Embrace, we bring the vibrant crafts of Palestine to you; Buying BFTA products from Embrace directly supports talented Palestinian artisans and helps fund our work with marginalised communities across the region.