The tranquil rustle of olive leaves, the hypnotic thud of olives falling like giant raindrops onto tarpaulins beneath, the crack of branches pruned to ensure the continued health and fruitfulness of the olive trees and the gentle buzz of tools in the hands of skilled artisans, liberating the artwork from within each branch. This is the soundtrack that has led to each beautifully crafted Bethlehem Olive Wood item that we feature in our Embrace range.
Each olive wood creation enables you to hold a small piece of the Holy Land in your hand and within each piece lies all the passion of each artisan who has lovingly crafted it.
Everything in our olive wood range is handcrafted from the pruned branches of Holy Land olive trees by carvers who are registered with Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisans (BFTA), this partnership ensures that all artisans receive a fair wage and safe working conditions and allows them to continue the skilled work which has been honed through generations in their families and market their incredibly intricate crafts to a wider audience.
There are many talented artisans who are working to create these exquisite olive wood decorations, figurines and utensils for your home - we'd like to introduce you to 4 of them:
Hani & Iyad
Hani is one of the oldest and most experienced olive wood producers in the area. Coming from a long line of talented artisans, Hani learned the trade from his late father and took his first job in an olive wood workshop in 1969. As with many trades, Hani started at the bottom, tasked with putting the finishing touches on each olive wood product. His talent for adding intricate details was soon recognised and he was given more and more responsibility over his 4 years of work at the workshop. At this point Hani was able to purchase his first piece of machinery and began creating his own products, soon opening his own workshop.
Hani has four children, three of whom are deaf. It can be challenging for people with disabilities to find work in the Middle East since unfortunately not every workplace is set up to be accessible. However, Hani's eldest son Iyad is proving to everyone that you don't need to be a hearing person to develop a passion for olive wood carving and the skills of a master craftsman. Hani and Iyad now run their olive wood workshop together and have been in partnership with BFTA since its inception in 2009. Hani says,
'BFTA provide tremendous support for my family. Not only in practical ways, they encourage within us the spirit to achieve our dreams.'
You can see from these images the intense concentration that both Hani and Iyad maintain as they work on each olive wood creation. Here they are both working on a batch of Madonna & Child figurines, available to buy now from Embrace.
'My brother and I love working with BFTA and with our Father at the workshop. It is an amazing opportunity to meet people from both local and international communities when they come to visit.'
Jalal & Elias
A second father and son olive wood carving duo working in Beit Sahour, Jalal started his workshop 30 years ago with a speciality in creating olive wood nativity scenes. He is renowned locally for his dedication, efficiency and the outstanding quality of his work. Jalal's eldest son Elias is now 29 so he has grown up surrounded by the craft of olive wood carving. He began assisting his father in the workshop after school and chose to take on a management position at the family workshop after completing his education. Jalal has expertly trained Elias so that both craftsmen now possess incredible skill in creating carved perfection! Elias keenly pioneers new designs whilst keeping their signature family style prominent. In partnering with BFTA, Jalal and Elias have been able to contribute their finely honed skills to help train other artisans and collaborate to create new and innovative designs.
It is not only in the olive wood industry that Jalal's family are thriving. Sadly, Jalal's wife died during the birth of their daughter. Since then Jalal has devoted his life to raising his children and providing for them through his work as an artisan. With the profit generated through their olive wood workshop, Jalal's daughter has been able to qualify as a nurse and train as a midwife. She is proud to be part of the team at the French Hospital in Bethlehem where her work is ensuring that other mothers can have safe and successful birthing experiences.
What an incredibly humbling and inspiring family! Isn't it incredible to think that all of this potential is hiding inside every pruned olive branch? The olive tree is a powerful symbol of resilience and hope for Palestinian communities; now you can admire a small symbol of this hope and resilience in your own home, knowing that your shopping changes lives and supports artisans like Hani, Iyad, Jalal and Elias.