(Picture: Delegates were invited to wear the traditional dress of Palestine)
By Carol Wills
In early May 2018, Elizabeth Laskar and I joined the first ever Fair Trade Tour of Palestine, culminating in the celebration of World Fair Trade Day at the University of Bethlehem Fair Trade Resource Centre on Saturday 12 May.
We saw how Fair Trade enterprises support Palestinian traditional culture, preserve traditional crafts and provide thousands of farmers and other producers, many of them women working from home, with a much needed income and with hope that a better life is possible.
Our tour took place in the West Bank (also known as the Occupied Territories) where Palestinian Fair Trade producers live and work in extremely difficult circumstances under a military occupation that has gone on for over 50 years. Alongside our Fair Trade visits we heard many heart breaking stories of people who had lost loved ones and suffered injustices. On top of this, the economic situation is harsh and unemployment is high.
Nevertheless, we were made hugely welcome wherever we went, drinking little cups of mint tea and very strong black coffee and eating enormous quantities of local couscous, hummus and tomato, cucumber and mint salad. Our tour started at Canaan Fair Trade which produces the olive oil sold by Zaytoun and where we enjoyed an olive oil tasting before touring the impressive facility. It is a cooperative of more than 2000 olive farmers.
At the Palestinian Agricultural Research Centre in Jericho, a member of the WFTO, we saw how grapes are dried to produce Fair Trade sultanas and raisins and met a group of women rolling couscous by hand. The Women of Hebron Cooperative Association produces fine, traditional embroidery and backstrap loom woven wool carpets. Most women work from home but come to the Centre with their work, to attend meetings, take part in decision-making and have the chance to gossip. Men work at the Hebron glass and ceramic factory nearby, where Traidcraft places orders.
In Jerusalem we visited Sunbula Fair Trade, also a WFTO member, working to bring fresh designs and colour to traditional embroidery and providing an income to several thousand women. Sunbula means “spike of wheat” in Arabic (i.e. the flower that makes bread) and Sunbula’s mission is to provide its producers with the gift of a more dignified life.
Finally we reached Bethlehem and the Holyland Handicraft Cooperative Society where we saw some fine olive wood carving in their magnificent shop by the Field where the shepherds watched their flocks by night not far from the appalling wall where Banksy has his Walled Off Hotel.
On World Fair Trade Day we donned traditional Palestinian dress to celebrate at the University.
We came home convinced that if Palestinians are going to have any chance of a sustainable future at all, we must tell their stories and buy their products.