Empowerment in Nablus

In September 2012 the Sindyanna women’s basketry team from Kufr Manda was invited to lead a week-long basket-weaving workshop at the Women’s Section of the Nablus Municipality under the auspices of BFTA (Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisans).

This was an empowering experience for both groups. Seldom do Arab women from Galilee meet West Bank women. The four veteran weavers from Manda took on the role of trainers for 12 Nablus women who knew nothing of basket weaving. Together with the staff of the Sindyanna Visitors Center,  they had to organize a work plan, procure materials, and come up with measurable results.

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Awatef Mussa, head of the Manda delegation, reflects: “We got to Nablus in the morning and went straight to the place where the activities were to be held. I talked about our center in Manda, about basket weaving, and about Sindyanna’s support for women’s empowerment. I also talked about our experience of marketing baskets in Israel and abroad. I never talked to such a crowd before and was quite excited. The Nablus women had lots of questions: How did we learn the craft of basket weaving? How do we price our work? Where do our materials come from? When they heard about our Visitors Center, they asked what it’s like to work with Jewish women, what it’s like to host Jewish visitors in our village. They had a hard time believing that Israeli women work with Arab women. We explained that Sindyanna of Galilee is a joint Arab-Jewish organization. We told them how it markets products from the Arab and Palestinian communities, such as olive oil, za’atar and almonds from Galilee, as well as soap from their own city of Nablus.”

Awatef continued: “The Nablus women are very knowledgeable and have lots of experience in crafts like weaving, beading, knitting, sewing, and wood carving. They had no trouble at all, therefore, in picking up on basket-weaving techniques.”

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By the end of the course each participant had woven five baskets of different types. The participants acquired knowledge of a new craft from which they will be able to make a living, both by selling their own products and by teaching others. Awatef says: “In my own case, this knowledge moved my life forward. We were very pleased to pass it on to our sisters from Nablus.”

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Each Manda woman taught for a total of 25 hours throughout the week, but there was fun as well: At the end of each day they went for an outing in Nablus with their hosts. “At the end of the course a party was given in our honor and we, the teachers and the participants, were given certificates. For many of us it was the first time we were given certificates for something we’d accomplished.”

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For the women of Manda this was a good experience for another reason: They discovered that their families were able to manage quite well without them for a few days.

“I am staying in touch with the women from Nablus, especially Sahar, who was the course’s coordinator and one of the participants. We have spoken on the phone; we miss each other and hope to meet again soon. Sahar is waiting for us to invite the group to visit us in Manda. We will have to help them get entry permits into Israel. We are also planning to go once again to Nablus and visit them. After returning to Manda, we shared our experience with all of our friends and showed them pictures. We also practiced the beadwork that the Nablus women taught us and shared this experience with the rest of the women at the Visitors Center.”

This unique event was part of Fair Trade, Fair Peace: a joint project of the Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisans Association (BFTA), Sindyanna of Galilee, and the Italian NGO COSPE. It was sponsored by the European Union’s program, “Partnership for Peace.” Such a workshop offers an opportunity for Arab women from Israel to meet their sisters from the Palestinian West Bank and to spread Sindyanna’s mission and goal: Fair Trade for a Fair Society.

Awatef Mussa and Osnat Shperling / October 4, 2012