The rhythms of nature have dictated the lives of Palestinian women and the unique handcrafts they produced for millennia. In spring the sheep were shorn and the wool was spun into yarn and dyed. In summer herbs were dried for medicine and cooking, fruits and vegetables were picked for jellies and pickles, the honey was gathered and processed. Olives and grapes were ready for harvesting in the fall, for olive oil and its many products, for grape molasses and wine. The colder weather of winter created time for embroidery, jewelry-making and weaving.
All this work was done at home by women, for home consumption. Group production and merchandising their products were not contemplated until recently. The change began when women organized themselves to resist the Occupation in the 1990’s and continued into the 21st century when Rozana and similar NGO’s began the focus on the connection between women’s associations, women’s handcrafts and village economies. The concept of co-operative production spread as Rozana networked with Birzeit-area women’s organizations to build the capacity for going beyond home consumption into regional and even international markets. In 2013 the E.U. funded a Rozana training project for women’s associations. The training emphasized development of communications skills, product presentation, costing practices, entrepreneurial capacity, and improved understanding of potential market segments.
This funding was expanded beyond 2013 to include more women and a focus on management skills. Birzeit’s annual Heritage Festivals, and the booths for displaying handcrafts for sale organized by Rozana, have continued to be a major site for exhibiting the products resulting from this training. Villages continue to receive funding from numerous international sources and organizations in Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Italy, France, Germany, Lithuania, U.S., and U.N. Women, much of it to enhance the capacity of women to attract both the local market and international visitors, thus improving local economies and the standard of living in Palestinian villages.
The booths at the Birzeit Heritage Festivals and at other West Bank sites exhibit the same products as centuries ago but instead of being made at home, they are now often produced in women’s co-operatives, marketed with new expertise and production standards. With this entrepreneurial outreach and consequent cultural exchange between and beyond their villages, the women broaden their world-view to include other villages, other Palestinians, thereby breaking down some of the fragmentation which has beleaguered Palestine of recent years.