On Thursday 11 May, Fairtrade at St Andrew’s was privileged to host a talk and display by Nawal, the founder of an organisation called Women in Hebron, an embroidery cooperative in Palestine. It was one of two talks she gave that day in Bedford, the other at the Bedford Arts and Craft Centre in Ampthill Road and on each occasion she displayed the work of the women of the Cooperative and was able to sell it.
Nawal talked about her idea of setting up a cooperative to provide work for women living in and around Hebron and what started as very small enterprise grew so that for a time they were able to maintain a shop. Sadly this was not able to continue and during this time her husband died as a result of injuries sustained by the attacks of settler Israelis. The cooperative has struggled to continue and the amazing display of cross stitch embroidered goods – shawls, scarves cushion covers, purses, little items of beaded jewellery and key rings - was evidence of what they have achieved.
In the second part of the talk, Nawal focused more on the struggles faced by the inhabitants of the West Bank, with the constant threat of having their homes and land destroyed by settlers or themselves and their families attacked and the hours long delays at border crossings, even when getting to work each day. Nawal explained she had to cross into three different countries to be able to get a flight to the UK.
Nawal’s teenage daughter came with her and videoed the talk, and I am hoping to get a copy of it, as, although her English was excellent, she spoke very quietly.
After the talk we enjoyed tea and coffee and biscuits and were able to browse the goods on display. I am delighted to say that over £1000 worth of goods were sold at the two Bedford meetings and a separate amount was raised as contributions towards Nawal’s and her daughter’s fares.
Although I am sure many congregation members are aware of the difficulties facing Palestinians in the West Bank (and the Gaza strip), it was good to spend an evening focusing on it and to hear first-hand of one initiative to make a living in the face of such opposition. There is always a tension between recognising the struggles of the Palestinians and the risk of being accused of antisemitism. Many Israelis recognise the struggles of the Palestinians and do not support the settlement programme but sadly the current Israeli Government seem determined to extend the programme and there is no strong vocal world-wide opposition to it. I would welcome thoughts of anything else we could do as a Church family.