israel textiles jerusalem sidrah

Diving into the world of traditional textiles in Israel

My partner’s work assignment brought our little family to Israel this year and gave me a great opportunity to dive into a world of the local textile artisans and see their products and working methods. And what did I see! Beautiful embroidered textiles made by a traditional Palestinian way and rough sheep wool rugs and cushion covers woven by nomadic women.

Hand woven sheep wool rugs and cushion covers made by Sidreh in South Israel.

I met highly talented and hard-working artisan women whose textile designs were inspired by patterns and color combinations from Palestinian heritage crafts. Rehab Daqawieh with her sister Kawathar Swailen in Ramallah-based Artezana for Embroideries & Handicrafts is giving employment to women in West Bank where opportunities to earn sufficient income to make ends meet are scarce. Artezana is not only providing employment to local women but they are also making embroideries with such piety that resembles a piece of art.

Sidreh is a non-profit organization in Lakiya in South Israel. The organization is supporting Palestinian Bedouin women to keep their old weaving tradition and livelihood alive for the future generations. Bedouins’ old nomadic lifestyle in Israel stands at a critical point. As in so many other places in the world a modern lifestyle is threatening their traditional way of living. The change has been so rapid and forced that many Bedouin communities have had difficulty in adjusting to the change and creating a sense of who they are in a new context. Team Leader Montse Martinez tells that poverty, unemployment and high school drop-out rates among the youth are common in the communities. In addition, the confiscation of land by Israeli authorities and shortages in electricity and water supply hamper Bedouins livelihoods, such as sheep rearing and making long-term livelihood plans for the future. Check out ‘the last traces of the unique Bedouin heritage:

Montse Martinez from Sidreh shows sheep wool yarns that they use for weaving traditional Bedouin rugs. The wool comes from local small Bedouin farms.

In Jerusalem, Shirabe Yamada runs Sunbula, not for profit fair trade organization. The NGO has opened two shops where people can buy hand-made Palestinian crafts, cosmetics and delicacies in Jerusalem. The organization is working with several producers in West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel and is reaching out more than 2000 artisans who are benefiting from Sunbula’s activities ranging from accessing raw materials and tools to product development. Sunbula is taking serious efforts to raise awareness of and reinvigorating rich Palestinian heritage crafts that have received little attention by wider public. By their crowdfunding initiative in August, Sunbula managed to raise funds for printing first ever book on how make Palestinian embroidery. Embroidery from Palestine: An Instruction Manual is a collection of fast disappearing embroidery techniques.

The long road from Jerusalem to South of Israel is winding through rocky desert

The long road from Jerusalem to South of Israel is winding through rocky desert.

The Palestinian traditional and unique handmade textiles with their often rough texture have all the qualities to fill people’s need for authenticity in these busy constantly changing technological times. But why is it so difficult for the artisans to break into the global market and people’s consciousness?

First; the appreciation of local heritage crafts should start in our own backyards. A good reminder of that I got on my way to visit Sidreh. I decided to stay overnight in one artist couple’s house nearby as I thought that they may have knowledge of the Bedouin heritage culture in the area. But instead of introducing me the rich local heritage culture and crafts from their own neighborhood, they proudly showed me rugs and wall hangings from East-Europe that they had bought for their home!

Second; a lack financial resources, support mechanisms, training and skills development for entrepreneurs hamper developing small-scale or cottage industry type businesses into sustainable and profitable companies that could leverage well-being into their communities. Too often a few active artisans, often from marginalized groups of society, are trying to keep old textile traditions alive to future generations generating minimum income for themselves and their partners. At the same time there is a dire need for boosting job creation in the communities affected by unemployment, poverty and the obvious lack of opportunities and future prospects.

Third; encouraging networking with other artisans and entrepreneurs, researchers, investors, media and others alike in our own communities and across borders can result in flourishing business ideas and innovations where traditional meets contemporary and conflicts and competition turn into partnerships.