The Cooperative Mission
The Cooperative strives to alleviate local poverty, decrease unemployment, increase the level of income, decrease emigration, and sustain the Palestinian handicraft industry for the benefit of the traditional handicraft artisans by effectively marketing our products, making the raw materials available at a low cost, and developing our capabilities technically and managerially.
The Holy Land Handcraft Cooperative Society was established in 1981 as a means of countering the deterioration of the local handicrafts industry brought about by occupation, which had begun to impact the handicrafts trade by the late 1970s. The Cooperative sought to do this by encouraging coordination between local independent producers and businessmen, establishing joint projects and facilitating cooperative problem solving.
In its early phase, the Cooperative aimed to help the craftsmen and the tourist industry to overcome the financial problems caused by seasonal marketing and by slow tourist seasons. Its founders also planned to develop strategies to facilitate the direct import of raw materials and to improve marketing strategies, locally and abroad. The Cooperative was registered according to the Jordanian Law (#17) of Cooperative Associations on May 21, 1981. In 1990, its membership was comprised of 36 shareholders, most of them local owners of workshops and souvenir shops.
During the first period of its existence, the Cooperative Society focused its efforts on the establishment and expansion of its own shop as a vital instrument to support members and small workshop owners during slow tourist seasons. However, due to financial limitations, its ability to purchase handcraft articles from producers during off-season remained lower than had been hoped.
Bulk purchasing of raw materials enabled the Cooperative to purchase at lower prices and then pass this dividend on to its members. The Cooperative granted loans to members and owners of workshops who, due to financial difficulties, were no longer able to pay the salaries of their employees.
The handicraft industry in the Bethlehem area is in danger of disappearing. This is a direct result of three things: constant political unrest, the resulting decline in tourism, and more generalized economic hardship resulting from the occupation. While some 3000 individuals were employed in the craft industry at its peak in the 1980s, this figure has decreased alarmingly. The number of workshops has also dropped dramatically, and the industry continues to be in steep decline.
Presently, because of the low number of pilgrims visiting the region and the very low production of handicrafts, factory owners are no longer able to secure sufficient income to support their families. Many factory owners are thinking seriously of immigrating to other countries, thus threatening the continued existence of an industry that has formed a central component of cultural and mercantile life for a millennia.
The Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative Society is adopting a strategy to open the international market as a means to counter the devastating decline in the local handicraft industry. As such, we will continue to develop our on-line presence while also presenting a catalogue containing all of the products of the Cooperative. This includes olivewood artifacts, mother of pearl items, ceramics, blown glass and embroidery. Through this website, we invite people from all over the world to visit us and to help our members by ordering our products.
Your support is essential to the success of this project, and to supporting the traditional culture of the production of handicrafts in the Holy Land, Bethlehem.
Fair Trade principles represent the cornerstones of the Cooperative's philosophy and values; these principles include:
• Creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers
• Transparency and accountability
• Promoting producer independence
• Payment of a fair price
• Gender equality
• Good working conditions
• Sustainable environmental practices
Preserving a heritage
We aim to preserve the centuries-old craft and design traditions of our area for the benefit of future generations of Palestinians. The area's olivewood tradition developed because of the local availability of the raw material and because of demand by pilgrims for religious icons. Mother-of-pearl workmanship, whose raw material is not of local origin, was introduced to the area by Franciscan monks who came to the area in the 14th century.
Approximately 900 individuals benefit from the Cooperative's activities. In addition to marketing handicrafts produced by our members, we also sell products produced by select non-member producers, such as local disabled groups and women's groups.