Bethlehem Unemployment: Little Like a Christmas Card
For many in the west, the very word ‘Bethlehem’ brings images of a silent, holy night where all is calm and bright. When we entered the war torn area, however, listening to the crack of gunshot and the rumble of explosions, we found it was a world away from a Christmas card. This Bethlehem was a place of pain.
We shared a meal with one family who told us, “We are grateful if, every night, all four of our teenage sons come home alive to sit around our table.
Not only were the local people’s lives at stake. Their double challenge was that, even if they managed to survive the fighting, there was almost no chance of a job. 70% of the people had no employment.
“So how can Crossroads help?” we asked. We had sewing machines in our Hong Kong warehouse and knew the local people had tailoring skills. Could we equip them so they could make clothing to export globally, as once they had? No, they said. The uncertainties of war meant that they had no reliable way of getting their goods to the port if soldiers cut them off at road blocks.
They suggested the age-old craft for which Bethlehem is famous: woodwork. “Tourists used to come and buy olive wood products, but the fighting now keeps them away.” If our fair trade marketplace, Global Handicrafts, could sell their product, we would help generate income. The good news was, too, that woodwork could be flown out of Bethlehem, even if the conflict saw the roads closed.
That visit happened in 2004. That year, we began sending fair trade Christmas cards for the first time, and, for our first, incorporated carvings from these craftsmen. We have been selling wood products, large and small, ever since, seeking to see a decent wage returned fordecent work to people battling chronic unrest in the Middle East.
As well as seeing an increase in the quantity of product moved, though, we have seen the quality of working conditions improved too. Carpenters in Bethlehem have struggled for decades with respiratory conditions that have caused chronic illness, cancer and death. Fair trade cooperatives in Bethlehem have recently used some of their collective profit to introduce new equipment which literally sucks the sawdust from the air. They now have a safer workplace than ever before.
The carpenters have a better life. Their wives and mothers are happy too, knowing their family members will not be consigned to a life of sickness in order to gain employment.
It is our goal, in Crossroads, to invest for life. Our partnership with the Bethlehem craftsmen is one example of many we celebrate in this our anniversary year.
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Population: 4 million (1.8 million in Gaza)
Capital: East Jerusalem and Ramallah
Palestinian Territories include West Bank and Gaza, surrounded by Israel and Egypt.
Across the Palestinian Territories 25% of people live on less than US$2 per day. In the Gaza strip, this jumps to 38%.
The unemployment rate throughout the Palestinian Territories is 38.8%
In Gaza, standard of living measures are below what they were in the mid-1990s and much of the population depends on humanitarian assistance.
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