This guide introduces you to the concept of shopping ethically in Palestine. It will offer you some guidance during the first steps of becoming an ethical consumer, shopping more consciously, and making informed decisions regarding your eating and living habits. We do not offer a magical, all-encompassing list of things to do or producers to buy from, but we aim to raise awareness about the potential we have harnessed in our hardworking farmers and creative artisans. Next time you plan on buying a special present, or cook a seasonal meal, we invite you to flip through the pages of this guide for some inspiration. We feel assured that once you start approaching your shopping choices in this way, you will develop a similar list of producers and artisans that you know in your neighbourhood or town, or ones that you have met in person or heard about from your friends. Take note of these, put extra effort into getting to know their stories, try their products, and make ethical choices about how you deal with them in the future.
The faces portrayed in this guide are not (entirely) the same as in the previous edition. As we began our update of this guide, we contacted many of our original producers. With a heavy heart, we listened to many producers sharing the difficulty of persevering. Some have stopped producing due to old age, like Hajeh Amneh from Salfit, while others struggled to make ends meet and simply gave up or changed their approach to production, opting for mass production or compromising the quality and sources of their input material. Many of the producers we met are carrying out food and cultural preservation ‘on the side’, as a hobby or a genuine interest rooted in a sense of responsibility for sharing traditional knowledge across generations. In parallel with that trend, we witnessed emerging initiatives and producers, especially among the young generation, that call for the revival of local and ethical production as a basis for resilience and preservation of identity and culture. Thus, we feel an even bigger responsibility now to highlight their stories and support ethical consumerism in Palestine.
The last five years were also a time for change and transformative work for many individuals and groups on the ground. In the food sector, we have seen a rise in many sustainable and environmentally-friendly farms, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and other initiatives. People became more conscious of their purchasing impact, and connected with and supportive of responsible producers, sometimes even by a simple act of word of mouth or sharing a post on social media. The handicrafts sector has also been experiencing a boost in terms of the new lines of production, which blend local and traditional knowledge with technological advancements in product design and execution. Embroidery, pottery, woodwork, accessories, and fashion among other categories are being blended artistically and thoughtfully to bring about a new generation and genre of design. Cultural heritage is also about connecting people, exchanging anecdotes and ancestral wisdom, and celebrating our culinary and artisan excellence. We highlight the stories of some leading community activists who have put Palestine’s food, culture and handicrafts back on the map. This not only caters to those who are visiting Palestine or residing here temporarily, but also serves Palestinians as a re-introduction to the flavours, smells, and feel of the authenticity of our cultural heritage. Our last observation for this edition is the centrality of the role of Palestinian woman in all activities related to cultural heritage. Unlike many donor projects, which may force a ‘gender’ aspect to their projects, our guide celebrates the organic and undisputed leadership and stewardship of women producers. Without a doubt, they have been spearheading many of the initiatives included in this guide, whether strictly traditional or creative, artistic and courageous.
The guide has been developed to be user friendly, insightful and creative. The two biggest production fields included are food and handicrafts. In our attempt to find out who is active in both fields, we started by contacting friends and visiting cities, towns and villages, where we met amazing producers. Therefore, the guide looks at hotspots of food production and handicrafts in different geographical locations where Palestinians live and work. For this edition, we reviewed each category and focused our attention on introducing new initiatives, especially those that are taking creative and innovative approaches to cultural heritage production and preservation.
Each producer is described in a profile, listing the background of the trade, their own story of being a producer, and their aspirations. Pictures try to convey what the products look like and who the people creating them are. Contact information is available to help you find their produce and get updates about them.
The main fields and products in this guide include:
- Food: local, seasonal fruit and vegetable producers. We focus on products that you will only find in season and that will keep you healthy, happy, and anticipating the next season’s bounty! As for preserved food, the craft of producing canned and pickled food is a specialty of the Levant region. We highlight here the stories of local producers and their quest to protect their seasonal and highly perishable food items by following local traditions of food preservation. Many women’s associations and local businesses have led this industry creating innovative and new products and delicacies.
- Handicrafts: As Palestinian handicrafts go beyond the famously known embroidery and olive woodwork, this section aims to showcase a wider selection of producers; some work in traditional crafts and follow centuries old traditions while others innovate, tweak and transform traditional knowledge to produce modern and upbeat crafts. We believe that both approaches are inspiring and beautiful and find that the ones who blend both approaches produce the most unique works!
- Wine and beer: Palestine is home to centuries old processes and inventions for winemaking. From Roman times, we can find evidence of complex systems of rock and stone carving showing the traditional production and storage of wine. It is interesting to see so many pioneer projects that show how production - the act of reinventing and rejuvenating this social and cultural ritual - can itself be understood as defiance against continuous efforts to detach and alienate Palestinians from their land.
- Community Initiatives: Here we look at innovative and creative projects that aim to educate, empower, and engage people in learning and relearning about traditional and sustainable agricultural food practices and environmental preservation in Palestine. They offer demonstration sites, trainings, and recreational activities on how to re-establish the connection with nature in all its elements.
- Shops: The shops we mention here give a glimpse of social enterprises, that not only aim to sell goods, but also spread a culture that values local production, cultural heritage, and handmade crafts as a means for community steadfastness. Some of the producers in Palestine lack the means to market their products, so shops are a vital channel to promote their goods. Solidarity shops are what we might aim for in the future, where all our food and handicrafts shops are operating in a way to serve their community and empower producers.
Despite attempting to divide producers into categories to make the guide more user- friendly, we realized that it did not reflect how these categories are so interlinked. The lesson learned in this edition is how, at the heart of our work, lies the source of the final product itself; the olive tree, grapes, sheep wool, sesame seeds, and much more. The stories we present are shaped by who and how that source is utilised; to make local soap, produce Arak, or produce rugs. The stories therefore vary from telling the story of the source, to sometimes that of the producers themselves, to other times the story of the end product.
To show such interlinkages, we have collaborated with illustrator Michael Jabareen to produce 8 creative illustrations reflecting that interconnectedness. The brilliant drawings illustrate concepts and processes we highlight the guide. They include a utopia market where the space is open for sharing, exchange of ideas and networking. A traditional Palestinian breakfast, tells the story of community so clearly visible in the products and dishes on the table. The Illustration of two worlds apart, shows the stark difference between the industrial agricultural model and the traditional one, allowing us to really envision how each model impacts our health and wellbeing. The illustration imagines a day in the life of Sarah, an ethical consumer, and how each action and purchasing decision she makes has direct impacts on producers and the wider community. Have you considered how unique the Palestinian soap is? The Illustration tells the life story of soap production, linking it to the olive harvest season and the processes of olive oil production under Israeli colonization. The Illustration that demonstrates the power of seeds and local crops to entice our senses and produce artistic and creative projects, which open up so much potential for networking and documenting our rich heritage. The Illustration that tells the story of Bedouin self-sufficiency and how herding and sheep rearing is at the heart of many production processes which make Bedouin products so rich. With these illustrations, we aim to highlight what the complex network of relations and production processes is all about. It is much more than the characteristics of products or producers, but rather a story of our roots and seeds that have been developing and are propagated by and through people (producers, consumers and all those in between), who have love and appreciation for their roots.
Our selection criteria of producers are also neither rigid nor clearly distinct, however, we refer to three generic criteria of SEE (Social | Environmental | Ethical). We have not attempted to quantify them or provide an evaluation of the products or the producers. All the criteria aim to do is to encourage us to ask these three questions (and many more) when we purchase something:
- Is the production socially empowering? Does it serve the community and generate income for locals? Does it strengthen social cohesion, local economy, and Palestinian resistance?
- Is it environmentally friendly? Are the product and production processes chemical and additive free?
- Has the product been ethically produced? Do you know who made the product and under what conditions? Did it provide a safe environment and just opportunities for the producer?
We have yet to find a product that will meet all three criteria, but many in Palestine cover at least one of those criteria quite strongly. We urge you to test the next product you buy by using SEE as your reference.