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Bethlehem Arab Women's Union
PO Box 19, Bethlehem, West Bank, Palestine | Telefax: (+972) 02-274-2589  

Products: Embroidered purses, pillows and table runners  
Beneficiaries: 150 women from small villages near Bethlehem

 

The Bethlehem Arab Women's Union (BAWU) has a long history of community service, dating back to 1947 when it was founded as a first aid center to care for refugees from the first Arab-Israeli war.  Located in the Old City of Bethlehem, the Union strives to meet the needs of the Bethlehemites of all ages, organizing luncheons for senior citizens, activities for youth, and income- generation projects for women through food and craft production.  It also runs the Bethlehem Museum, where one can learn about local cultural heritage.

The Union's embroidery project aims for the preservation and revival of Bethlehem heritage and for meeting the economic needs of women in the area.  When the embroidery project was established in 1968 to respond to worsening life conditions with the beginning of the Israeli occupation, the women began by collecting old dresses and studying the local embroidery tradition. 

According to Elen Eloussie, who runs the embroidery project, the Christian and Muslim women in Bethlehem historically shared the common heritage of embroidery.  Women identified themselves by their village of origin rather than the religion, by wearing an embroidered dress with the distinct patterns and colors of each village. 

The Union prides itself by producing meticulous needle work that features traditional Bethlehem motifs, including stars and vines, keeping the Bethlehem heritage alive.  Today, more than 150 women from nearby villages and refugee camps receive embroidery work at the Union. 

The once-thriving tourism to Bethlehem brought decent sales of these crafts, sold to the tourists visiting the folkloric museum.  However, the decrease of tourists in recent years, from 200 people per month to less than 100 per year, has posed a serious impact on the project.   Sunbula supports the Union's work by marketing their beautiful purses and cushion covers.