As the sun set over Jerusalem, about one hundred women milled around tables covered with hand-made crafts. There were delicate earrings, hand-embroidered shawls, olive wood jewelry boxes and brightly colored ceramic bowls. There was chatter in Hebrew and Arabic and a lot of laughter.
It was the third annual pre-holiday craft and jewelry sale sponsored by Joint Ventures for Peace, a group of Israeli and Palestinian women who have opened small businesses together. What is unique about this group is that each craft project is fashioned by a pair of women — one Israeli and one Palestinian. But each time they need to work together, it requires that a permit be obtained from Israeli officials: either for the Israeli partner to enter the Palestinian territories or for the Palestinian woman to enter Israel.
“For the past three years, we have been meeting in homes in Israel and Palestine and learning about each other's reality,” Vivian Silver, one of the initiators of the event told The Media Line. “We are trying to promote peace in our own small way.
”At a table covered with hand-embroidered shawls, purses and placemats, Laila Nazzal of the Christian Arab town of Beit Jalla says she has been doing traditional embroidery since she was 16-years old.
“I've had exhibits in Germany, Russia, Tunisia, Tel Aviv and Ramallah,” she told The Media Line. “We all want peace and want to work together to achieve it.
”Nazzal's partner is Israeli clothing designer Esti Cantoni. Esti sews the items and Laila embroiders them, including special bags to hold yoga mats. They meet in a hotel in Beit Jalla, which is located next to Bethlehem.
Silver welcomed all of the women and encouraged them to buy a unique product made by Cantoni and Nazzal.
“Check out those yoga bags,” she encouraged the guests, most of whom are Israelis and Americans. “I know they're expensive, but there are nothing like them anywhere. You'll be proud to carry your yoga mat in them.
”One pair of women cooperated on a book of poetry and they read several poems in English and Arabic. The new American Consul General in Jerusalem, Michael Ratnay, also dropped in.Silver said the initiative was originally sponsored by the Canadian government, but the funding was only for one year. She said the women insisted on continuing the meetings even after the funding ran out.
The women say that as long as formal Israeli-Palestinian negotiations remain frozen, these meetings are the only way to bridge the gaps between them. Palestinian women welcomed Israel's recent easing of entry restrictions for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. An estimated 100,000 Palestinians came into Israel during the holiday, flooding the country's beaches and malls.
“This is what normal life should be,” Fatima, a Palestinian women's activist who asked not to use her last name told The Media Line. “Now, I just want all of the Israeli women to come visit Palestine.
”Fatima said she will run in local Palestinian elections scheduled for later this year.
“I think women can build peace the same way they build their families,” she said. “Peace is very important to both Israeli and Palestinian women.
”The crafts fair was held before the month-long season of Jewish holidays that begins with Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year, later this month. Many of the women who came to this event were shopping for seasonal gifts for family members. Others looked for something new for themselves for the holiday.
“I am in favor of the initiative and I do want to support them,” Dina Herz said as she paid $25 for an embroidered black shawl. “It's a bit expensive and I don't really need it, but it is a beautiful scarf.”
Then she had an idea.
“Maybe I'll wear it as a head covering in synagogue,” she said, referring to the Orthodox Jewish practice for women to cover their heads when praying. “That's where I'm going right now – to pay my synagogue dues.
”Fatima had a special greeting for all of the Israelis in attendance.
“Happy New Year to all our friends in Israel,” she said. “We all now have this model of working together.”