I recently had the opportunity to visit a small Palestinian tatreez cooperative in Surif, Hebron. The cooperative, set in a small village outside of Hebron, is run by two remarkable women, Um Mu2men and Halimeh. Though I've been sourcing their work through a fair trade shop for two and a half years - I hadn't had a chance to visit their workshop and I was eager to see it in person and learn more about their work to preserve traditional Palestinian cross stitch embroidery while providing employment to the women in their village.
Getting to Surif wasn't easy. Foolishly, I followed google maps thinking it could get me to this tiny village outside of Hebron. And it almost did. But what google maps doesn't tell you, is that often times, entrances to small villages in the West Bank are blocked by the occupation. So after getting to the village entrance - only 6 minutes away from the Surif Women's Cooperative I learned that I had to make a long 35 minute detour around the area, because the army had blocked the road into the village with large stones. It had been closed off for years, as a form of collective punishment against its residents.
Worried about me getting lost, or accidentally driving into a settlement, Um Mu2men, insisted to video call me and stay on the line with me until I reached Surif. She stayed on the phone with me for the full 35 minutes, keeping an eye on the road and ensuring that I didn't accidentally drive into any settlements. When I approached the nearby village, she even had her 12-year-old son meet me and guide me to the cooperative.
When I arrived, I was warmly greeted by Halimeh, a sweet and dedicated woman who had been working at the cooperative for almost 20 years. Her devotion to the craft was evident in every aspect of her work. She proudly shared with me that she personally oversees each and every embroidered piece that comes out of the cooperative, making sure that it's washed, finished, and ironed to perfection.
I was struck by Halimeh's commitment to the craft of Palestinian tatreez, her attention to detail, and her patience with me as I learned how the cooperative works. She told me that almost 150 women are directly and indirectly involved with Surif Women's Cooperative. Through buying a "share", sold a negligent amount, women can become members. Once they become members, they can generate employment for themselves based on the amount of pieces they choose to embroider each month.
Needless to say, I left with two large bags filled with beautiful Palestinian tatreez treasures including colorful embroidered cushions, runners, wall hangings, and more. I was so glad I made the effort to go there in person. As Halimeh put the final finishing touches on the pieces I picked out, I went outside to breathe in the fresh brisk air and the fragrant lemon tree outside the cooperative.
I know that having one of their main roads blocked off is just one small aspect of the hardship of daily life under occupation in this small village. Despite that, and despite understanding the crippling context under which these women are working, I left inspired by their strength and resilience and their commitment to their craft. At the end of the day, I love their work, and I am grateful for the opportunity to partner with them and share their creations with you all.