Finding Palestine Abroad

Walking along Edinburgh’s prestigious George Street, on an August afternoon with the wind and drizzle whipping my umbrella around, Palestine was far from my mind. 

That was until I stumbled across Hadeel, a Palestinian Fair trade craft shop, nestled inside one of the grand Georgian buildings. Stepping inside, I was astonished to see almost identical stock to Sunbula, our East Jerusalem treasure trove of crafts. Suddenly, the unique gifts I had brought back from the Holy Land didn’t feel as irreplaceable anymore.

Laura, the manager on duty when I visited, explained to me that the founder of Hadeel had lived in Jerusalem for many years as wife of the Minister of St Andrew’s Scottish Church in Jerusalem. During her time there, she started selling Palestinian handicrafts within the Church and as this grew it led to Sunbula being established in its current location in Sheikh Jarrah. When the founder returned to Edinburgh, she replicated the success of Sunbula and Hadeel was born.

The principles of the enterprises are the same. A leaflet I am given says that Hadeel ‘aims to provide a sustainable source of income for Palestinian artisans and farmers working in fair trade organisations and social enterprises’. On display within the shop are familiar embroidery items like cushions and wall hangings, olive wood carvings, keffiyeh scarfs along with olive oil, dates and other Palestinian specialities.

Hadeel can be found on George Street in Edinburgh

I was also impressed to see the beautiful Zaytouna jewellery on display in Hadeel’s window. This was a recent discovery to my Jerusalem friends and I, and yet here in Edinburgh was an almost identical silver olive leaf necklace to the one I was wearing.

I was interested in finding out more about how the business manages to export the goods given the complications and restrictions imposed on Palestinian goods by Israel. Laura said that an agent in Jerusalem collects the items from the various suppliers around the West Bank and arranges for them to be flown or shipped over. The process is not cheap, and it is even harder getting items out of Gaza.

Hadeel’s strong connections with the Church of Scotland has always brought in a steady stream of customers but the business is in the process of modernising to appeal to a wider range of customers. Laura is passionate about supporting local Palestinian designers to keep the artform alive and is exploring new ways to offer hand embellished items of clothing alongside the more traditional items.  

Keffiyehs from the Hirbawi factory in Hebron

When asked what they sell most of, Laura and Sally the volunteer I met, don’t hesitate to say, ‘olive wood carvings fly off the shelves at Christmas time, and the keffiyehs sell well all year round’. The keffiyeh is a Palestinian scarf, traditionally in black and white but now available in a range of colours that make a more subtle yet poignant statement. The Hirbawi factory in Hebron where these originate from is well known as being the last Palestinian factory to make the scarfs. It is understandable given the climate in Scotland, that the scarves have appeal all year round.   

The Hadeel shop is only one way in which the people of Edinburgh show support for Palestine. There are several organisations that are active in the community including Edinburgh Action for Palestine which organises regular events including webinars, stalls on Princes Street each Saturday and raises awareness through social media. The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Scottish Friends of Palestine are also active and together these organisations show a Scottish warmth and solidarity with Palestine.

Leaving Hadeel, I walk through the West End streets towards Palmerston Place. Despite passing this area frequently in the past, it was only after we moved to Jerusalem, that I became aware that the large metal key outside St Mary’s Cathedral was a Palestinian ‘key of return’ symbolising the displacement of many Palestinian families during 1948. It remains a focal point in the city for Palestinian supporters to meet.

The Awda key of return in Palmerston Place, Edinburgh

The BBC news that evening carries the story of the Palestinian family in Silwan that had to tear down their own home while many more families face eviction. The short news clip inevitably failed to do justice to the complicated backstory that has made terrible scenes like this of unnecessary destruction entirely commonplace in Jerusalem.

Despite being uplifted by the evidence I found that people in Scotland care deeply about Palestine, sadly this isn’t being mirrored by the politicians in Westminster who hold the strings on the UK’s approach to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.       

You can visit Hadeel at 123 George Street in Edinburgh on buy products from their online shop.         

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