As a woman, I have always believed this statement to be true — “Women can do anything.” But after 3 months in Hebron, spending time with the owners of Women in Hebron (Jaffa Cooperative), I now know this to be true in a way I hadn’t before. I once watched Laila shoo armed young soldiers away from the door of her shop, as they patrolled the narrow lanes. These are no ordinary women, and this is no ordinary shop. Even the realities of military occupation cannot not keep them from living and working for their families and the Palestinian people.
The co-op is women owned and run and it employs 120 women from 8 different villages around Hebron. The women use their skills in traditional Palestinian embroidery to make beautiful pillow covers, scarfs, curtains, wall hangings, and the very popular coin purses that say “Women Can Do Anything.” Until recently the only shop where you could get these items (except if you buy online) was in the Old City, but on our last day in Hebron Nawal told us the great news that they will be expanding by opening a shop right in the village of Idhna.
Idhna is where Nawal lives, and there she manages a group of 30 women, who create beautiful works of art to sell in the shop. We visited the women of Idhna with Nawal back in March of 2011. It is one of the fondest memories I have of our time in Hebron. It was a Friday evening, so the whole family was around, with little kids running in and out of the room, alternately being shy and showing off for us as their strange guests. We sat around the wall in a big room in the house belonging to one of the women of the coop. Other women joined us.
Since 2005 the women’s cooperative started by Nawal has been empowering Palestinian women from the villages around Hebron to use their skills to earn some money for their families. In a traditional and religious Muslim city, where women are often expected to the stick to the work of raising children and tending to the household affairs, women like Nawal and Leila are extraordinary. As the only women with a shop in the old city of Hebron they have born the brunt of ridicule and questions about the appropriateness of their enterprise. But Laila and Nawal are not deterred by these comments. In fact, it seems they took strength in knowing that what they were doing is right, in spite of what others might think. In their determination was a resolute resistance to anything that keeps people, men or women, from experiencing the freedom and dignity that is their God-created right.