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 Al-Nakba, the catastrophe that befell on the Palestinina people with the founding of the State of Israel. Located in the the old market area just off the renowned Manger Square, 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 Helen Elousi, 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. Many young women pay for their university education with their earning from the embroidery work.
P.O. Box 19
Bethlehem, West Bank
Telefax: (+972) 02-274-2589