Christmas in Bethlehem means souvenirs

With Christmas just around the corner, tourism in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, regarded as the birthplace of Jesus, is at its peak, and so is the anticipated sales of local souvenirs.

The traditional Palestinian handicrafts industry is under threat, however, as it faces tough competition from cheaper Chinese imports.

Zacharia Zacharia of Zacharia Brothers factory, which crafts olivewood products, noticed a drop in sales of locally made souvenirs, particularly rosaries, due to the presence of Chinese imitations.

With an estimated 30,000 tourists expected to spend the holiday season in Bethlehem, local craftsmen have increased production of Christian souvenirs to accommodate the influx of visitors, and its inexpensive alternative.

"The painful reality is that these products are competing with traditional and historical Palestinian products and do not reflect the true message required," said the head Of The Bethlehem Chamber Of Commerce, Samir Hazboun.

"There is no doubt that economic activity comes from commerce; but in our reality it is not only commerce, but we are trying to send a message to every tourist or pilgrim who comes to Bethlehem that we have Palestinian local products that they can take with him," he added.

Maher Canawati, a souvenir-shop owner, says sales regardless drive the local economy, and that alternatives cater to any tourist’s budget.

"Of course, the first thing we do is explain to the tourists that come here that we have local products and we try and impress the tourist that it should be their first choice so that we can promote them and the local economy," said Canawati.

"However, some tourists that come do not have enough money to pay for local products or for olivewood products because they are expensive. So what we do is provide a range so that those who cannot afford olivewood can purchase something cheaper," he continued.

The olive tree is integral to Palestinian heritage. While it is an icon of peace, it has contributed to regional conflict as Israeli authorities have dug up orchards to construct settlements, slowly diminishing the trees and the tradition.


Speakers:

Samir Hazboun - head of the Bethlehem Chamber Of Commerce
Maher Canawati - souvenir-shop owner

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