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Arab Orthodox Society

Here we share the story of four of the women whose embroidery is done with the Arab Orthodox Society's Melia Art & Training Center in Jerusalem. You can order their work through our online store. You can also read a Jerusalem Post article about the Melia Center.

Women at the Melia Art & Training Center

Traditional Palestinian Embroidery in the Holy Land Today (2004)

Najwa Karaji from the village of Halhul near Hebron started working with the Melia Center about 15 years ago. She is a very energetic and determined woman. Although the population of the village is Muslim, many women there (among them is Najwa), do not cover their heads and do not wear long dresses the way they do elsewhere. Najwa’s mother used to travel a lot for business. She was kidnapped and disappeared in Syria. Najwa was a young woman at that time and she had to take care of her elderly father, brothers and sisters. She came to the Melia Center asking for work and started doing embroidery with her sisters. Now she distributes embroidery work to 30 women in the village. Many women come to her asking for work. Her husband has even learned how to embroider and does very good work. He likes taking care of their only daughter who is not in good health. Najwa is a good mother and a very intelligent and capable business woman. She has built a house for herself and her family, found husbands for three of her sisters and sent her brothers to university. To increase her income she found a job as a door woman for St. Joseph’s girls’ school. The school also intercedes with the Israeli army to get Najwa a special permit to go and come from the West Bank to Jerusalem. Besides working in embroidery and keeping a city job Najwa finds time each year to gather grape leaves, which she brings to Jerusalem to sell. Thus, Najwa remains connected to the land. To make commuting from Halhul to Jerusalem shorter and to avoid at least some of the checkpoints, Najwa rented an apartment in Bethlehem. However, there are times when the Israeli army does not allow anyone through the checkpoints and then even the permit she has is of no help, but this does not deter Najwa from climbing up walls and jumping over fences to get to Jerusalem. She has hurt herself many times by jumping from a high wall. A few times other women have stolen her huge sack of embroidery which she threw down from the wall before jumping herself. Israeli soldiers have also caught her on days of closure and escorted her back to the West Bank.

Najwa and the women from Halhul do all sorts of designs, but one of the typical designs from Halhul is the “green flower”. It has somewhat pale colors which stand out on the black background. The flowers are very elegant and graceful. Their straight, geometric shapes are reminiscent of Najwa’s straightforward and firm character, as if they too are determined to continue growing in gardens and on hills through walls and barbed wires.

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