In little town of Bethlehem, artisans take on Chinese knockoffs

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Sup­port machine trans­la­tion:
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In little town of Beth­le­hem, artis­ans take on Chinese knock­offs

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — Christ­mas is approach­ing and pil­grims and tour­ists have begun to arrive, crowding the souven­ir shops that line the nar­row streets and alleys of Beth­le­hem, the bib­lic­al town revered as Jesus’ birth­place.

But when vis­it­ors choose to take a piece of the Holy Land back home with them, they bet­ter check the labels. Many souven­irs — includ­ing the West Bank town’s trade­mark ros­ary beads — are impor­ted from abroad, mainly China.

A small num­ber of souven­ir shops are now try­ing to fight the trend, stock­ing their shelves almost exclus­ively with loc­ally made products. Shop­keep­ers say that while their wares may be more expens­ive, the qual­ity is much bet­ter and they give an import­ant boost to the strug­gling eco­nomy.

“I’ve got noth­ing that is made over­seas except for one thing, that’s the mag­nets. It’s some­thing that sells for cheap and people want them,”” said Bassem Giaca­man, own­er of the Bless­ings Gift Shop and The Olive Wood Fact­ory. ““Everything else is made loc­ally so I can keep the loc­al eco­nomy work­ing.””

Some 120,000 people are expec­ted to vis­it the Holy Land this hol­i­day sea­son, half of them Chris­ti­an, accord­ing to Israel’s Tour­ism Min­istry.

Many will vis­it Beth­le­hem, where glob­al­iz­a­tion has left its imprint like every­where else. For­eign-made crafts, espe­cially Chinese ones, have come to rep­res­ent a big part of the mar­ket here, includ­ing Christ­mas souven­irs. While there are no offi­cial stat­ist­ics, loc­al offi­cials and busi­ness­men estim­ate that nearly half of the products, per­haps more, are impor­ted.

Giaca­man keeps just a few impor­ted products in his store, most of them hid­den in a small box beneath a coun­ter. He takes them out to show cus­tom­ers and com­pare them to Palestini­an-made ones.

“This is a plastic Jesus baby made in China and this is a ceram­ic one made in Beth­le­hem, and these are the olive wood ros­ar­ies that I make and the Chinese ones,”” he said, proudly show­ing what he said was the super­i­or crafts­man­ship of the loc­ally made goods.

Beth­le­hem is in the West Bank, occu­pied ter­rit­ory the Palestini­ans hope will be part of their future state. Tour­ism remains strong, but the rest of the eco­nomy has long lan­guished, in part because of Israeli restric­tions. Tour­ists must pass through a check­point in Israel’s sep­ar­a­tion bar­ri­er to reach the town.

The ”“Vis­it Palestine Center,”” loc­ated in a 200year-old house along a stone stair­way just a few hun­dred meters (yards) from The Church of the Nativ­ity, pro­motes a ”“Made in Palestine”” label.

“There’s a big influx of impor­ted products and a lot of tra­di­tion­al crafts are declin­ing gradu­ally,”” said Samy Khoury, the center’s founder and gen­er­al man­ager.

The Vis­it Palestine Center, which star­ted as an online store and travel guide five years ago, works with nearly 100 work­shops and home-based artis­ans through­out the Palestini­an ter­rit­or­ies and in Palestini­an refugee camps in Jord­an.

It fea­tures Palestini­an tra­di­tion­al crafts, includ­ing Christ­mas-related ones like olive wood ros­ar­ies and mother of pearl orna­ments. The center tar­gets inde­pend­ent trav­el­ers and takes a fair trade approach to its busi­ness.

Try­ing to sell only Palestini­an-made products comes with chal­lenges.

“Main­tain­ing con­sist­ency and qual­ity, the right lead time, fig­ur­ing how much pro­duc­tion capa­city the pro­du­cers can give,”” are some of them, explained Khoury.

Then there’s the issue of price.

Maher Canawati, own­er of the Three Arches souven­ir shop, sells loc­ally made gifts and even has a wood work­shop in the back. But he keeps room for imports as well.

“We have to carry all kinds of mer­chand­ise in our shop because we have dif­fer­ent mar­kets and dif­fer­ent pil­grims with dif­fer­ent budgets,”” said Canawati, whose fam­ily has provided ser­vices to pil­grims since the 16th cen­tury.

Canawati said he wants to give his cus­tom­ers options, and he is clear about the dif­fer­ences.

“A dozen of made-in-China ros­ar­ies sell for $4 while a dozen of loc­ally made sell for $25,”” he said. ““The made-in-China Jesus babies sell for $20 and the Beth­le­hem ones sell for $64.””

While craft work­shop own­ers grumble about for­eign imports, not every­one believes the imports have ser­i­ously threatened loc­al mer­chants and artis­ans.

“It’s a busi­ness,”” said Samir Hazboun, Chair­man of the Beth­le­hem Cham­ber of Com­mer­ce. ““I’m not aware of any­one run­ning out of busi­ness because of the imports.””

Ali Abu Srour, dir­ect­or gen­er­al of the Palestini­an Tour­ism Min­istry, said the gov­ern­ment is try­ing to update its tour­ism laws to pro­tect loc­al pro­du­cers and mer­chants.

Under the pro­posed reg­u­la­tions, shop­keep­ers would be required to carry 70 per­cent loc­ally made products, with clear labels that dis­tin­guish between imports and ”“Made in Palestine”” ones.

Muham­mad Yusuf, a wood crafts­man with The Olive Wood Fact­ory, scoffs at the imports.

“It’s not good, this is bet­ter,”” he said with a smile as he worked on a fig­ure of the Vir­gin Mary.

Back at the Bless­ings Gift Shop, Julie Del­er, 24, a tour­ist from Ger­many, bought a small olive wood camel made by a Palestini­an crafts­man.

“I prefer loc­ally made because I want to sup­port the loc­als,”” she said.

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Appoġġ ta traduzz­joni awto­matika:
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Fil belt ta ftit Betlem, artiġ­jani jieħ­du fuq knock­offs Ċin­iż

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — Milied qed joqrob u pel­legrini u tur­isti bdew jaslu, ifful­lar-ħwien­et souven­ir dik il-lin­ja-tor­oq dojoq u sqaqi­en ta Betlem, il-belt bib­liċi revered bħala post fejn twieled Ġesù.

Imma meta viżit­aturi jagħżlu li jieħ­du biċċa ta l-Art Imqaddsa lura d-dar magħhom, huma aħjar tiċċekkja l-tikket­ti. Ħafna tifkiri­et — inklużi żibeġ rużar­ju tre­jd­mark tal-belt Xatt tal-Pun­ent tal — huma import­ati minn bar­ra, l-aktar iċ-Ċina.

Num­ru żgħir ta ħwien­et souven­ir issa qed jip­pruvaw għall-ġlieda kon­tra l-tenden­za, istokkjar ixkafef tagħhom kważi esklus­siva­ment ma’ pro­dot­ti magħmu­la lokal­ment. Shop­keep­ers jgħidu li fil­waqt fur­n­ara tagħhom jist­għu jkunu iktar għaljin, il-kwal­ità hija ħafna aħjar u jagħtu spinta import­anti lill-eko­nom­i­ja tis­sara.

“Sta­jt qbil­na xejn li huwa magħmul bar­ran­in ħlief għal ħaġa waħda, li l – kalam­iti. Hija xi ħaġa li tbiegħ għall-irħas u n-nies jix­tiequ min­nhom,”” qal Bassem Giaca­man, sid il-ħanut Bless­ings Gift u l-injam Fact­ory żebbuġa. ““Kollox huwa magħmul lokal­ment so I tista żżomm l-eko­nom­i­ja lokali tax-xogħol.””

Xi 120,000 nies huma mis­ten­ni­ja li jżuru l-Art Imqaddsa dan l-istaġun tal-vag­an­zi, nof­shom chris­ti­an, skond il Tur­iżmu Min­isteru Iżrael.

Ħafna se jżuru Betle­hem, fejn il-glob­alizza­zz­joni ħal­la marka tagħha bħal kul­limki­en ieħor. Bar­ran­in magħmu­la sna­j­ja ‘, speċ­jalment dawk Ċin­iżi, waslu biex jir­rappreżentaw parti kbira tas-suq hawn, inkluż tifkiri­et tal-Milied. Fil­waqt li m’hemm l-ebda stat­istika uffiċ­jali, uffiċ­jali lokali u negoz­janti jist­maw li kważi nofs il-pro­dot­ti, for­si aktar, huma import­ati.

Giaca­man jżomm biss il-pro­dot­ti import­ati ftit fil-maħżen tiegħu, ħafna min­nhom moħbi­ja f’kaxxa żgħira taħt kon­tro. Huwa jieħu min­nhom out biex juru klijenti u jqabbluhom ma dawk Palestin­jani magħmu­la.

“Din hija plastik Ġesù tar­bi­ja magħmu­la fiċ-Ċina u dan huwa wieħed taċ-ċerami­ka magħmu­la f’Betlem, u dawn huma l-ros­ar­ies injam taż-żebbuġ li nagħmel u dawk Ċin­iżi,”” huwa qal, kburi li juru dak li qal kien l-sengħa super­juri tal- magħmu­la lokal­ment oġġet­ti.

Betlem hija fil-West Bank, ter­rit­or­ju Palestin­jan tama se jkun parti mill-istat futur tagħhom okku­pati. Tur­iżmu għadha qawwija, iżda l-bqi­ja tal-eko­nom­i­ja ilha lan­guished, par­z­jalment minħab­ba r-restrizz­jon­iji­et Iżrael­jani. Tur­isti għan­du jgħad­di minn punt ta kon­troll fil bar­ri­era ta’ sep­arazz­joni Iżrael biex jilħqu l-belt.

Il- ““Żur Palestina Center,”” li jinsabu f’dar 200-il sena qod­ma tul taraġ ġebel ftit miji­et ta met­ri (tar­zni) minn Il-Knis­ja tan-Nativ­ità, tip­prom­wovi ““Made fil-Palestina”” tikketta.