What Israeli Closures Mean for Us and Other Creatives in Palestine

Before October 7, it was challenging. Today it's nearly impossible. I used to go on artisan visits and they would take me a day. Hour and a half each way to Bethlehem, that leaves plenty of time to visit artisans. Or 45 min drive to Nablus, that leaves enough time to grab knaffeh and stroll through the Old City even. 

Now, no way. I mean there's literally no way to get in or out of places. The Israeli have blocked everywhere. As you drive, you see every single Palestinian village and town has a new (courtesy of the Israeli military, aka courtesy of the US tax payers) orange metal gate closing off the entrance road.  

Unlike before Oct 7, the day that changed the world and certainly changed my life forever, there are armoured Israeli military vehicles every so often with soldiers often standing behind blockades nearby or near cars, standing there and always (always!!) pointing their damn weapons at us as we drive by on OUR roads. Checkpoints that were not manned for years are now activated, and new checkpoints are everywhere. Drivers are on their phones constantly trying to find out which route to take, which is safest, fastest, or just open.

The very roads have changed as the architecture of occupation always shifts to be more intelligent in its oppression. More efficient in giving way (and ensuring safety and blindness) to the illegal Jewish settlers while hiding, inconveniencing or all-together blockading the indigenous, colonized population.

This means that people are of course inconvenienced at best or economically devastated at worst when their shops are blockaded and businesses fail. But it means on a larger scale, entire cities are blockaded as closures crush local economies.  The Old City of Nablus, a normally bustling and vibrant market where everyone throughout the region shops, is now simply a ghost town.

This means that tourist economies like Bethlehem are fully crushed while even local or internal tourism is blocked. And on an individual level, work becomes scarce. It also means that accessing materials for work, or sending products from artisan to us, or shipping from us to you--all of this becomes challenging or on many days simply impossible. One of our artisans said when she sees the hardware she needs for her straps, she buys it all because you just don't know when they'll have more. In our work with traditional tatreez, I see the unreliable access to raw materials and the way it changes designs and product dimensions and it is an absolute disaster for us.

Ultimately Israeli closures render economic growth impossible and creatives are often the first to suffer. A few weeks ago in Bethlehem, I rented a room at an artisans home for the night because day trips to see artisans are really impossible. Now I go and sleep over since the journey often takes 3-5 hours each way these days. While I was eating breakfast, his wife was telling another woman that she couldn't even afford cucumbers anymore...there was no work and no money. It broke my heart.  I stopped eating the breakfast she'd laid out for me, even though I was a paying guest, realizing that she'd bought cucumbers for my breakfast spread which she now saw as a luxury she couldn't afford for herself. In true Palestinian fashion, when she saw me leave the table she urged me to eat more. But I realized I was literally eating the food from her breakfast.

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