Nablus, 63 kilometers from Jerusalem in the north of the West Bank, was once the economic capital of Palestine. Its olive oil soap; along with Aleppo soap, was once exported around the entire Mediterranean. But during the clashes and destruction of the Second Intifada, the uprising that lasted from 2000 to 2010, the historic center of Nablus became an epicenter of violence. The city is still suffering the devastating after-effects, with unemployment estimated at 80% and around 65% of the population living below the poverty threshold.
Yet even in such difficult circumstances, signs of hope are emerging. One of them is Bait al Karama, which means “house of dignity,” the first center for women in the old town. Its aims are to create jobs for all those who have suffered trauma and loss during and after the Second Intifada and to run a program of social, psychological and educational support for women and children.
Bait al Karama is also Slow Food’s Nablus convivium and hosts the first international school for Palestinian cooking entirely run by women from the West Bank. The project evolved out of the awareness that while Palestinian cooking offers an incredible variety of Arab dishes and specialties, it is little known in both the Middle East and the West. Nablus was once the crossroads of many important commercial routes and home to several of the country’s richest families, who supported the development of a refined cuisine. Some of Palestine’s most fascinating dishes originated here, the result of the meeting of spices, meat and vegetables from distant countries. The desserts, in particular, represent the peak of this tradition.
Bait al Karama is restoring local women’s pride in their own identity, giving them the chance to pass on a rich heritage of traditions. And on March 5, several of the women were invited to the European Parliament to present their project of hope. What better way to celebrate International Women’s Day, March 8, than with this meeting between Palestine and Europe with the women of Bait al Karama?