This past weekend, from August 31 to September 2, the Souq and Nazerat Illit’s megamalls had some extra competition for business because the Palestinian Products Exhibition was in town. The Exhibition was held in the Mary’s Well district of Nazareth in the same building as the Golden Crown Hotel. Over 40 Palestinian-owned and operated companies came to display their wares for the Nazareth business community, but also directly to consumers. Many sectors of Palestinian industry were represented. There was a chocolate company, soap makers, candy wholesalers, furniture sellers, and even a brewery.
I wandered through the lobby of the Golden Crown on Monday morning. It was a little before noon and I was hoping to avoid the heaviest hours of foot traffic, but even at that hour, when the bright desert sun was blaring down from its peak, the booths were busy.
Before exploring the two full floors of booths and stalls, I took the opportunity to check out the Exhibition’s promotional materials. It was no surprise that this ostensibly commercial enterprise had a political undertone. Each company represented was allotted two pages in hefty booklet. On which they were profiled briefly, gave contact information, and gave the motive for their participation in Exhibition. To my eyes, the sight of the Golden Crown lobby filled with bustling crowds of local business owners and consumers made motives apparent, and many of the businesses did indeed describe their presence as an effort to simply “open new markets”. However, some of these companies see some sort of secondary Palestinian nationalist ambition to their participation. One company in particular, New Farm Company for Marketing and Agriculture, described their objective as “to market the company’s products in the occupied Palestine 1948.” Describing the Arab Palestinian minority in Israel as “occupied” is an interesting choice for a company looking to build business relations in Israel and turn a profit given how controversial some Israeli would see that claim. But, their boldness expresses the condition of the Palestinians in Israel and no one reading these promotional materials is going to be offended. Palestinian business can define themselves in solidarity with the Palestinian minority in Israel because of the intense separation between Jewish Israeli and Palestinian Arab communities. New Farm is not going to lose business.
New Farm is not alone in defining their commercial enterprise in terms of Palestinian solidarity. Many other businesses in attendance described their regional goals with reference to “the green line” and “’48 territories”. Another attendee, Emirates Delights Company, was motivated to participate by a desire to “enhance the company’s name and display its various luxury products for the Palestinian consumer inside the Green Line.” Though others alluded to this fact, the premise was clear; these companies from Gaza and the West Bank were producing and marketing goods for primarily Palestinian consumers, be they in Israel or the Occupied Territories. Even a simple exhibition of consumer products takes on a political purpose in Nazareth; for this one, it was an exhibition not only of Palestinian products, but also of Palestinian nationalism.
I had a great time chatting with some of the vendors and I have to say the stalls filled with chocolate were very tempting. Here are some photos from the exhibition:
Paul Karolyi the current intern at the Arab Association for Human Rights.