Palestinian Workers

by Rich Wiles

At the heart of traditional Palestinian industries are historical production techniques that have been fine-tuned through generations and which in some cases stretch back over one thousand years. These once flourishing industries which include the production of olive oil soap in Nablus, olive wood carving in Bethlehem and shoemaking in Hebron are today barely surviving.

Artisan industries around the world are teetering under the weight of globalisation. This challenge is compounded in Palestine by the added struggles of surviving under ongoing Israeli occupation, which includes Israel’s full control over all Palestinian borders and its exploitation of natural resources.

Palestine’s traditional industries grew at a time when the movement of people and goods around the Arab world enriched them. This two-way flow included the transportation of raw hides from Damascus, Beirut and Cairo to supply tanneries in Hebron, and the marketplaces of the Arab world that accounted for the vast majority of sales of Nablus’ olive oil soap. In sharp contrast, workers in the West Bank today cannot even reach other Palestinian cities without passing through Israeli military checkpoints, and Jerusalem has disappeared behind Israel’s Wall.

With a widespread lack of employment opportunities in the West Bank, including within the traditional industries which today collectively employ only a fraction of their former workforce, many workers would feel impelled to attempt to pass the Wall and its checkpoints to seek work in Jerusalem or inside Israel itself if they were able to acquire the necessary work permits. Yet these Israeli-issued permits are denied to most Palestinians. Those who are ‘lucky enough’ to be issued work permits are then forced to queue from the early hours of the morning at military checkpoints in the hope of reaching work.At the heart of traditional Palestinian industries are historical production techniques that have been fine-tuned through generations and which in some cases stretch back over one thousand years. These once flourishing industries which include the production of olive oil soap in Nablus, olive wood carving in Bethlehem and shoemaking in Hebron are today barely surviving.

Artisan industries around the world are teetering under the weight of globalisation. This challenge is compounded in Palestine by the added struggles of surviving under ongoing Israeli occupation, which includes Israel’s full control over all Palestinian borders and its exploitation of natural resources.

Palestine’s traditional industries grew at a time when the movement of people and goods around the Arab world enriched them. This two-way flow included the transportation of raw hides from Damascus, Beirut and Cairo to supply tanneries in Hebron, and the marketplaces of the Arab world that accounted for the vast majority of sales of Nablus’ olive oil soap. In sharp contrast, workers in the West Bank today cannot even reach other Palestinian cities without passing through Israeli military checkpoints, and Jerusalem has disappeared behind Israel’s Wall.

With a widespread lack of employment opportunities in the West Bank, including within the traditional industries which today collectively employ only a fraction of their former workforce, many workers would feel impelled to attempt to pass the Wall and its checkpoints to seek work in Jerusalem or inside Israel itself if they were able to acquire the necessary work permits. Yet these Israeli-issued permits are denied to most Palestinians. Those who are ‘lucky enough’ to be issued work permits are then forced to queue from the early hours of the morning at military checkpoints in the hope of reaching work.

START DATE: Sep 30th
END DATE: Oct 22nd

12:00 pm
5:00 pm

Rich Wiles (b. 1974 Hull) graduated with an HND in Photography from Hull School of Art and
Design in 2003 and within a few months made his first trip to Palestine. By 2005 Wiles was living
in a Palestinian refugee camp where he remained for many years, dividing his time between
personal long-term projects, writing and participatory photography projects with children of the
camp. Eventually, he founded a grassroots, sustainable and youth-led participatory photography
centre in the camp with a local NGO, Lajee Centre, which remains active today.

His long-term documentary work and participatory projects have been exhibited widely, with
exhibitions in 12 countries to date. Examples of this work are held in the collections of the
DeLevante Foundation (Amsterdam), Gallerie Maria Veie (Oslo) and p21 Gallery (London). His
work has been recognised in the Sony World Photography Awards, Humanity Photography Awards,
Travel Photographer of the Year, FujiFilm Student Digital Photographer of the Year, and in 2011 he
was awarded the Palestine Photography Award by the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Culture.

Wiles work has been featured by VICE, Conde Naste, The British Journal of Photography, Times
Educational Supplement, Al Jazeera and the BBC among others, and he carries out commissions for
national and international NGO. Rich Wiles has authored and/or edited 6 books showcasing his
various projects in Palestine.

In 2016, Rich Wiles returned to Hull and was awarded an Arts Council England research and
development grant to support the rebuilding of his socially-engaged practice in the UK, and in
August 2017 he was announced as the winner of the St. Hughs Foundation Arts Award.

Exhibition details

START DATE: Sep 30th
END DATE: Oct 22nd

12:00 pm
5:00 pm

Location details

Creative and Cultural 4
HU1 2PQ