Palestine Pulse

Online portal offers Palestinian diaspora piece of home

Article Summary
A Palestinian businesswoman has adopted the tradition of gift baskets to bring a taste of homeland to Palestinian diaspora.

GAZA CITY — In Palestinian tradition, when people in the countryside visited each other, they brought along gifts arranged in traditional baskets that also contained a sachet of henna and flowers. The gift was called "talleh," and it inspired a Palestinian entrepreneur, Asmahan Ilian, to develop a successful business to help Palestinian women by providing them employment. Hence Talleh, an online gift platform, is this month one year old.

“The idea for ​​the project was inspired by the longing of Palestinians abroad for something reminiscent of their homeland,” Ilian told Al-Monitor by phone from Jerusalem, where she lives. “I also wanted to use the Palestinian tradition of gift giving.”

Talleh's offerings focus on traditional gifts. Among them are small decorative wooden boxes for holding such items as cigarettes and jewelry, ceramic pots with Middle Eastern motifs and home accessories, such as tablecloths, towels and trays, all handcrafted from local cotton and wood, especially olive wood. Most of the fabrics carry traditional Palestinian designs.

“Thanks to the project, you can get a talleh wherever you are,” she said. “Not all Palestinians abroad can visit their homeland but Talleh can send them traditional gifts to ease their homesickness and nostalgia.”

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Ilian, who has worked with international organizations for 18 years, launched the project in September 2016 and succeeded in registering it as a trademark this year. It employs about 15 Palestinian women, some of whom are 60 or older.

“The project promotes women’s employment,” Ilian said. “I hope to employ 45 women by the end of next year.” Unemployment among Palestinian women in East Jerusalem currently stands at around 87%.

The women who create gift products for Talleh primarly work from home, as does Ilian. Full time and part time are both options. There are also jobs in graphic design, marketing and customer care.

According to Ilian, the demand for Talleh products in the project's first year has been remarkable in terms of quantity, variety and appreciation. “Local and international demand has exceeded all expectations,” she said. Ilian created a Facebook presence alongside the project's website to reach Palestinians around the world. The Facebook page, however, has also brought her local “walk-in” customers.

Talleh products and gifts purchased through the internet can be delivered worldwide without difficulty. “Talleh was created because some 6 million Palestinians live in the diaspora and long for a whiff of their homeland,” Ilian said. According to a report issued by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, at the end of last year, the estimated Palestinian population worldwide had reached 12.7 million. Among those in the diaspora, some 5.59 million live in Arab countries, and about 696,000 elsewhere in the world.

Boshra Abu Khudair, an East Jerusalem resident, works with Talleh as a designer. She told Al-Monitor that she began working five months ago and came up with the idea of combining heritage and modernity for textile motifs. “I create modern gifts with a traditional touch,” Abu Khudair said, explaining that some gifts are made of damask, which is used for Palestinian women's traditional attire in Jerusalem. She adopts Islamic designs for other gifts as well.

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Ahmed el-Komi, a Palestinian journalist from Gaza, writes for a number of Arab and international newspapers, magazines and media sites. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the Islamic University in Gaza and is currently working on a master's degree in Middle Eastern studies at Al-Azhar University.

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