Viewpoint: 'Christians of the Holy Land industry' (i)

 Disturbing things that happened lately made me think about writing a series of articles titled 'Christians of the Holy Land Industry'. In each I will point to one issue I consider to be a problem. I hope that readers will consider what I write as an attempt to create awareness that can help us correct the mistakes that we all make for various reasons. A few days ago I was visited by a group of owners of handicrafts workshops Palestinian Christians. What they presented opened my eyes to a problem most of us prefer to hide under the carpet. The Christians of the Holy land are becoming an industry that fills the pockets of few with huge amounts of money. I hope that I will not be misunderstood. I have nothing against people with money, yet I have a serious problem with those who exploit, both the Christians of the Holy Land and other good-hearted Christians who genuinely wants to help. Here is their story: as the crisis in the Holy Land brought the Palestinian economy, and in particular tourism, to a total freeze, producers of handicrafts - who are mostly Christians from the Bethlehem area - worked hard to create marketing channels to their products. A group of pioneers among them started to market in foreign countries, requesting the help of church members at different American and European cities. It is due to the efforts of those pioneers that this sector has managed to survive the hardship of the political and security situation. In this particular marketing process, sellers were highly dependent on the sympathy, cooperation, and support of faithful Christians around the world. They were hosted in their homes and helped to establish contacts that allowed them to sell at the end of Sunday Masses. This was not a totally business-based venture but a combination of solidarity and business. At one of my visits to the United States, I urged people who are facilitating the marketing of Palestinian handicrafts in their churches to request a fair distribution of income generated between the seller and the producer. What I saw important about this process was that so many were involved in marketing that the free competition was set as the standard. Evidently some were more successful than others, some had more advantages than others, but over all that was a Palestinian Christians community based initiative that helped many families to survive. Most of the ones who were doing the sales started hunting for official letters from local churches to help them link with Christian churches abroad. Added to this effort was the effort of a few others who rented stands in major malls and sold their handicrafts on a totally business basis. So what was it that the ones who visited me complained about? According to what they said to me, a church related organization (name can be provided upon request) succeeded in setting a monopoly over this work. No one is allowed to sell in churches but through the organization. Many told me that the church related organization, which is registered in the US, requested huge amounts of money to allow them access to churches. One told me that they demanded $70,000 from him in order to give him permission to sell products in churches in Virginia. The organization claims, and I have no way to check, that the money collected is used to help Palestinian Christians living in the occupied territories. What bothers me is: if they are capable of doing it themselves why it is necessary to obstruct what is already working and came as an initiative from within the community? Palestinian Christians learned how to fish and managed to survive, yet a Church related organization wants to force them to abandon their nets and accept the fish as a charity. That is very disempowering. As well, why there is a need for monopolies? Why should all purchases and sales go through a central organization? How would that reflect on pricing and quality? I see in this dealing with the Christians of the Holy Land an industry that can make a few people richer and more powerful. Why is this organisation trying to undermine the Christian community's efforts to help themselves? Source: Rapprochment ISM

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