Manger Square, Bethlehem

The delicate olive wood sculpted by Palestinian artisans at Salem Giacaman Sons is, literally, all in the family. The shop, Il Bambino, sits in Manger Square in Bethlehem, near the Church of the Nativity. The carving studio is a just a few blocks away, down a side street.

Ibrahim Giacaman operates the family business alongside his brothers, Robert and Michael. Ibrahim is a fourth generation Palestinian artisan, reproducing olive wood art originally designed by his great-great-grandfather, Salem Giacaman. The distinguished carvers who work there turn out new designs, too, crafted from olive wood near Bethlehem obtained by the necessary pruning of the ancient trees. Though the designs are made over and over each year, no two sculptures or ornaments look alike because the graining of the olive wood is so different from tree to tree dependent on the age of the tree when pruned.

The olive crop is a mainstay of the Palestinian farming economy. The trees are pruned annually and the pruned branches used for the olive wood designs at the Il Bambino Shop. During the last decade, the Palestinian olive groves have been systemically uprooted and destroyed in the West Bank and Gaza by the Israeli military and settlers.

In the Giacamans’ shop, there are nativities of all sizes, crosses of all styles, as well as rosaries, pendants and Christmas tree ornaments. A religious theme for the designs is prevalent.