This is the second dispatch in a five part series which explores how Palestinian craft traditions have been impacted by Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
Overlooking the valley of Hebron, and adjoining a quiet garden of olive trees, a breeze-block factory vents a deafening cacophony of machines. Fifteen looms frantically rock back and forth, spinning racks of yarn into intricate webs that mesh to create the iconic Palestinian kuffiyeh scarf.
“It’s a symbol of Palestinians, just like the Palestinian flag,” says Judeh Herbawi, the owner of the last kuffiyeh factory in Palestine.
It seems incongruous that this soft-spoken Hebronite in his bedouin-style gift-shop produces the famous clothing of the anti-occupation protests so often portrayed in the media.
But not every kuffiyeh comes from the Herbawi family factory.
“Imports from China caused problems, but we passed [them],” says Judeh with pleasure, “we have resellers and customers in lots of countries.”
This is partly thanks to their use of social media and marketing, a modern aspect of the factory’s operation.
On the factory floor, three workers wearing earplugs constantly monitor the looms, separating each scarf from the next, threading the new threads, and oiling the hypnotic steampunk mechanisms.
The accumulated lint fibres from the yarn shrouds the gears and adds to their antiquated aesthetic. The tireless looms pulsate, still creating, with no sign of slowing.
Herbawi hopes that his family’s kuffiyeh production acts as an advertisement, spreading awareness of the Palestinian cause. He hopes that by manufacturing the kuffiyeh, “the world will know our civilization and the national symbol.”