Campaign launched to save Hirbawi, Palestine's only keffiyeh factory

Published May 12th, 2016 - 06:40 GMT
Located on the outskirts of the city, Hebron, Hirbawi is the last remaining factory in the country to make the keffiyeh. (CSMonitor)
Located on the outskirts of the city, Hebron, Hirbawi is the last remaining factory in the country to make the keffiyeh. (CSMonitor)

The mutilation of the once important regional trade centres into forgotten spaces of little economic development is yet just another unresolved consequence of the occupation on Palestine.

In its golden days, the footwear industry in West Bank was over a thousand workshops large but now less than a third remain. And little is even mentioned anymore about Silvana, the once famous chocolates and confectionery factory in Ramallah.

Salah Czapary, a Hungarian Palestinian who is now settled in Washington, USA, was inspired to do something to bring business back to his homeland after a visit there last summer.

"I travelled with a group of Palestinian youth from around the world through a programme called Know Thy Heritage. The programme aims to connect diasporic Palestinian youth to their cultural roots and this year's focus was mainly on business development" he said.

On his trip, Czapary visited several banks, farms and factories, including the Hirbawi Textile Factory.

Located on the outskirts of the city, Hebron, it is the last remaining factory in the country to make the kufiya - the iconic, checkered Palestinian scarf donned by the likes of Sting, Colin Farrell and David Beckham.

Founded in 1961, the factory started with just two weaving machines, but as the headscarf became a symbol of activism and Palestinian nationalism, demand quickly rose. But when the Oslo Accord in 1993 opened the market to global competition, nearly all of the local fabric industry became practically defunct.

"One would even be hard pressed to find a locally made kufiya when they visit the markets of Palestine, many of the kufiyas sold being made in China and elsewhere," Czapary explains.

For years, Hirbawi too produced less than a tenth of what it would in it original days.

Yet, almost miraculously, the factory never shut down and continued to produce with the sometimes slow but always assured kinetic noise that may as well be interpreted as the Palestinian song of survival. Inspired, Czapary launched his Website, Threads of Palestine, that sells graphic tees and scarves made from fabric imported directly from Hirbawi. "For me, the kufiya seemed like a natural place to start since it is often called the symbol of Palestine, yet only one factory remains."

In his view, the internet and social media just might be the best hope for the factory to stay in business and his goal is to support it by providing an outlet for customers to buy the traditional scarves as well as modern apparel made from the fabric.

"It is also a convenient platform to focus on the revival of the cultural significance of the kufiya and the fact that it is, as an art form, at risk of being lost," he adds.

Many of the Palestinians from the younger generations believe that using social media not only helps reconnect them to their roots but also increase awareness amidst others.

"If I can use social media to help even one person get a better understanding of what is culturally significant to Palestine, to me that's a win for my people," says Mahmoud B, a student and active Palestinian blogger.

Mahmoud, who was born in Gaza city and now lives in Canada, adds that he is hopeful that through such platforms, the generations to come will be more informed than their predecessors by the time they replace the older decision-making generations.

Activists and others celebrated the World Keffiyeh Day on May 11 by posting pictures of themselves in the scarf on various social media platforms.

By Rabiya Shabeeh 

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