Author : PNN | Readings : 245 | Date : 2012-07-23
Despite the difficult economic situation confronting businesses in the West Bank several factories in the industrial centre of Hebron have managed to establish themselves as a success. Their survival is in part the result of the high quality of their work and also because of tradition. Hebron is the most important manufacturing place for sandals, has the only weaving mill for Arabic scarfs called Kufiya or Hattah in the whole of Palestine and has a long tradition of glassblowing.
Besides footwear the company Ferrari & Camel also still manufactures bags by hand. All of the leather products come from Palestinian cultured cows, sheep and camels. Mr. Haji Badawi Zaatari and his sons founded the business in 1971 and today it is the leading Palestinian manufacturer of leatherwear and currently employs seven workers. One of the most important sources of income is its export to Saudi Arabia.
The Arabic Kufiya is manufactured in the Hirbawi Textile factory, which is the only Kufiya factory left in Palestine. Founded in 1961 by Yasser Hirbawi, who owned 15 weaving looms. Today there are just eight in use. On the question, what might be the reason how this company could exist as the only one in the West Bank, Mr. Hirbawi answered: "We use high class natural fiber for the production. Further we have a lot of experience, since we've never done anything else. The others didn't have that and they didn't have as many weaving mills as we do." The Hirbawi Textile factory earns most of its annual turnover by export to countries like the USA, France and Canada where he sells more Kufiyas than in Palestine, Hirbawi says.
The Hebron Glass & Ceramics glassblowing factory is one of two such remaining factories in Hebron, where this handcraft has been cultivated for several hundred years. There were some Hebronian glass artifacts discovered, which could be dated to the first and second century D.C. According to the owner of Hebron Glass & Ceramics, Mr. Hamdi Natsheh, the factory has been practicing the glassblowing handcraft now for more than 550 years. Besides the long tradition, one special technique in particular characterizes the products. After the molten glass has been formed into its blank shape with a long metal pipe a kammasha, a long metal instrument, is used for finishing. For an extraordinary Phoenician design, first the glass is blown in a single color and after that further colors are added on the items surface.
Exports are playing an important role in Hamdi Natsheh's company as well with exports accounting for 50% of the annual turnover. He exports to France, the USA, Canada, Germany and others.
What these factories have in common though, besides the manufacture of high-class products, are the harsh conditions they operate in as a result of the Israeli occupation, and the import of cheap imitation copies of existing goods. All three employers said that the Israeli government tries to displace them from the market by enhancing the taxes and making business conditions difficult. Currently Palestinian businesses are subject to import and export taxes from both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government.
Mr. Rebha Zaatari, the manager of Ferrari & Camel, spoke about the difficulties of exporting to Saudi Arabia: "You need permission for that, but not only from the Palestinian Authority. If I want to sell my products to Saudi Arabia I need it from the Israeli and the Jordanian public authorities as well. I can only sell products into Israel, if the origin of the product itself is not evident, which means if there is nothing written on it in Arabic."
Furthermore, the influx of cheap imitation goods, especially from China, is destroying the sales market for quality Hebronian products. When asked how to recognize such plagiarism straight away Mr. Hirbawi answered: "If you are not sure you should look at the price." A Kufiya made in Hebron with the classic Palestinian black and white pattern costs around 25 Shekel from the factory. A fake imported one is on average less than two thirds of the price of an original.
None of the three businessmen could give any statement on how they see their factories continuing in the future. But all of them wish that the import of such goods would be stopped so that their companies will have a future.