The Toukan factory is one of the most famous and oldest factories in Nablus. It was built around 1910 on the outskirts of the old city, which is now its heart. The factory was established by the two brothers Hafiz and Abdul Fattah Toukan who belonged to the sixth generation after Ibrahim Aagha Al Shawrbaji, the grandfather of all the Tuqan family branches. In 1929, the soap factory became a limited liability company under the name “Hafez & Abdel Fattah Tuqan Ltd. Co.” and the Two Keys “Al Muftaheen” logo was registered as a trademark. In order to avoid the falsification of the Two Keys logo, the Board of Directors decided in 1940s to register other similar trademarks, such as Two Swords, Two Scissors, and Two Axes, and they are all still registered to the present day. When the West Bank became a part of Jordan in 1950, the Board registered at the Jordanian Ministry of Economy under the number 49; making it one of the leading companies in the region.
The tradition of glassblowing continues today in three factories just north of the city, a short distance between the town of Halhul and Hebron. Two of the factories are owned by the Natsheh family. They produce primarily souvenirs, most of which are also used as household items. A large hall close to each of the factories displays wine glasses, dishes, bowls, flower pots, and other products. Although most objects are not decorated, some have artistically applied glass strings. Metallic decoration is a recent innovation of the industry.
Glass beads for jewellery have traditionally been made in Hebron. Blue beads and glass beads with 'eyes' (owayneh) were made and used as amulets since they were considered particularly effective against the evil-eye.
In the old city’s Al-Kazazin quarter (Kazazin meaning ‘people who make glass’), three families operated 14 glass factories. Today, there are only two of them left, run by the Natsheh family. The first Intifada, combined with the affluence of cheap goods from China and the rise in oil prices forced the majority of glass shop owners out of business. Both remaining factories have relocated to the entrance of the city, because tourists are sometimes fearful to go too deep into the old city.
Mr. Hamdi - who runs the Hebron Glass & Ceramics Factory together with his brother -started working when he was 17, in 1967. Nowadays, he exclusively deals with administrative aspects, but he is still capable to tell which one of his workers did which piece just by looking at it. The savoir-faire is passed down from father to son, but some are more talented than others and each glass-blower insufflates his own personal touch into his work. The job is hard, sitting seven hours a day next to an over 1000°C hot oven. Workers learn from early childhood and continuously refine the skill.
Hebron Glass is the leading product of those companies. The name originally applied to the national hand-crafted, mouth-blown glass named in Arabic Zujaj Nafakh. Because the color blue is a cultural favorite in the Arab world, Hebron Glass came to describe the blue glass products, both the light turqoise blue (copper blue) and the deep royal blue (cobalt blue). The factories also specialize in a Middle Eastern favorite, Imzakhraf, which is a dot-painted, Arabesque design technique on traditional blown glass.
"In Palestine there are still a lot of factories that make leather objects, but there has been a huge loss in quality. The craftsmen don’t get the good materials, new tools are very hard to come by and there are hardly any opportunity to further develop one’s skills, due to the lack of training facilities and educational opportunities. Even a project as DDFP can’t help us with this. It is neither their objective.
I remember well when suddenly two foreign designers, Moniek Driesse (NL) and David Juan Ortiz (ES) were standing in my studio. They told me that they were participating in a design workshop and that they were looking for a partner to make a wallet. That was a totally new experience to me.
Because of the occupation, it is a real problem for us to export our products. Everything is stopped at the border. But even when I would manage to send my products abroad, I wouldn’t be able to get paid. Israeli laws make it impossible to pay me with Visa or to allow me to receive foreign money transfers. The DDFP platform has helped me to overcome these problems, as they don’t experience the same restrictions for export. They can also collect the money and make payments to me. Unfortunately, for the moment I only have two products in their collection. So the financial impact is yet not very big. I can only hope that DDFP becomes a big company so they can sell and buy a lot of our products. They are quite unique and we need them. To my knowledge there are no other organisations that can support us in selling our products outside Palestine.
I was very happy when I saw my name on the brochure of Disarming Design, together with the products I made. That was a real boost of confidence for me. It strengthened my self-esteem, knowing that I was given the opportunity to let the people know who I am and what I am capable of." (From Kurt Vanbelleghem interview, Can one really benefit from a social design project, or is it just another spin at the wheel?)
Fakhoury Pottery and Karakashian Pottery in Hebron and Jerusalem respectively supply our beautiful handpainted Palestinian ceramics. The Fakhoury’s come from a long line of potters and, in fact, the name Fakhoury even means “potter” in Arabic. Their shop is located in the old city of Hebron where Israeli soldiers and settlers routinely physically and verbally harass Palestinians. Despite the difficulties, the family is determined to keep their store open and their craft alive. The Karakashian studio in Jerusalem continues the family tradition that began in 1922 when Megerditch Karakashian came to Jerusalem to help renovate the Dome of the Rock. All the motifs are traditional designs - birds, peacocks, gazelles, fish and various floral patterns. Each piece is hand painted with a hand made brush.
Yasser Hirbawi opened the Hirbawi Textile Factory in 1961 in Hebron, operating 15 machines and producing 150,000 keffiyehs annually by the early 1990s. Today, due to the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords and the opening of trade with the outside world, only four machines remain in operation producing a mere 10,000 scarves a year. Not one of these scarves are exported, as overseas suppliers produce mass quantities at a fraction of the price, and the shrinking Palestinian economy and Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks create further hindrances to production and trade for small businesses like Mr. Hirbawi's. In Mr. Hirbawi's own words: "My machines are in good shape. They can start working tomorrow. I just need a market." The Keffiyeh's black and white pattern has come to symbolize the Palestinian struggle; the middle pattern, with its "wire mesh fence" design represents the Israeli occupation, while the oblong-shaped patterns on the side represent olive leaves- a symbol of Palestine and peace.
Ayed Arafah was born in Jerusalem and grew up in Dheisheh refugee camp. Nowadays, he works and lives in Ramallah. He has a BA degree in contemporary visual art from The International Academy of Art and a BA in social work from Al Quds Open University. Combining classic and contemporary media, he explores the conceptual image that aims to motivate a better understanding about the self (my self and others) in relation with society’s issues related to politics, culture and economics. His aim is to engage with different levels of society.