The last kaffiyeh???
Globalization hits the kaffiyeh industry...
One's eyes have a difficult time at first adjusting to the dim light. A few old neon bulbs spread a pale light in the large, windowless production hall. Most of the bulbs don't work anymore. The walls are unplastered. Air conditioning? Never. A Dickensian scene. Machine after machine, standing in rows, automatic looms, some of them already scrap-iron wrecks, standing silent in their desolation. Milling around in the darkness, among the machines, are a few sad figures, their faces drooping, going this way or that with nothing to do. They cast melancholy, loving glances at the paralyzed machines, which collect dust like stones that have no use.
Hirbawi kaffiyeh factory
Lying on a faded couch in the nearby manager's office is the elderly owner, wearing traditional garb, a kaffiyeh and galabiya, themselves tattered. For nearly 50 years he has been producing the national symbol, the kaffiyeh, and now his machinery has ground to a near halt. The looms stand still; there are no buyers for his kaffiyehs. He, too, shoots silent, sad looks at his life's work, at the dying production hall.
The factory's splendid output is displayed on the walls of the office: shelves full of kaffiyehs in plastic packages - for which there are no buyers. Kaffiyehs in many colors to be sold as souvenirs to tourists, as well as the traditional black-and-white ones for the locals, and no one is buying. There's tea and rice in China, and now kaffiyehs, too. Who will buy a Palestinian kaffiyeh for NIS 20 when there is a Chinese model for NIS 10? The market, which has actually flourished in recent years - the kaffiyeh has become a political symbol in Europe, where it is worn carelessly thrown across the shoulders - is flooded. But none are manufactured in Hebron. Globalization, as the reader knows, has its victims all over the world, and now it has arrived at the last kaffiyeh factory in Palestine, on a quiet street in Hebron, not far from Abu Mazen's restaurant, known for its grilled chicken, which has opened its second branch here.
The factory has been around for half a century, and now the time has come to close shop. Some final signs of life: The last worker, Abd al-Aziz al-Taraki, who has worked here for 43 years straight and doesn't miss a single day, throws the switch and turns on one of the machines, a presentation for the guests. The loom roars a deafening tak-tak-tak, the automatic needle moves rapidly from side to side, weaving the threads, which are themselves made in China and India, not in Israel, as was once the case. After half an hour, the threads have become a kaffiyeh. One mustn't rush the process, so as not to spoil the texture and color. In the meantime, the beat of the looms reverberates through the hall as in the good old days, raising cheerless smiles on the faces of the owner and his two sons.
Hirbawi Textile's personnel roster: Yasser Hirbawi, 76, the owner; his two sons, Jouda and Abd al-Azim, the partners; and the sole factory worker, Taraki. Machinery: 15 looms from Japan, manufactured by Hiranu Loom and Suzuki Loom, all bearing their date of manufacture on a tiny metal plate. We wipe away the dust from the inscriptions: the first was built in 1961, the last in the '90s. Current production: 70 kaffiyehs a day, most of which are placed on the shelves. Production capacity: in its glory days, Hirbawi Textile manufactured 500 kaffiyehs a day, in three shifts.