Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Hebronís glass and ceramics factory keeps cityís tradition alive

By Jordan Woodgate - October 01, 2015
Section: [Main News] [Culture] [Videos] [Features]
Tags: [Hebron] [Palestinian Art] [culture]

This is the first dispatch in a five part series which explores how Palestinian craft traditions have been impacted by Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

On a bustling road on the outskirts of Hebron, an unassuming aluminium warehouse contains a rugged brick furnace that melts recycled glass bottles at 1200 degrees.

Surrounding the furnace lies a jumble of metal tools, heat-proof mats, melted plug sockets, and a weighted lever that connects to the oven hatch through which Tawfiq  extracts a glowing lump of molten glass.

With a metal pipe he deftly rolls the malleable lump back and forth, forming a golden cylinder resembling a writhing luminous slug. Tawfiq gently blows air through the pipe, and the expanding glass starts to take the shape of a vase.

Despite the whirring fan, Tawfiq's face glistens from the nearby flames. His concentration is evident as he rolls the glass on his thigh, perfecting the shape with oversized tweezers. He takes a break from his order of 1000 vases destined for the USA, and showing his skills, he easily twists another lump of glass around. In seconds it emerges as a swan, with blue, green and orange lines streaking down its neck.

Video by Jordan Woodgate 

"It’s not easy to blow glass" he explains, "It takes time, and you have to be careful. I have only had a few accidents." Tawfiq’s cousin sits on the other side of the oven. "We are all from the same family in this factory," he says.

The Natshehs started learning to blow glass at just 10 years old. But it is proving extremely difficult now to find any keen young apprentice willing to invest their free time in the trade.

Around eight other Natsheh family members are basking in the cool air-conditioned back room which one of them describes as heaven compared to the hell of the furnace. In this room ceramics are decorated after being kilned - a product diversification adopted around 1967 in response to the market problems the West Bank faced as a result of Israel’s occupation.

Some of the artists paint intricate black designs while others colour them in, scratching off any small mistakes with a razor blade. Outside, the glaze is sprayed on the painted pots before a final blast in the kiln.

Hamdi Natsheh, the owner of the factory, tells me that international orders keep the factory going. "Now, the situation is difficult," he remarks, "You have to think carefully before expanding." In three hours at the factory, no customer entered. Natsheh told Palestine Monitor this is due to tourists' fear of Hebron's political volatility.

In Hebron's early history, the quarter Harat al-Kazazeen housed 14 glass-blowing factories, and was considered the heartland of the highest-quality glass production in Palestine. But the lack of market means Hamdi's factory is only one of two left in the town.

With a group of 15 passionate and skilled craftsmen producing beautiful glass and ceramic wares, the factory seems likely to continue for now. But the search continues for the next young generation of apprentices. With continued clashes in Hebron from settler and soldier violence, tourists are staying away. "We hope the new generation learns the work, and we hope that the situation changes," says Hamdi, "and the peace comes for all."

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