The Keffiyeh – A Last Manufacturer & the Lone Fabric Standing

Posted on April 18, 2011


Colonialism brings with it the effacement of the culture, identity and heritage of the colonized. Moreover, Foucauldian conceits aside, despite such a givens, after crossing the photography of Rebecca Fudala, I also came to realization that capitalism itself can also contribute to the effacement of a culture’s art and tradition by means of running smaller tradition-oriented businesses and manufacturers out of commission. Mass production and large-scale mass industry reproduces a product ten-fold and hence, the little guys in all of this are subject to extinction. Indeed, capitalism in itself does undeniably have its very own colonial effect.

As far as illegal colonies go in the West Bank, language is yet another factor. Detroit based Israeli-American hip-hop artist Invincible, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing, mentioned to me how the tongue of the colonizer suddenly replaces that of the colonized victims. Undoubtedly, a mother tongue can actually entirely be subject to effacement within the rape of a few generations and such detrimental realities have been harshly crossed in human history. Truth be told, Hebrew does replace Arabic. In essence, the bulldozing of the Palestinian dialect in certain regards is directly correlated to the holistic removal of many villages since the 1920s  which was a good two decades before the creation of Israel in ’47.

In essence, personalizing the tragedy of the colonized is a rather difficult experience both for the one relating the story and the one reading or hearing of it. Accounts of any human tragedy are so very traumatizing to relate to and simply grasp. While completing my masters, studying trauma theory and the Holocaust was a quintessential dimension to the acquiring of my degree. Accounts of Aushwitz as well as the brutal oppression of the Nazis on the Jewish populace is no easy read for any individual. Furthermore, having mentioned this, the preservation of this human tragedy in Holocaust museums is a rather perplexing ideal to comprehend to the point where I was pivoted in a corner; scrutinizing the legitimacy of spearheading an industry of remembering horror. Our professor shared a NY Times article on Iraq and Palestine while teaching the course on Holocaust trauma and while listening to him discuss the humanitarian crisis’ struck by both nations, I questioned if Palestinians would one day erect museums around the world in regards to their oppression at the hands of Israel in like manner that Holocaust museums have been erected around the world chronicling the German brutality towards the Jewish people.

The Herbawi Factory waeves out Keffiyehs on a part-time basis. The rhythms of the machines play on a melody of possible extinction as she is the last one in operation. Photograph by Rebecca Fudala.

There is no denying the fact that I am pensive and reflective, let alone critical of all that I do see, share and hear. Essentially, should not all free individuals assert this attitude? I am a human being and humanitarian as well as a citizen of this planet before I am a hip-hop artist and photographer. Having said this, many are already familiar as to reasons behind why I wear my Keffiyeh (which comes from Nablus by the way, a beautiful place to visit). To make a long story short, indeed, I wear my Keffiyeh first and foremost to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle as well as with the struggle of all indigenous peoples who are suffering the brutal and malicious effects of imperialism and colonialism worldwide including in Canada and the United States.

In essence, many wear a Keffiyeh for an array of diverse reasons and so responses will vary from one individual to the next. Some of whom I know wear and attire themselves with one to protest the Israeli government’s expropriation of Palestinian land in order to illegally construct and erect new, exclusively Jewish-only colonies while attempting to expand existing ones. As solidarity begins to blossom amongst many youths across Montreal and around the world, many are now dawning a Keffiyeh in order to protest Israel’s ongoing land expropriation, imperialism, pillaging, colonization, occupation and apartheid.

Julie visited the Herbawi Textile Factory in 2010. She strongly encourages consumers to make wise decisions when purchasing products. We talked about the Herbawi Factory and how purchasing a Keffiyeh from Medical Aid Palestine in Montreal goes a very long way.

During my visit to Medical Aid Palestine, I spoke to Julie about the final Keffiyeh manufacturer left in all of Palestine and her visit there. MAP had received Keffiyeh’s two weeks prior my visit in which they were made available by the box-load in a variety of colours. As the Keffiyeh became more and more popular in mainstream and commercial fashion, the Chinese had embarked on a mass production of the garment which consequently brought with it a very heavy impact on the original Palestinian textile companies manufacturing the garment. By consequence, many of these Palestinian Keffiyeh manufacturers had fallen subject to shutdowns and/or bankruptcies.

The above photograph by Rebecca Fudala tells a story in itself. After her visit to the Herbawi Factory, she photographed the faces behind the Keffiyehs. At almost 80 years old,Yasser Herbawi (not pictured) frequents the family business only a few hours each morning. He has now left most of the work to his two sons, Izzat and Jodeh (left and centre), and life long friend, Abid Keraki (right).

Indeed, there has been heavy conflict between fashion and resistance. “Resistance” became a fashion and an opportunity for multinationals to capitalize on everything associated with the terms “Resistance,” “Change” and “Revolution” (and all things surrounding its epicenter). It is rather unfortunate that companies have commodified “Struggle” and transformed it into a thriving economy in which some individuals do not even know who exactly Che Guevara or Malcolm X were and who “Malcolm X” really became and how and why he no longer wanted to be associated with that name. Patches, pins, t-shirts, flags, stickers and whatever else comes to mind is on mass production off the assembly line for the simple reason that it sells.

The Keffiyeh is another example of the commodification of a struggle and hence, transformation of a symbol of culture and heritage into nothing more than a fashion trend. Reprecussions of this are vivid in the amount of sales and profits others made while those in the struggle had been subject to unfortunate financial loss when it came to their very survival and livelihood. In essence, one could never put a price on a culture, heritage and identity. Obviously, multinationals and Goliath manufacturers do not have a concern in the world for any of that.

Crossing these photographs reminded me of Balzacs writing of the ailing printing press and how the ink was to stop leaking. The plight of the Keffiyeh in regards to manufacturing can undeniably be reversed. Consumer decisions are what affect the livelihood of a heritage. Photograph by Rebecca Fudala.

Julie made mention of the Herbawi Textile Company she visited in Hebron which was established in ’61. Her visit there had her cross the two sons of founder Yasser Herbawi in which they each exchanged ideas and discussed the possibility of opening a gate for the distribution of Keffiyehs in which the very Keffiyehs manufactured at the company would arrive in Montreal and be sold alongside all of the other Palestinian products such as olive oil, soap, za’atar and dates that MAP sells as fair trade products in Montreal. The move on the part of MAP is a quintessential one, as in the year 2000, 120 textile factories were present in the West Bank and after 2001, when the Chinese moved into mass producing the Keffiyeh, only the Herbawi factory remained to this very day which it actually operates on a part-time basis.

The nefarious combination of colonialism and capitalism are the very menace to the Keffiyah. In 2000, there were 120 Keffiyeh manufacturers. In 2010, there was only 1 left, The Herbawi Textile Factory. Photograph by Rebecca Fudala.

Although the problem of the Keffiyeh being traditionally worn only by ethnic Arabs can be overcome by appealing to the cross-fertilizing of cultures. As far as I am concerned, there is NO problem with the Keffiyeh. In contemporary times, the Keffiyeh is worn by everyone regardless of ethnic background. This phenomena in itself is not only happening in the fashion world (although not without a hint of Orientalist mind-set), there is definitely a vague political statement being made when one wears the Keffiyeh. But truthfully, is it really a “vague” statement? Absolutely not. It represents solidarity with the Palestinian cause as well as the cause of all indigenous peoples collectively in the struggle for equality and self-determination. Whereas a Palestinian might wear a Keffiyeh as a symbol of identity, others who are educated about the situation tend to wear it as a symbol of their sympathy with the struggle. After one learns about the Keffiyeh in regards to the story of the Herbawi struggle to stay alive as the last manufacturer standing, one may have yet another reason to wear it.

One can only hope that the mechanical heart and gears of the Herbawi Company continue to pump out threads in order to keep spinning out original Keffiyehs. Producing these beautiful garments is no easy task and as of recently, these very garments themselves are in a struggle to survive themselves. Consumers can sustain the Keffiyeh by means of learning of its story and also making wise choices when it comes to purchasing one. Furthermore, if one is to make the Keffiyeh purchase, then why settle for a Chinese or multinational knock-off and only make wealthier conglomerates only more wealthier? The choice is obvious here, if one is to purchase a Keffiyeh, purchase the authentic garment.

A close-up photograph of Abid Keraki, one man who still operates the machines at the Herbawi Factory. Photograph by Rebecca Fudala.

Fresh from the Herbawi Textile Company, the Keffiyehs are now available in Montreal and go for $15 which is a price that will support the last remaining Keffiyeh manufacture left in Palestine.

The Photography.

Photography for me is to capture a moment and freeze it. Likewise, hip hop for me is broad, just like photography. In regards to highlighting the issues that surround the world we live in, film, photography, music, art and writing are some of many mediums in getting a message across in a world of mass propaganda, falsities and brainwashing. For me, hip hop and photography are each a means that attempt to bring and make sense of the world we live in. Hip hop and photography are two distinct arts amongst a few others that I am sincerely passionate about. After having spoken to Julie about the Keffiyeh and the Herbawi Textile Company, I crossed Rebecca Fudala’s photography in a piece by The Palestine Monitor. I am indebted to the Palestine Monitor for putting me in touch with Rebecca, who now teaches and resides in Costa Rica. Her photography is raw and simply chronicles the story as it is. I was personally touched by the photography when I first crossed it. Each photograph spoke and actually brought out the acoustics of the machines in the Herbawi Factory. Indeed, I was literally able to hear the machines in the West Bank simply through the humble photographs. Undeniably, I felt a personal connection with these very photographs she so kindly granted me permission to share within the writing of this very article. I would like to extend another thank you to her and simply extend a warm appreciation for the work she did while in Hebron. The photography comes as a gift to the people of Palestine in my view. The photographs speak a story and the weaving of a heritage now facing possible extinction. I would like to close with a few final photographs by Rebecca Fudala which also feature her very own words describing the photographs.

Kindest Regards to all and God Bless,

Mickey Boston.

Despite the world-wide popularity of the keffiyah as a fashion accessory, pieces of torn and tattered keffiyahs blanket dusty, unused machines in the Herbawi factory, symbolising their dwindling business. While Izzat Herbawi doesn’t object to the modern commercialisation of the keffiyah, he stated that “the keffiyah is a tradition of Palestine and it should be made in Palestine. We should be the ones making it.” Photograph and caption by Rebecca Fudala.

The keffiyahs produced in the Herbawi factory are made from 100% cotton unlike Chinese versions which are made from a 50/50 blend of cotton and polyester. Photograph and caption by Rebecca Fudala.

The Herbawi Textile Factory has 16 machines. In 1990 all 16 machines were functioning, making 750 keffiyahs a day. Today, only two machines are used, making a mere 300 keffiyahs per week. Photograph and caption by Rebecca Fudala.