Like many other Muslim cities, Hebron supported many traditional arts and crafts, which played a central role in the city’s economic and social life. Market demand and natural resources influenced the shape and volume of this activity. Hebron’s geographical location, close to traditional Bedouin regions and at the centre of a vast catchment area, encouraged the production of goods needed by Bedouins. The City in turn depended on the latter’s produce for reprocessing and marketing. Hebron’s main traditional arts and crafts are:
Hebron’s fame rests on three essentials: the Ibrahimi Mosque, grapes, and glassmaking. The glass industry is one of Hebron’s oldest and is still thriving today.Glassmaking was carried out in many of the city’s neighbourhoods, mainly in Al Qazzazine. The work extended across large buildings around the factory itself. The factory contained a furnace where sand, brought in from Hebron’s Eastern plain, would be fused. Heated at tempeplain, would be fused. Heated at temperatures reaching 1500°C, the sand would melt into the viscous paste used to form glass objects. At the beginning of the 20th Century, the trade was practically limited to the Natchehfamily and passed on from one generation to the next.
Although there have been a few changes in the industry, such as different raw materials, different products and different clients with different needs, the basic techniques, materials and craftsmanship are still the same. For example, silica is no longer the main material used to produce glass. Nowadays, broken glass is recycled and melted. The location has moved from Al Qazzazine neighbourhood inside the Old City, near the Qazzazine pond and mosque, to the city entrance near the main road. The products now have a different purpose. In the old days, they were vital for everyday life, and included bracelets, which used to be colourful and varied.
As modern alternatives have become available, glass products today are mostly decorative. Shapes have not changed much and the main change now concerns the decoration process which has become more intricate, to produce eye-catching finishes. Improvements include the addition of embroidered fabric leaves to the body of the article or bronze fruit-like shapes decorated with coloured beads to embellish specific parts of the item, such as its neck. Moreover, plastic materials are used to paint the items once it is manufactured. These may depict plant forms, or intersecting geometric shapes, with gold leaf.
This trade made its way to Hebron in the second half of the 20th Century and was, at first, closely related to pottery. Potters used to coat pottery items, such as plates and goblets, with imported white clay before cooking, painting and vitrifying them in the furnace.
This trade first appeared in Al Fahs region, south of the Old City, before moving to Wadi Attuffah. Blocks of raw ceramic clay were imported from Spain or Italy, and cut to the size of the desired artifact. Each item was produced using readymade gypsum moulds. Products ranged from cream pots to dishes, goblets, plates and tiles.
3. Leather Tanning
This trade was famous in Hebron and was practiced by more than one family. It was mainly concentrated in areas with fewer houses because a large open yard was needed to spread the foul-smelling hides. The process required a water well and basins where the skins could be soaked. The most important old leather products included bottles made of sheep skin and used for carrying drinking water on long trips. They were mostly sold to pilgrims and voyagers. During the second half of the 20th Century, this trade was monopolized by Al Zaatari family who still conduct their business outside the Old City.
4. Yarning and Textile Industry
This trade depended on sheep wool as well as on goat and camel hairs available in the city and in the surrounding countryside. Readymade silk and wool threads were also imported from abroad. The wool is first cut and washed, then loosened and yarned. After that, dyes of many colours are dissolved in boiling water. Yarns are left to soak. Once the yarns cool down, they are spun again and used on the looms to make fabrics.
This trade was largely practised in the city, where there was a market for fabrics (Souk Al Ghazl) near the Magharbeh Zawia, known as Zawiat Al Achraf. This market played a very important role in fulfilling the basics needs for that period, when, for example, a bride’s trousseau consisted of a Mizwada (haversack) and a colourful rug. Mizwadas were either burgundy or green and were made for women, whereas haversacks made for men were called Libjad; they were also in burgundy with a white band on the sides. Mizwadas used to be placed on winding-sheets and then distributed to mosques after the burial had taken place.
Another product of this industry was the “hair sack” made of goat pelt; the Mikhla which is used as a bag to drain liquids; saddlebags for donkeys and mules; the Kanaf which is used both to store bread and to sew seeds after ploughing; and the Firda, often made of beige and black threads, and used on a camel’s back to move the bride’s belongings at her wedding. This trade no longer exists in its traditional form. Machines are now typically used to transform raw materials and semi-finished products imported from abroad. However, there are still women in neighbouring villages – especially As-Sammoua – who still use traditional techniques and sell their products in the city, where there are a few shops specialising in those items. Some of these shops are in the old city.
This industry was located inside the Old City. The Fakhoury family, believed to have come from Gaza, was one of the families involved, with trade secrets transferred from generation to generation. Islamic Court records indicate that there were 6 pottery factories in Hebron, three of them owned by the Fakhourys. The trade began on the western side of Al Masharqa quarter, as well as behind the Ussama Bin Monqez school, in a neighbourhood known as Talaat Al Tananeer. Later it relocated to the south of the Ibrahimi Mosque, in Al Sahleh region. This industry was very important for everyday life, producing household items such as cream pots, plates and small and large jars. Argil, which was the raw material used in this which was the raw material used in this trade, could be found in Hebron.