Preserving Palestinian heritage, one keffiyeh at a time.
Hidden away in a quiet neighborhood in Hebron (Al-Khalil), one of Palestine's largest cities in the West Bank, the rhythmic hum of machinery emanates from a small, unassuming workshop. While seemingly insignificant on the outside, the space is home to the Hirbawi Textile Factory, the last remaining keffiyeh factory in Palestine. Inside, dedicated local artisans continuously weave authentic keffiyehs, preserving a tradition that stretches back in time.
The traditional keffiyeh, a 125cmx125cm square fabric, has a deep-rooted connection to Palestinian heritage. The quintessential black-and-white pattern stands as a symbol of Palestinian identity, so emblematic that it's often likened to an unofficial flag of the Palestinian people. The story of the keffiyeh continues to evolve beyond its classic hues, however. It was the Hirbawi factory that pioneered the introduction of color into the keffiyeh's narrative, offering a wide range of colors, combinations, and patterns inspired by historic landmarks, elements of Palestinian culture, and traditional designs cherished worldwide.
Throughout the history of the occupation of Palestine, from the British Mandate to the establishment of the state of Israel, the keffiyeh has remained an enduring symbol of Palestinian resistance. Sadly, due to the proliferation of overseas low-cost manufacturing, most keffiyehs available today can no longer claim a connection to the land they represent. The signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords and the adoption of a free-market policy led to the influx of low-cost keffiyehs produced overseas, flooding the global market. This deluge of mass-produced alternatives posed a significant challenge to local Palestinian weavers, whose businesses began to suffer.
Despite these challenges, Hirbawi stands strong as the only keffiyeh factory still actively operational in Palestine. Founded by Yasser Hirbawi in 1961, the factory meticulously crafts each keffiyeh using a specific cross-stitching technique developed over decades. Only a select few individuals possess the knowledge of these time-honored techniques, passed down through generations. Today, the Hirbawi keffiyeh is the only keffiyeh that can claim to be authentically made in Palestine.
The process of weaving the traditional keffiyeh involves two layers: the "base", as well as the "pattern" or "flower" (وردة in Arabic). The looms require constant monitoring, with threads between the patterns being manually cut while the machine operates. After weaving, the keffiyehs are sewn into individual pieces, with the iconic tassels added.
Reflecting on the story of his venture, Yasser Hirbawi describes working in the factory as a "battle." He and his family struggled to compete with cheaper producers across the globe but were determined to persist: "It's our work and our life, and by God's will, we will never stop producing original keffiyehs made in Palestine." Hirbawi started the factory at the young age of 33, with the ambition that it would remain operational and run by the Hirbawi family for at least another generation. In 2021, the Hirbawi factory marked its 60th anniversary.
Though Yasser passed away in 2018, his three sons continue to carry forward the determination, passion, and commitment their father instilled in them. The Hirbawi factory, like many other Palestinian businesses, is dedicated to the struggle to build better lives and preserve the soul of their ancestors.
The Hirbawi keffiyeh, renowned for its uncompromising quality, takes up to an hour to produce. It is woven on vintage machines using locally treated cotton and high-quality synthetic fibers, making it a moisture-wicking, breathable, and durable fabric, ideal for the climate and conditions in the region.
Inside the factory, you'll find a space with industrial looms (only half of which are operational) filling the warehouse. Three of Yasser Hirbawi's grandchildren are being trained to continue the family legacy, ensuring the family's commitment to preserving this unique Palestinian heritage.
In recent years, the Hirbawi factory has faced numerous challenges, with production plummeting from 150,000 units per year in 1993 to a mere 10,000 units in 2010. However, in a testament to the family's resilience, the factory found a new lease on life through a shift away from local sales in the Middle East and toward engaging with a global audience via social media.
With the help of partners at Made In Palestine, a German organization founded by Palestinians, the Hirbawis launched kufiya.org, a website that became the primary platform for selling Hirbawi keffiyehs online. The international community rallied behind the cause, reviving the mission to preserve the Palestinian keffiyeh.
In a world filled with cheaper, foreign-made replicas of the iconic keffiyeh, the Hirbawi factory remains the last place producing the authentic Palestinian keffiyeh, a powerful expression of resistance and rebellion against injustices of all kinds, as well as a way to show solidarity with those whose rights have been denied and their voices silenced. To Palestinians, it carries a profound message: Palestine will live on, and Palestine will be free.
The Hirbawi Keffiyeh
By supporting the Hirbawi factory, you not only acquire a unique piece of Palestinian culture, but also contribute to the preservation of an iconic symbol that narrates tales of struggle and endurance.