Economic deprivation–due to ongoing Israeli occupation–continues to wreak havoc on independent Palestinian businesses. Currently, the West Bank notices a sharp decline in footwear production, with less than a third of original shops operating. Little is even mentioned anymore about Silvana, the once famous chocolates and confectionery factory in Ramallah.
Through a program called Know Thy Heritage, DC resident Salah Czapary became inspired to help revive local economy. “The program aims to connect diasporic Palestinian youth to their cultural roots, and this year’s focus was mainly on business development,” he said.
During his time on the trip, Czapary visited some of the operating markets and factories, including Hirbawi textile factory, which remains the last kufiya manufacturer in all of Palestine.
Hirbawi was founded in 1961, producing small quantities in the beginning of its inception. As the kufiya grew symbolically more political, demand for the scarf increased. Founded in 1961, the factory started with just two weaving machines, but as the headscarf became a symbol of activism and Palestinian nationalism, the demand quickly rose. The 1993 Oslo Records created global competition for kufiya distribution, effectively putting most local markets out of business.
Despite enormous setbacks that come with high competition and production under military occupation, Hirbawi operates to this day.
To assist, Czapary created the site Threads of Palestine, which sells graphic tees and scarves made with Hirbawi fabric.
With social media as a viable platform to give more visibility to Hirbawi, Czapary hopes the modern appeal and important political undertones of his merchandise will continue to sustain both Hirbawi, and integrity of the kufiya.
“It is also a convenient platform to focus on the revival of the cultural significance of the kufiya and the fact that it is, as an art form, at risk of being lost.”
Many younger diasporic Palestinians agree that social media creates community and allows cultural content to reach widespread audiences. “If I can use social media to help even one person get a better understanding of what is culturally significant to Palestine, to me that’s a win for my people,” says student and blogger Mahmoud.
Originally from Gaza and living in Canada, Mahmoud states social media has the potential to give Palestinian youth enough knowledge of their history to become a self-aware elder generation when the time comes.