Our home when we arrive will be in Hebron, one of the largest cities in Palestine. It is classed as its Southern Capital and is situated in a lush, fertile area between two ranges of hills, standing at 1,000 meters above sea level. We will not be stopping within the city, but in one of the villages scattering the countryside surrounding this historic city.
The Old City was once a thriving commercial centre, but since the Israeli occupation over 500 shops have been closed down due to military orders and many hundreds more due to lack of custom as it was made very difficult for freedom of movement for many within the city.
However, still clinging onto tradition are the glass factories. These factories date back to the 14th C, where the production flourished and there were about 14 factories located in the old city, an area which is still known today as the Glass Blower Quarter, Harat al Zajajeen. The materials would have been locally sourced with sand from Bani Na’aim (where the tomb of Lot is to be found, he was a prophet in Islam and a righteous person in Judaism and Christianity). Sodium Carbonate was bought from the Dead Sea and the colours would have come from metal oxides. Copper oxide is still used today to colour the glass. The ancient factories were mentioned by religious travellers who were visiting the nearby tomb of the Patriarchs since the late Middle ages.
It was known that Hebron glass was traded to Cairo in Egypt, Karak in Jordan and to Syria. The glass was sent by camel caravans across the borders to supply the markets. I can imagine there must have been a few breakages along the way.
Most products were functional. Bowls, jugs, glasses, oil lamps were made and sold, as were jewellery pieces and amulets, especially those with the eye or hand on. Coloured glass balls were also produced for fishing nets.
Today there are only a couple of factories surviving…just. Due to their inability to export and the lack of tourism to the area, demand is low for these kind of goods anymore. Unfortunately this historical local craft will soon have disappeared. The art will no longer be passed from Father to Son as was the age-old tradition, leaving another generation jobless and poor.
I am hoping to buy some of the glassware whilst I am there. I just hope I can manage to bring it home in one piece…maybe I should hire a little camel train to carry all the goods I plan to purchase.