Palestinian-Made Kippahs For Observant Jews

Tuesday 18 April 201710:45 am
Against the backdrop of Israel’s decade-long Gaza siege, and the rigid trade restrictions imposed by Israel, Mohamed Abou Shanab is producing and exporting kippahs, the skullcaps worn by observant Jews while attending the synagogue or at religious events to Israel. Amid the historical tensions between the two peoples, such an act was bound to stir up a degree of controversy. 10-2 [h2]The Story of the Factory[/h2] As he divides a large swathe of fabric into smaller pieces, Abou Shanab explains that he never had any intention to meddle in politics or war. Abou Shanab owns a textile factory in the Al-Shati Camp, west of Gaza City, which he runs with his family. Despite the lack of resources, such as weaving machines or raw materials, in the strip, the factory produces prêt-à-porter for men and women and recently, they began producing kippahs. “I began producing the occupiers’ skullcaps for the first time in Gaza so that the Pope and Bishops could wear them, as well as religious Christians and Jews,” he tells Raseef22. The factory produced about 400 kippahs a week, with 10 workers each putting in eight hours a day to produce them. The factory recently resumed the export of ready made clothes to Israel after years of trade boycott. “The Israeli trader who buys the kippahs was impressed by the number I produce. He exports them to the US, and now wants me to start producing overcoats for Orthodox Jews,” Abou Shanab says. 9 [h2]How Did the Golden Age of Production End?[/h2] Since June 2006, Israel has imposed a siege on Gaza’s land, air, and maritime borders, and during this period, there have been three wars in the strip. In the aftermath of each, much of Gaza’s buildings and infrastructure have been left completely destroyed, with no means to import building materials for reconstruction. Moreover, the clothing and textiles industry was not safeguarded against the destruction; Abou Shanab, who previously headed the Palestinian Federation of Textiles and Garments, estimates that about 50 factories were completely destroyed. Last year, Israel permitted limited exports to Israel, according to officials in the Hamas-run Ministry of Economy. However, even with these allowances, the textile industry is far from its glory days in the early ‘90s. At the time, the sector employed about 35,000 workers in more than 900 factories in the strip. About 4 million garments were exported to Israel monthly, according to Abou Shanab. Currently, there are only about 4,000 workers in the sector, across 150 factories, producing for the local market. Prior to the siege, Abou Shanab owned 50,000 weaving machines, but has since cut down to 10 machines. [h2]Separating Business from Politics[/h2] Predictably, Abou Shanab was the subject of fierce criticism from fellow Gazans, and his story was even picked up by local media. He faced accusations of treason for producing the Kippah, with all its religious symbolism, and selling it to Israelis. In the eyes of many, these were garments that were likely to be worn by settlers, some even accused Abou Shanab of being a double-agent. Though the rampant criticism bothers him, he is not ashamed of his work. Instead, he highlights the importance of separating politics, business, and religion. As far as he is concerned, it makes no difference whether he is producing religious garb for a Jew, Muslim, or Christian. “Political enmity is one thing, and business is another thing entirely,” he contends. His work has allowed him to build partnerships with Israeli importers, which in turn have developed into mutual friendships, in spite of the surrounding circumstances. “We are not soldiers,” Abou Shanab notes. “All we aim to do is let the world know that Gaza does not produce terrorism; that we are advocates of peace, and we are here producing kippahs.”
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