Monday, November 30, 2020

Coming clean: next generation washes their hands of the Nablusi soap legacy

By Myriam Purtscher - August 07, 2018
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES]
Tags: [Nablus]

Nestled amongst the narrow alleyways of Nablus’s old city lies an unassuming stone building, blending into the facade, it is easy to miss. Walking inside the curved, dark sandstone structure there is a small group of tourists, learning about Ph balances and smelling cups of virgin Palestinian olive oil.

This is the Albader soap factory, in which soap has been continually made in the same building for over 850 years. Albader is one of only two soap factories remaining in Nablus which still use traditional soap making methods today.

Fifth generation soap maker and owner of the Al Badir soap factory, Amjad Nablusi provides tours to encourage his soap business. 

Nablus soap production stretches back over 1,000 years and hit peak industrial scale during the 14th century. In 1907, Nablus soap factories produced over 5,000 tonnes of soap annually providing over half the soap in Palestine. Yet, in the mid 20th century the flourishing soap industry began to dramatially decline.
Several old factories were destroyed during the 1927 Jericho earthquake, and later, Nablus was targeted during the Second Intifada when Israeli military attacks caused irreparable damage to many of the historical buildings.
Living through the illegal Israeli occupation has also made exporting their product an exercise in resilience.
Inside the Albader soap factory which has been making soap for the past 850 years in the old city of Nablus.
However, these are no longer the biggest threats to the Nablus soap industry which dates back over a millenia. Because none of these adversities really matter, when you have no one to pass your legacy on to.
A dying industry

The tourist group finish their tour and head out via the small office where they can purchase the handmade Albader soap. Fifth-generation soap maker and owner of the Albader brand is Amjad Nablusi, who provides tours to educate people about the dying soap industry.
When asked how the Israeli occupation affects his business, Nablusi scoffs, quick to point out his family were here long before the Israelis - they are only the second biggest threat to his soap production.
“Of course, they [the Israelis] affect us in a bad way. They affect the exporting of many kinds of Palestinian products, but this is not the major threat to us, the major reason is here,” Nablusi explains.
“It is the younger generation, the new generation which has the biggest effect, you know?” Nablusi shakes his head as he describes his situation. “There is a big difference between my generation and my sons generation, they live in their virtual life. They do not want to be involved in this kind of business.”
Amjad Nablusi discusses soap production to the tour group in his Albader soap factory, located in the old city of Nablus.
Nablusi turns to the next group of people who have just walked into the building, greeting them with a frantic energy. Tourism is now a vital life blood for the continuation of his business.
The future of Nablus soap

Soap production is considered an important aspect of Nablus cultural heritage, and several local initiatives have been undertaken to preserve the industry including the restoration of the old Arafat soap factory into a Cultural Heritage Enrichment Centre.
However, unless the next generation become entrenched in the process of restoring the once thriving industry, Nablusi soap production may not survive as soap manufacture goes mainstream and modern techniques make soap cheaper than traditional craftsmanship.
The family stamp is pressed into each piece of hand-made Albader soap.
When asked about future prospects for the industry, Nablusi said it all depends on time. “I just hope we have time to transfer our knowledge onto the next generation. It’s so hard to pass it on to them, not like how my father passed to me.”
Nablusi then begins the next round of guided tours through the factory, impassionately describing his family’s heritage as soap producers in Nablus. His dedication to his family business is obvious, yet the industry itself is unlikely to ever regain its once prosperous manufacturing height.
It seems even in the face of occupation restrictions and generational differences, the Nablusi family will continue to hold onto this element of Palestine's rich culture and create the Albader soap for as long as time permits.

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