Leather craftsmen in El-Khalil (also known as Hebron) city in Palestine, which is known for its shoe manufacturing, are trying to sustain their profession despite imported goods and the limitations of Israel.
Ten employees mostly from the Zateri family at the Hadise Factory in El-Khalil produce handmade goods from the hides of cows and goats using traditional methods.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), Rami Zateri, 35, who manages the factory, mentioned that they still use the traditional tanning method although some new tools have begun to be used in leather craftsmanship. Remarking that the factory was found in 1940, Zateri added, "Modern machines and chemicals for cleaning have started to be used in the craft of leather from the past to the present."
Explaining that leather undergoes many tanning processes, Zateri continued, "Rawhides taken from a slaughterhouse or butchery are firstly salted and then washed. The hides are removed of any hair using chemicals and then ironed. Later, they are painted in different colors."
Zateri said there are 12 leather factories that belong to his family in the city and the one he manages belongs to him and his uncles. He explained that his family has been in the profession for generations and it means the past, present, and future for them.
Mentioning about their worries to compete with imported shoes, he said, "Most of the shoe factories in El-Khalil have closed because of the struggle to compete with imported shoes. This negatively affects the leather factories in the city."
In addition to shoes, the factory also produces belts, bags and leather pieces used in furniture manufacturing.
One of the other owners of the factories, Talal Zateri, 55, has witnessed all the technological developments in leather craftsmanship.
Describing the job as "turning hides from organic materials to nonperishable materials," Zateri said that leather softens with this process.
Showing cow leather, he said, "It is possible to use this leather for years. It is noncombustible and waterproof. It is high-quality leather. Leather shoes don't smell and the feet are comfortable in them. Cleaning them is easy, as well. Leather shoes are more long-lasting than those made of other materials. It is possible to identify natural ones with a touch."
Complaining about the tough competition, Talal Zateri highlighted that 80 percent of shoe factories have been closed in the last 10 years. "If it continues in this way, all factories will be closed."
Limitations of Israel
In El-Khalil, the leather industry not only faces the difficulties of imported shoes. Another factor on the sector is Israel's limitations on trade and leather craftsmanship.
The Israeli administration does not allow the entrance of some necessary chemicals due to security reasons, requiring a dispensation for these materials.
If imported shoes become widespread and Israel's limitations continue, it looks like the disappearance of traditional leather craftsmanship is indispensable in El-Khalil.