Getting Nablus soap to market

Once famous for its soap factories, Nablus is being strangled by Israeli checkpoints.

    The Israeli military says that Nablus is a stronghold for Palestinian groups like Hamas [REUTERS] 
    Nablus is the West Bank's biggest city and the capital of its economy but as with other centres throughout the Palestinian territories, to put it mildly, times are tough.

    The city is known for, among other things, its soap, made from pure olive oil, but like so many other products, the problem is getting them to market.

    A usual business day in one of the most famous soap factories in Nablus, an industry that goes back to the 19th century all hand made, stacked in piles and wrapped. The tradition of soap making has, for long, brought income to the city, now marketing is limited.

    "10 years ago we used to producer more than 500 tons a year, but now we are producing 320 tons. It's very difficult to sell the products here in Palestine, due to the checkpoints and the long time we have to spend on the roads," Nael Qabaj, general manager, said.

    Nael Qabaj, general manager

    Nablus has long been considered the capital of Palestinian economy, but today the continuous Israeli incursions and the Israeli checkpoints around the city have crippled its economy.

    Palestinians were hoping that the checkpoints would be removed after the meetings between Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian president and Ehud Olmert, Israeli prime minister.

    Factories cut off

    Typical of the Palestinian businesses which are being strangled by the checkpoints is a factory situation just 200 meters away from an Israeli checkpoint outside Nablus.

    The factory used to be one of the biggest on the West Bank. It produced 40 kinds of candies and snacks, now only one production line is running.

    Israeli Checkpoint

    Ghassan Shbaro, the factory's deputy manager, said: "We face many difficulties getting to the factory, we hardly get permits to cross the checkpoint, it's also hard to get the raw material.

    "We used to export 70% of our products to Gaza, now it's zero, even getting goods to other parts of the West Bank is very difficult because of the Israeli roadblocks".

    Checkpoints have become a routine in the daily life of Palestinians, who still hope that its removal remains a main item on the agenda of any future meeting between Palestinian and Israeli leaders.


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