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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Pity the poor keffiyeh manufacturers

Even though the keffiyeh has been part of Middle Eastern dress for a while, it is mostly associated with Yasir Arafat who claimed to fold his headgear into a makeshift map of "Palestine." Possibly as a result, the keffiyeh has not been very popular worldwide during the heyday of PLO terror.

One of the consequences of the Palestinian Arabs turning in world public opinion from terrorist to trendy is that the Che-worshipping crowd started to wear keffiyehs as a sort of fashion statement, showing how uber-cool they are to embrace a terrorist symbol.

This increased the keffiyeh market quite a bit, as a number of mail-order houses started marketing them to rich, left-wing defenders of the oppressed to wear in dance clubs and the like.

Naturally, the demand for keffiyehs went up as people jumped on the "oppressed rocket-shooter" bandwagon, and then the hated free-market took over.

Chinese manufacturers started making keffiyehs - cheap.

al-AP goes on from there:
Yasser Herbawi once supplied much of the West Bank and Gaza with black-and-white checkered scarves, the proud emblem of Palestinian identity made famous by the late Yasser Arafat.

But most of his looms now stand idle, his product edged out by cheap imports from the world's newest keffiyeh capital: China.

After a decade of being flooded with Chinese goods, from scarves to toys and bags, the West Bank's largest city is struggling to compete — yet another obstacle to economic independence for Palestinians as they strive for a state of their own.

Two-thirds of Hebron's textile workshops have closed and 6,000 shoe factory workers have lost their jobs in the last eight years, pushing unemployment to 30.5 percent, the highest in the West Bank, according to Hebron's chamber of commerce.

Cheap imports have hit manufacturing towns across the world, but the economic decline of this city of 230,000 is particularly ironic. Hebron long adhered to what is now China's recipe for success: work hard and sell cheap. And Chinese goods are imported to the West Bank by traders from Hebron, the city suffering most.

It's hard to find an upside to globalization here.

The door to China opened for Palestinians in the mid-1990s, after Israel and China forged diplomatic ties. The response among Palestinian business people was especially enthusiastic in Hebron.

Flights from the Middle East to China were soon packed with Hebronites, especially to big trade fairs. China operated a visa office in Hebron for several years, and even street vendors began pooling their cash to send representatives there to shop.

By 2005, Palestinians imported $111 million worth of goods from China annually, compared to $1.8 billion from Israel and $120 million from Turkey, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. The value of Chinese imports was up 20 percent from the previous year, compared to 3 percent higher from Turkey and a 7 percent hike from Israel.

Local industry quickly felt the pain.

Herbawi, unable to compete, closed his keffiyeh workshop in 2000 after four decades in operation, switching off 15 looms that used to make about 350 scarves a day. With the support of a dozen loyal customers, he said he reopened last year and rehired one worker who now arrives every day to run four looms for a few hours.

Herbawi wants import restrictions, but these seem unlikely: His son, Izzat, noted that even Arafat's Fatah movement, once a large customer, now buys some keffiyehs from China.

Not only does this show the unintended consequences of these trendy terror-supporting morons ending up making their idols lose jobs, but it also shows, yet again, how little regard Fatah has for actual working Palestinian Arabs.

(h/t jusa)