Nabulsi Soap (صابون نابلسي) is a product of one of the oldest continuous soap-making traditions in the world, produced in the same fashion since before the 10th century in Palestine’s West Bank. Traditionally made by Palestinian women and dried in cavernous structures, Nabulsi Soap is made chiefly from olive oil, the main agricultural product of the region, and has no scent besides a faint suggestion of olives and earth. The industry was once one of Palestine’s strongest, and supplied soap to several countries in the Middle East and Europe (Queen Elizabeth I was a huge fan). Since the mid-20th century, Israeli militarization and checkpoints have created enormous obstacles to transporting materials, exporting soaps and getting workers to and from the factories. Only two of Nablus’ thirty factories remain, one of which has been turned into a Cultural Heritage Enrichment Center.
The family of one of our favorite philosophers of all time, Dr. Bronner, took the above photo recently in Nablus, illustrating the same elegant and otherworldly drying technique that has always been employed, as seen in the photo below, taken sometime between 1900 and 1920 by an American Colony of Jerusalem photographer. The Bronner family has been in the soap-making business for a century and a half, and recently posted some chilling evidence of their own experience with suppression of family tradition and craft — the letter sent to their ancestors by Nazis, announcing the forced sale of their company (seen below). As we all know, particularly those of us raised by hippies, who spent many a cold Pacific Northwestern morning in a handmade wooden tub on some straggled, underdeveloped land having our mind blown by the withered label on a quart bottle of Peppermint Castille, the Bronners are still going strong and making some of the best soap on the planet.
We post here a lot about the power and spirit of craft, and why it’s important to us. We believe that the human desire to create beautiful, useful things is stronger than any war and any fight for power, and is evidence of both our strong will to survive and our spiritual need to be daily surrounded by beauty. May each of us approach our own crafts with such steadfastness, strength and passion.