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Nablus soapmakers struggle to sell pure, pricier products

Soapmakers, whose olive oil-based soap is well-known, are struggling to turn a profit due to cheap imports and tensions between Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

By Daniella CheslowCorrespondent / March 18, 2011

Soap is made entirely by hand at the Camel factory.

Daniella Cheslow

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Nablus, West Bank

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

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The Camel olive oil soap factory has changed little in 120 years. Workers pour hot olive oil mixed with sodium bicarbonate onto the factory floor, then slice it and stack the bars to dry in towers nine feet tall. A packer slaps wrapping paper around 500 bars of soap an hour.

Factory owner Mahar Shakaa says he produces 20 tons of soap a month. He is a reminder of when 30 Nablus factories churned out the white, all-natural soap for export worldwide. But only two factories have survived cheap imports and a devastating Israeli incursion in 2002. A third, in a nearby village, laces its soap with thyme, Dead Sea mud, and lemon to compete with foreign bars. Mr. Shakaa insists Nablus will remain a soap capital for years to come. “Whoever has used this soap once, cannot use another kind,” he says.

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