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The Folk Pottery of Hebron Experimental Study

This project was conducted as part of the course “Research Workshop”, supervised by Dr. Tal Frenkel Alroy and Yael Atzmony 2018

Area of Study : Hebron and Its Surroundings

A Brief History

Hebron is one of the oldest cities in our region. Because of its associations with the biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and with King David, it is one of the four holy cities

of Judaism (Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias, and Ẕefat [Safed]). In Islamic tradition, which reveres Abraham as a founder of monotheism and precursor of Muhammad, Hebron is among the four holiest cities (Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, and Hebron).

At Hebron, Abraham purchased the Cave of Machpelah (Hebrew: Meʿarat ha-Makhpelah) as a burial place for his wife, Sarah, from Ephron the Hittite (Genesis 23); this became a family sepulcher. According to tradition, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with their wives Sarah, Rebekah, and Leah, were buried in the cave.

According to tradition, King David (c. 10th century BCE) was ordered by God to go to Hebron; he was anointed king of Israel there and made it his capital for seven and a half years until the taking of Jerusalem (II Samuel 2–5). In postexilic times, Hebron fell to the Edomites; King Herod the Great (ruled 37–4 BCE) built a wall—portions of which survive—around the cave of Machpelah, which was later augmented by the Byzantines, the Crusaders, and the Mamlūks. In later centuries, Hebron was administered under the rule of successive Muslim dynasties that, with the exception of a period of Crusader control in the 12th century, administered the city from its conquest in 635 CE until the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. During his rule in the late 12th century, Saladin rebuilt many of the city’s structures damaged by the Crusaders.

Modern Hebron is an agricultural marketing and trade center, and glass and leather goods are produced there.

Along with other areas in the region, Hebron became a center of increasing conflict. The city of Hebron continues to represent an amalgamation of rich historic and cultural heritages. Tourists and pilgrims value Hebron as the site of the Cave of Machpelah, al-Ḥaram al-Ibrāhīmī, and other areas connected with the lives of the patriarchs, such as Abraham’s Oak, just northwest of the city. In addition, Hebron’s Old City has been considered among the world’s best-preserved medieval cities, with a number of surviving Mamlūk- and Ottoman-period structures. With the violence following the Six-Day War, however, the Old City center became a site of confrontation. In addition, poor or absent utilities and the general poverty of the Old City’s residents resulted in the departure of many of them, and, with only a fraction of its inhabitants remaining, the Old City fell into disrepair. A program designed to revitalize the Old City was initiated following the transfer of parts of Hebron from Israeli administration to that of the PA in the 1990s. In 1998, the efforts by the Hebron Rehabilitation

Committee to restore the Old City’s vitality were recognized and lauded by the Aga Khan Foundation, which helped to focus international attention on the project 11 ... .

Geographical location

Hebron, Arabic Al-Khalīl, (“The Beloved of [God] the Merciful” [a reference to Abraham]), a city in the West Bank, situated in the southern Jerusalem Hills south-southwest of Jerusalem. Located about 3,050 feet (930 meters) above sea level, Hebron long benefited from its mountainous clime, which encouraged the cultivation of fruit trees and vineyards. In addition, its location at a natural crossroads placed it along a historically desirable travel route. In modern times, Hebron was administered as part of the

British mandate of Palestine (1920–48); after the first of the Arab-Israeli wars in 1948–49, it was in the territory annexed by Jordan (1950). Following the Six-Day War of June 1967, it was part of the West Bank territory that came under Israeli occupation. In the wake of an agreement reached in January 1997, part of Hebron came under the administration of the Palestinian Authority (PA), while part of the city remained under Israeli control22 ... .

Major Craft

Pottery is one of the important traditional crafts in Palestine and especially in Hebron. The pottery trade is associated with the development of humans, since it provided the community with many tools used in people’s daily lives such as dishes and cups. In archaeological excavations in Hebron and different areas of Palestine, a lot of pieces of pottery dating back thousands of years were found. It confirms the precedence of the pottery craft and links it to the emergence of communities. Pottery has declined recently due to the development of industries which replaced the craft with modern products. Despite this, it has remained one of the most beautiful traditional crafts favored by a lot of people in Hebron and by visitors to the city. This craft is still present in the city, especially among members of the Al-Fakhouri family. This family name has been historically associated in the Arabic language with the pottery craft. The evolution of pottery helped to create multiple shapes and products. It has become one of the traditional crafts whose process tourists enjoy watching33 ... .

In this research I will try to trace the origins of the pottery craft as well as its history, designs, materials, tools, chemical properties, physical properties and the methods of creating it. There are not enough resources to provide me with the information. Because of this, I went to Hebron to try to figure out the following:

1. The History

Pottery is considered one of the oldest crafts created by man, dating to the 7th  millennium BC, according to historian Mustafa Morad Dabagh. Gaza was one of the earliest cities to see the manufacturing of pottery in Arab Palestinian society, and one of its quarters was named “Hai el Fawakher”, the quarter of pottery. It was followed by the city of Hebron, Tulkarem and Jenin, which have a family named after this craft “Al Fakhori”, meaning the potters.

2. Cities in which Pottery Is Manufactured

Pottery is known in areas other than Hebron, which is ranked as the third city after Jericho and Gaza to have witnessed the early manufacturing of pottery. In recent times, some areas still sustain this craft in its primitive methods of creating – Gaza, Hebron, Tulkarem and Jenin.

3. The Material Used in Manufacturing

Clay, Red soil, salt and sand are the main components of the pottery manufactured in Hebron. Quarrying in Hebron allows these components to be found above the bedrock.

4. Methods of Manufacturing

Manufacturing depends on simple techniques, in which the mixture is formed in an electrical mixing machine to which 10% clay is added, then 8% soil, and 6% sand. The mixture is then poured in so-called sequential ponds for a duration of one month. Subsequently, the mixture is drained and cleansed of stones and impurities, and then moved to the second pond. There, it is drained slowly into the third pond. When the mixture reaches the third pond it becomes ready for use.


Stage 1:

Clay, soil, sand, water, salt and fired clay fragments are combined to form a mixture in the electrical mixing machine, shown as number 1 in the figure.
Number 2 is the pond where the mixture stays for about one month, and then it is cleansed of all the rocks and impurities and drained into pond number 3, where it drains slowly and becomes ready for use.



Stage 2:

In this stage, the clay is settled, dried out in the sun and becomes ready for use.





Stage 3:

The pottery mixture is cut into clods as seen in this figure.






Stage 4:

The air is pressed out using this machine in order to have an air-free pottery.





Stage 5:

Pressing the air out of the pottery mixture.






Stage 6:

The pottery here is formed using the pottery wheel.






Stage 7:

Before placing the pottery pieces

in the kiln, or in this case the outdoor kilns, they must be dried out in the sun







Stage 8:

The final stage is placing them in the kilns and keeping the temperature constant


5. The Markets

The pottery is distributed locally and internationally. It is popular for cooking and for keeping the water cool during the summer.

6. Difficulties and Obstacles

  1. The manufacturing process is time consuming and labor intensive.
  2. There are not enough studies on clay in Hebron.
  3. There is no local-governmental support for this craft, even though Hebron was given the world-crafts city 2016 award.
  4. This craft is owned only by the “al Fakhori“ family.
  5. Machinery has not yet been introduced to this craft; thus, the quality and quantity are limited.
  6. These products lack marketing in the local markets.
  7. People prefer processed products such as plastic to pottery products, which are healthier.
  8. Most of the locals do not know how to deal with pottery products (e.g., cleaning them).

Practical Experiments

1. Mixing Up Materials

Experiment 1
The clay of Hebron cannot stand a temperature of more than 700-900 Celsius. Because of this, it can be glazed only at very low temperatures and so it remains mostly unglazed. Therefore, I wanted to experiment in glazing and coloring it. I took raw Hebron clay and soaked it in water for 3 weeks. After the soaking I mixed it with an imported clay called “SIBELCO”, I molded it, fired it at a temperature of 950 Celsius, and glazed it at a temperature of 1050 Celsius. The experiment was a success, but the color of the clay stayed reddish.

Experiment 2
I mixed raw Hebron clay with porcelain clay, and the result was:

  1. A slight change in the color of the fired clay; the clay was brighter than the previous experiment.
  2. Solid material.
  3. Colorable.

Experiment 3

I mixed raw Hebron clay with tiny wood shreds; the advantage of the wood shreds is that they open pores in the clay structure. As a result, it soaks up water and it allows the piece of pottery to breathe. It withstands a temperature of 950 Celsius, 1050 Celsius and 1175 Celsius.

Experiment 4

I mixed raw Hebron clay with raw salt, and the result was the change of color from red to white.

Experiment 5

I mixed raw Hebron clay with Mineral wool; it resulted in a very hard material – the most solid of them all.

2. Adding Glaze

Experiment 1

I mixed raw Hebron clay with white and black pottery shreds; it resulted in a very hard and solid material. I glazed it at a temperature of 1050 Celsius; the experiment was still a success but at a temperature of 1175 Celsius, it completely melted.

Experiment 2

For glazing, I had to replace the raw Hebron clay that was used in the previous experiments with another type of clay that originates in Beit Sahour (a small town located east of Bethlehem, north of Hebron). This type of clay completely melted at a temperature of 1175 Celsius.

3. Adding Colors

Experiment 1

After the first firing I colored the pieces. It withstood a temperature of 1050 Celsius, being glazed and colored.


This study has opened my eyes to new methods of using local materials. My study did not include precise measurements, and an analysis of the local material itself was impossible to perform. In this project, I relied on traditional methods and on the rich experience of the local inhabitants with working the material. I conducted my experiments in collaboration with them, relying on their knowledge – knowledge that draws from a centuries-old tradition.

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