Palestinian shoemaker behind West Bank’s only mask factory

Palestinian workers produce face masks at a shoe factory in the West Bank city of Hebron amid the spread of coronavirus (Mosab Shawer - APA Images)

Middle East Monitor  /  March 24, 2020

A Palestinian shoemaker has responded to the coronavirus crisis by transforming his Hebron factory into the only manufacturer of face masks in the occupied West Bank, reported +972 Magazine.

Amjad Zaghir made the shift “overnight”, and now oversees the production of “thousands of masks a day”, making him “a national hero for helping Palestinians protect themselves from the virus”.

According to +972 Magazine, “Zaghir got to work as soon as news broke of the first diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Bethlehem”, buying a mask to study how it is made – and if he could recreate it.

“I approached my friend, a pharmacist, and asked him what materials are used to make masks,” said Zaghir. “He explained that what we use in shoemaking is unsuitable, and pointed me in the right direction”.

Finding the right fabric from a local vendor, Zaghir began experimenting with the methods of making the masks.

“At first, I tried sewing the masks using the same machine we use to sew shoes. But that attempt was unsuccessful because the fabric for the masks was too thin and easily ripped apart,” said Zaghir. “I tried to iron the fabric to create the folds, but I ended up burning it.”

The 30-year-old business-owner told +972 Magazine that it wasn’t simply profit that motivated him.

This is about helping my people, and a way of providing work opportunities…There’s a crisis in Hebron, and many are unemployed.

After consulting with various sewing workshops and pharmacists, Zaghir “discovered there was a machine in the city that can fold the masks while ironing them”, while “to moderate the heat levels at 400 degrees Celsius, he sandwiched the masks between layers of paper”.

On the first day, the factory managed to create 500 masks, and the following day 1,000 more. Having boosted staff numbers, the factory now makes 7-9,000 masks daily.

Zaghir has sold masks to “government employees, hospitals” and “Palestinian police”, with official institutions buying the masks at a symbolic cost of NIS 1.50 per unit.

Zaghir hopes to be producing 100,000 masks a day in the next week based on a new technique.

“My mask is unique, it is unlike any other in the world. Whoever comes across this mask will immediately know it’s made in al-Khalil (Hebron),” he added.