Sabon Nablusi: Soap in the West Bank // 18 Photos

The city of Nablus, 63 kilometers north of Jerusalem, has long held its place as a major cultural and commercial center in the Arab world, from Biblical times through to the Crusades, through the Byzantine, Ottoman and British empires. Since the six-day war of 1967, Nablus and the greater West Bank of Palestine have remained Israeli-occupied territory. While the city's status as a center of Palestinian culture remains, its standing as a commercial center and trading hub has sharply declined since the beginning of the second Palestinian Intifada in 2000 and the subsequent lockdown of Palestinian movement by the Israeli Defence Forces, or IDF.

Today, traffic in and out of Nablus remains tightly controlled and the six roads leading to the city are all controlled by IDF checkpoints.

Nablus is also known as the birthplace of modern industrial soap-making techniques. Prior to 2000, fourteen soap factories operated in the city, exporting soap across the Middle East and Europe. However, due to the strict conditions placed on movement into and out of Nablus by the IDF, only three remained in operation by 2006. The collapse of the city's soap-making industry has also led directly to an increase in unemployment. In 2006 unemployment of young men in the old city, the center of the soap industry, was estimated at 80% by the UNRWA, the United Nations body responsible for Palestinian refugees. Today, with so many of Nablus' residents at a loose end, living within the confines of a city tightly controlled by their occupier, one could easily draw links to Nablus' other, much darker, claim to fame - its status as one of the most militant cities in the occupied West Bank of Palestine.