The Hasuna family oil-press was built during the end of the Ottoman period and was active until 1948. Most of the traditional production facilities still exist today, and include an olive oil extraction area, an area for the production of tahini and other sesame products, and an area for producing olive-oil soap. Most of the machines were operated by a central diesel engine, which is still in the structure.
Olive harvests were separated at the oil-press structure according to the various groves. This way, each owner could keep track of the oil produced from his olives and of its quality. The olives were put into the crushing machine, which was composed of a round flat stone set permanently on the ground, and above it a round runner-stone, pulled in most instances by a horse, donkey or mule. The olives and fat-rich pits were crushed together.
The olive paste was then put into round fiber bags (they were shaped like a car tire), called ‘aqal in Arabic. The ‘aqals were then stacked inside a press that extracted the oil from the crushed olives using pressure. Pressure on the press used to be achieved by a long wooden beam with weights hung from its end. In later periods they used a large screw that was gradually turned in order to increase the pressure.
The extraction is done in few stages. The first one produces the best quality oil, which is used for consumption. The later stages produce lower grade oil which is used for soap production, lighting and heating. The olive oil from the press contains water that gives the oil a bitter taste. In order to get first-grade oil, a centrifuge must be used to separate the water from the oil and make the oil float above the water. While today a mechanical centrifuge is used, in the past other apparatuses were used, e.g., a jar tied to a rope that was turned quickly by hand. After turning, a small cork at the bottom of the jar was screwed out and the separated water at the bottom would flow out. When oil appeared (seen by its different color and texture), the cork was screwed back on.
The Hasuna oil-press was operated by Abu -Rajeb’s grandfather until the 1948 war; it was used for the production of olive oil, tahini, sesame oil, and soap. Peasants from nearby villages brought their olives and sesame to the factory, which produced these goods. Payment was made by taking a percentage of the oil and tahini produced. Abu Rajeb, born in 1927, worked in the press as a child and was familiar with the structure and its operation.
Installation 1 – oil mill (please note plan):
The mill for the crushing of olives was driven clockwise by a horse. Missing (clockwise) are the horse’s harness, and a flat tin piece for the removal of the crushed olives from the stone surface.
Waiting for their turn at the oil-mill, each family put their olives in basins located between installations 1 and 2. The basins allowed to differentiate between the harvests of each family. These basins were not preserved.
Remarks on the building’s architectural plan:
1. A sealed door was located west of installation 1 that led to another house which is no longer standing.
2. A footpath led from the entrance to the east
3. A door near installation 2 was sealed when the installation was built.
4. There is another door near the spherical basin.
Next to the same basin was a sitting area for the workers
Installation 2 – powered crushing mill:
This mill was used for a faster crushing of the olives. Abu Rajeb estimates that this installation was bought between 1936 and 1940. It was belt-driven by a diesel motor from which only few parts have survived. Other parts that were preserved are a flat tin strip for the removal of the crushed olives from the runner-stone, and an opening for the removal of the crushed olives.
The following parts have been preserved as well: a pipe for cooling the engine with water from a tank on the roof. The flow directions need to be examined. There were probably originally two pipes, one for the cold water and another for releasing the hot water. Also a flywheel, a connected rod and other items have been preserved.
Installation number 3 - presses:
The crushed olives were put into aqals (see above) which were pressed in one of the two presses. One of the presses is still intact, while several parts are missing from the second. The presses included an extra wheel for a stronger press.
Installation 4 – pits:
These four pits were used for the storage of the olive oil containers. Only three have survived intact. Abu Rajeb told us the following story regarding the fourth pit: during the 1948 war, due to concerns about fuel-shortage, many containers of diesel fuel for operating the installations were stored in one of the pits, and its opening was sealed with cotton. One day, because he was worried about the dampness, one of the workers went to check this pit while holding a candle. The open flame ignited the fuel fumes, which exploded and killed the worker.
Installation 5 – soaking vats:
Prior to shelling, the sesame seeds were soaked for 24 hours.
A basin for washing the work tools was located next to Installation 6.
Installation 6 – sesame seed shelling machine:
This installation was used for shelling the seeds. It consists of a blender located inside a basin. The blender was driven by the diesel motor through a belt and a differential. This motor (located between installations 2 and 8) was strong enough to drive all of the machines at the same time. During the peak seasons, this was actually the case, since all the installations were in use simultaneously.
Near installation 6 – cleaning basin for tools and a pit for the storage of sesame oil in tin cans.
Installation 7 – oven:
Used for toasting the seeds prior to grinding them.
Basin near installation 7:
This basin was used for extracting the oil from the sesame seeds by foot treading. The treading took 2-3 hours, and at the end of it, the waste was collected as food for cattle. The sesame oil was sold in tin cans all over Palestine – Eretz Israel, including Jerusalem and Nablus.
Installation 8 – sesame mill:
The sesame seeds were poured into the top funnel which fed into the millstones that were driven by the main motor.
Installation 9 – the masbane:
This installation has two parts: a large round basin (to the south), which contained a large tank. It was used for the cooking of the olive oil and the sodium hydroxide to make the viscous liquid soap. The complex to the north was used for the maintenance of the tank’s heater.
Rooms 10 – soap preparation halls:
In these rooms the viscous cooked liquid was poured over smooth floors. After few days of solidification, when it was ‘leather-hard’, soap bars were cut out of it using long rulers and machete-like knives. Every bar was stamped with the factory’s trade mark using a hammer with a stamp on it. This work was done by a skilled worker. After stamping, the bars were stacked in large cones for another week, until they were completely dry. Later, every bar was wrapped with paper and put into a wooden box to be shipped to customers and distributors. During most of the year, when no soap was produced, these rooms were used for storage.
Abu Rajeb Hasuna was interviewed by Guy Rosanes
Alon Shavit wrote and edited the report