Tag Archive | Palestine

Palestinian costume – background

The territory once known as Palestine was bounded on the north by Syria and Lebanon, on the west by the Mediterranean, and in the south by Egypt.

Ramallah woman c. 1890s (Library of Congress)

Ramallah woman c. 1890s (Library of Congress)

It was by geographic location a bridge – between Asia and Africa, and between the desert and the sea – and by cultural position a crossroads. The civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, the Crusaders and the Arab and Ottoman empires, have all left their mark over the centuries in the mingling of empires, cultures and nationalities. Three of the world’s great religions hold this tiny territory sacred.

Arab society in Palestine prior to 1948 consisted of three main groups: the townspeople baladin, the settled farmers fellahin, and the nomadic bedouin tribes. Some 80% of the Arab population depended on agriculture, with over eight hundred villages scattered from the coastal plains to the Jordan River. Many were economically and socially independent, and difficulties in communication and environment produced strong individualistic traits within the communities: different dialects, different crops and food, different clothes.

Within the family structure roles were well defined. Women were in a subordinate position but important within the family group, being required to look after not only houses and children, but playing significant parts in agricultural activities. In some regions they were expected to work in the fields and hold responsibilities for the harvest.
Southern Coastal Plains bride c. 1932-3 (Olga Tufnell)

Southern Coastal Plains bride c. 1932-3 (Olga Tufnell)

 In other regions there was less emphasis on agricultural participation and more time for leisure, and it was in these villages that the art of embroidery was developed.

It is difficult to discover what costumes Palestinians wore before the mid-19th century although there are some references made in the memoirs of various European travellers.

The first detailed evidence dates back to reports from missionary societies in the 1880’s whose collections of Arab costume eventually made their way to the British Museum. A study of Biblical subjects in late 19th century English painting can reveal some detailed and interesting studies of Palestinian costume. Whether these would have been worn 2000 years ago remains a moot point. The fact remains that we base our understanding of Christian traditional iconography today – Mary’s blue dress with white headscarf and Joseph’s striped coat, as typical examples – on 19th century Palestinian costume.

The majority of research done on Palestinian costume has focused on the elaborate garments made by village fellahin society for weddings and special occasions. In general, urban clothing was known to be influenced by Turkish and European fashions. During Ottoman times townsfolk wore Turkish dress, and with the rise of European influence adopted Western style outfits, modified by climate and society. By the turn of the century Beirut was functioning as the Middle East distribution point for Western clothing, from homburgs to parasols, and was distributing them in vast quantities down the coast into Palestine.

Traditional costume for men in Palestine was of very simple design and was similar in style to that worn by men throughout the Arab world. In contrast, women’s costumes, and in particular those costumes for special occasions, were regionally and stylistically diverse with great emphasis placed on ornamentation. The detailed visual elements of these costumes reflected a correspondingly detailed meaning system concerned with identity and status.

Historically both the bedouin and the fellahin women made their own costumes. While bedouin women usually bought their garment fabrics readymade, village women wove and dyed some of their fabrics. The majority were usually bought in the towns or direct from the various weaving centres in Palestine. Women would then assemble the garment and decorate it in the style of their region or village. Among both bedouin and fellahin societies, costumes would then be passed to younger members of the family. When finally outgrown or too worn to be used, a garment might be turned into household rags. Fine embroidery pieces, such as were found on the qabbeh – the embroidered chest panel of a woman’s dress – were often kept to be resewn onto new garments.

The range of textiles available for sale in Palestine was impressive: Damascus velvets, muslin from Mosul in Iraq, tabby silk from Baghdad, the finest white cotton from Baalbek in Lebanon, linen from Egypt, and silk, the Chinese secret invention that reached the Middle East on it’s way to Europe. Local fabrics favoured for Palestinian costumes were handwoven silks, cottons and linens. Cotton was historically cultivated in Palestine but from the mid-19th century onwards locally produced fabrics tended to be woven from yarns imported from Egypt, Syria and England. Garments were also made from wool bought from the bedouin tribes, although the bedouin themselves did not weave clothing.

The weaving centres of Palestine were at Majdel and Gaza in the south, and Safad in northern Palestine with the towns of Nablus, Ramallah and Bethlehem also producing some fabrics. Palestinian weaving never developed to the artistic or technical level of neighbouring Syria and the industry declined noticeably after the introduction of machine-made mass produced textiles from Europe. It did, however, produce a range of garment fabrics specifically for village fashions.

Dyeing was a profession carried on by only a few families who kept formulas secret. Indigo was the most important dye for Palestinian costumes. Most women wore an everyday dress of indigo blue, but the dye was also used for men’s clothing and women’s headveils. The plant was grown in the Ghor area of the Jordan Valley, but stocks were later supplemented with imports from India. Saffron, for yellow, was grown in the villages. Sumac was used for a yellow-green colour. Red colour was obtained either from madder, or from cochineal or chermes insects mixed with pomegranate. Synthetic dyes reached the Palestinian market from Germany early in the 20th century, appearing in local markets around 1912. Many people still continued with their natural dyes but by the 1920’s the industry was in a sharp decline.

The metallic threads used in couching work from the Bethlehem and Jerusalem areas were made in Aleppo from cords of silver or gilt silver. Originally, couching cords were of spun silk, but after the First World War most were imported and were factory made of artificial silk. The thinness of the older type was still preferred for precision work.

The style of clothing worn by fellahin women was established by regional preferences and local social factors. Many of the basic garments maintained an over all similarity in design, if not in decoration. Fellahin costume consisted of the basic dress thob, pants libas, jacket jubbeh, and coat jillayeh. The thob, as with male costume, was generally a loose fitting robe with sleeves with the actual cut of the garment varying by region. Decoration on the thob was concentrated mainly on the square chest panel qabbeh, the cuffs and top of the sleeves, and vertical panels running down the dress from waist level. Some regions decorated a lower back panel of the dress known as the shinyar. Jackets and coats were usually kept for special occasions and were richly decorated according to local customs. Similar garments were sometimes worn by town women, although usually of better fabric and hybrid decoration styles. Unlike bedouin women, the fellahin did not veil their face except on their wedding day.  Various styles of veils were developed to cover the hair, as were intricate headdresses heavily ornamented with coins.

Girls were taught dressmaking skills usually from about the age of eight. Much importance was placed on embroidery, as it was thought that a prospective bride’s character and personality were revealed through her work. By the time of one’s wedding it was expected that a bridal outfit be completed, as well as items embroidered for the home. The wedding costumes of Palestine were ornate and symbolic and consisted of the heavily decorated wedding dress and accessories together with valuable coin which covered headdresses and many pieces of silver jewellery. The style of the bridal dress, as well as garments for everyday wear, was determined by the regional style.

To understand the distribution of embroidery styles in Palestine, Shelagh Weir, author of the publications Palestinian costume (1989) and Palestinian embroidery (1970 and 1988), requests one to imagine the country divided by two horizontal lines: the first placed south of Mount Carmel and the Sea of Galilee at the level of ‘Afula, and the second running from the coast to the Jordan River north of Jaffa and south of Nablus. Her research has shown that in the area between these two lines there is very little history of embroidery (although still showing traditions of fine decoration, including braidwork and appliqué, in women’s costume) and an Arab proverb found in this region, originally recording by Gustav Dalman in 1937, that “embroidery signifies a lack of work” certainly backs Weir’s findings. The areas where Weir found a long standing tradition of embroidery were in the area north of her top line, in Upper and Lower Galilee, and in the area south of the bottom line, in the Judean Hills and on the coastal plain.

A myriad of embroidery stitches were popular in Palestine. While cross stitch has come to be thought of as the most commonly used stitch throughout the country – with the couching stitch favoured in the Bethlehem region following in popularity – some areas, such as the Galilee, favoured a mixture of cross stitch, satin stitch, stem stitch and hem stitching. The gold and silver cord and fine silk thread couching produced in Bethlehem and neighbouring villages was so popular that wedding costumes featuring this type of embroidery were produced commercially by the women of Bethlehem for weddings throughout the country. Both Gustav Dalman in 1937 and Hilma Granqvist in 1931 record wedding songs in which Bethlehem wedding dresses are mentioned:

“God knows that our outfit today

A hundred ‘royal’ robes which we have cut

For the bride to whom we are betrothed.

God knows – today is our outfit

A green and a ‘royal’ [malak] dress we have bought

For the bride to whom we are betrothed!

Ten jackets [taqsireh] have we bought

For the beloved ones in order to appease her”

(Hilda Granqvist Marriage conditions in a Palestinian village vol.2 1931: p.42)

In southern Palestine and the Sinai Desert, cross stitch was certainly the preferred decorative technique, with either silk or cotton thread.

Motifs favoured in Palestinian embroidery and costume were also diverse. Palestine’s position on the international trade routes certainly exposed it to influences from diverse fields. Weir argues that cross stitch motifs may have been derived from oriental carpets, while couching motifs may have it’s origin in the vestments of Christian priests or the gold thread work of Byzantium (1970: pp.13-14). Research by Hanan Munayyer of the Palestinian Heritage Foundation reveals that some popular Palestinian motifs may have been in use in the region and in neighbouring Egypt since the fourth century AD. Munayyer also notes that the importance of Syrian textiles on Palestinian styles should not be overlooked (“New Images, Old Patterns: a historical glimpse” ARAMCO news Mar/Apr 1977: pp.5,7,9). Leila el Khalidi, in The Art of Palestinian Embroidery (2000), proposes a more global assimilation and selection of motifs.

Postcard of a variety of Palestinian regional costume (pre 1948) from the collection of Maha Saca, Director, Palestinian Heritage Centre, Bethlehem

Postcard of a variety of Palestinian regional costume (pre 1948) from the collection of Maha Saca, Director, Palestinian Heritage Centre, Bethlehem

Whatever their source, Palestinian embroidery motifs and patterns are of great intricacy and diversity. Again, their popularity was defined regionally, with certain designs being indicative of certain villages. Other motifs, such as the cypress tree saru, are found throughout Palestine in many different forms, some complex, some simple. In fact, many Palestinian motifs can be seen on analysis to be derived from quite basic geometric forms such as triangles, squares and rosettes. New patterns introduced into Palestine in the late 1930s, via European pattern books or magazines, promoted the appeal of curvilinear motifs such as flower and vine or leaf arrangements, and introduced motifs such as the paired birds which became very popular in central Palestinian regions. Geometric motifs maintained their popularity in the Galilee and southern regions, including the Sinai Desert.

For detailed study and illustration of Palestinian motifs we recommend Leila el Khalidi’s The Art of Palestinian Embroidery (Saqi Books, London 2000), Shelagh Weir and Serene Shahid’s Palestinian embroidery (British Museum, London, 1988) and Jehan Rajab’s Palestinian costume (Keegan Paul, London 1989). The Palestine Costume Archive will be adding a file to this website illustrating motifs at a later date.




Separation wall showcases graffiti

Posted on: 2015/06/05

By Nadine Sayegh

Wall between Israel and West Bank remains main platform for subcul­ture that is viewed as a global ex­pression of resistance.garffitti3

To exist is to resist, Freedom for Palestine and I am not a terrorist read some of the slogans of Palestin­ian graffiti, which cover walls, doors and war-broken houses across Gaza and the West Bank.

But the separation wall between Israel and the West Bank remains the main platform for the subcul­ture that is viewed as a global ex­pression of resistance against soci­etal injustice.

Just like the Berlin Wall was an ir­refutable monument of injustice in Europe, the separation wall, a phys­ical barrier segregating two peoples, has come under global scrutiny as a testament to modern apartheid.

The abundance of graffiti that can be found on the Israel-West Bank partition has drawn graffiti artists from around the world to also make their mark.

Palestinian graffiti has been pre­sent since long before the wall was erected and not long after the Israeli occupation began.

London-based visual and graffiti artista Hafez Omar, a native of Ra­mallah, underlined that resistance against the occupation was the cat­alyst for the emergence of graffiti in the territories.

“It didn’t come as an art practice or a practice for self expression, it was part of confronting the obsta­cles that the Israeli occupation put in front of the Palestinian people,” Omar said in an interview with The Arab Weekly.

“The kind of graffiti that existed in Palestine was part of a politi­cal communication process. It was used as an alternative to not having any regular media outlets to deliver messages… It really helped people to know what the collective stances on events were, and what the next step against the occupation was,” Omar said.

“I remember, I used to know all the news through the walls. My political education as a Palestinian born in ’83 was through messages on the walls.”

Graffiti culture in the Palestinian territories has evolved and took up some of the values that existed in the West but it was not taken away from the core of the art form — re­sistance against an unjust system.

Just as Che Guevara became the face of revolutionary sentiment, global graffiti culture has become intertwined with the Palestinian cause. Slogans and tags such as Free Palestine and Palestina Libre have become symbols of resistance and peace worldwide.

Hugh Lovatt, of the European Council on Foreign Relations and who has conducted extensive field­work on Palestinian graffiti and hip-hop culture in Israel and the Occu­pied Territories, disputed the idea that modern graffiti was born as a means of subverting a dominant system, whether it is political, cul­tural or artistic.

“Graffiti is part of a broader hip-hop culture that also includes rap music. The fact that hip-hop cul­ture has been adopted by margin­alised youth communities in urban centres all over the world as one of their main mediums of popular ex­pression attests to that,” Lovatt told The Arab Weekly.

It is difficult to dissociate graffiti from hip-hop culture, encompass­ing a genre of music, a type of dance and a particular visual art — all re­flecting perceived communal injus­tice. Modern Palestinian graffiti is no exception to this rule, according to Lovatt.

For those living in the Gaza Strip, artwork illustrating Palestinian resistance has become part of the landscape but hip-hop culture was a big player in its growth.

Ahmad Seedawi, a Gazan graf­fiti artist studying at Palestine University, told The Arab Weekly that his interest developed through breakdancing, which he began very young. His knowledge of graffiti grew at a later stage and he learnt the art form through visiting foreign artists and through the internet.

“It started with five original guys who would tag walls in their local neighbourhoods. We learnt at first from a group of Italian artists who came to visit, then a group of Amer­icans also taught us,” Seedawi ex­plained. “I am giving lessons now, every other day, to all sorts of peo­ple, guys and girls, young and old. Everyone is interested.”

Attention towards the art form is growing, as graffiti has become increasingly tolerated and encour­aged in the Gaza Strip. Following the destruction of the Shujaiyeh refugee camp during Israeli bom­bardments of Gaza in summer 2014, slogans and drawings appeared on damaged building blocks as a sym­bol of unconditional perseverance.

“We want the world to know what happens in Gaza and will continue to show it through our graffiti,” Omar said.

The separation wall has also be­come a hotspot for international tal­ent. Artists from around the world visit the wall to showcase their work on a platform with a global audience. High-profile artists such as photographer JR and graffiti art­ist Banksy have created large-scale projects that propelled the Palestin­ian cause.

However, it remains that the ori­gins of Palestinian graffiti, the in­crease in global attention and the ever-prominent representation of Palestinian solidarity through the visual medium has taken away from the importance of the aesthetics of the work and the artists behind the work.

“Palestinian graffiti is neverthe­less becoming increasingly refined and aesthetically complex, most especially in Gaza,” Lovatt com­mented.

He said, “The way in which the global art form of graffiti has been localised by Palestinian artists, such as the inclusion and adaptation of Arabic calligraphy, has resulted in an increasingly rich and unique art form.”

But Palestinian graffiti is seen first and foremost as an expression of Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation.

“Focusing on its didactic or po­litical value can detract from ap­preciating Palestinian graffiti on the merits of its aesthetics alone. Some­times a square is just a square and nothing more,” Lovatt said.

But Seedawi emphasises how important it is for Gazan graffiti art­ists to relay messages on the Israeli siege and destruction in the Gaza Strip.

He said, they will “continue to colour” the walls of destruction, and “continue to hope” that Pales­tinian graffiti is not only used as a symbol of suffering and protest, but as an art movement towards collec­tive justice.




Ghassan Kanafani

Ghassan Kanafani (1936 – 1972) was born in Acre, Palestine and lived in Jaffa until 1948. Ghassan KanafaniHe was a well-known Palestinian journalist, novelist, dramatist and short story-writer whose writings were rooted in Arab Palestinian culture. Main themes in Ghassan Kanafani’s writings were up rootedness, exile, and the Palestinian struggle for self-determination.  He was forced to leave with his family to Lebanon and later to Syria, in the mass exodus of 1947-1949 (Nakba). They settled in Syria as Palestinian refugees. He studied Arabic literature at the University of Damascus. After he finished university he worked as teacher and journalist. In 1969 he became spokesperson for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the editor-in-chief of its weeklyAl-Hadaf. His first novel, Men in the Sun, appeared in 1963 and his second novel, All That´s Left to you in 1966. He is considered one of the earliest and most successful modernist experiments in Arabic fiction. Many of Ghassan’s literary works have been translated into 17 languages and published in more than 20 different countries.

Men in the Sun is a novel by Ghassan Kanafani (1936–72), originally published in 1962. Men in the Sun follows three Palestinian refugees seeking to travel from the refugee camps in Lebanon, where they cannot find work, to Kuwait where they hope to find work as laborers in the oil boom. The three men each arrange with a clerk at a local store to be smuggled to Kuwait by a driver. The men are treated gruffly and are humiliated by the process. Once they finally arrange for travel, they are forced to ride in the back of the truck across the desert on their way to Kuwait. At several check points, the men hide in a large, empty, water tank in the stifling mid-day heat as the driver arranges paperwork to get through. After going through the last check point, within easy driving distance of the travelers’ ultimate goal of Kuwait, the driver opens the tank to let the men out only to find they have died.

Men in the Sun has been translated into many languages. Its description of the hardships and insecurity of Palestinian refugee life, and its political and psychological subtext (subtly criticizing corruption, political passivity and defeatism within Arab and Palestinian society) had an impact on the Arab cultural and political debate of the time; it also uses modernist narrative structures and storytelling methods.

Men in the Sun has been filmed as al-Makhduun (The Deceived or The Dupes), by Egyptian director Tawfiq Saleh. The film was banned in several Arab countries due to its criticisms of Arab governments.

All That’s Left to You (1966) is considered one of the earliest and most successful modernist experiments in Arabic fiction. Kanafani used multiple narrators  two of them, the clock and the desert, were inanimate. The protagonist of the story is a young man named Hamid. He dreams of being reunited with his mother from whom he was separated in 1948. Hamid had fled to Gaza while his mother left for the West Bank. He tries to find her but becomes lost in the desert, crossing paths with an Israeli soldier. He is forced to eschew his original plan and turn to confront his enemy. Although he dies before locating his mother, he is in death reunited with his lost land. The thematic development reflects the change in political climate, and the initiation of the Palestinian armed struggle.

Returning to Haifa is certainly one of the best works of the Palestinian literary master Ghassan Kanafani. This translation contains, in addition to the title novella, a selection of Kanafani’s short stories relating to children – Palestinian children. Like all other Kanafani works, this book was a tremendous pleasure to read and at the same time intensely thought-provoking. “Returning to Haifa” is perhaps one of his hardest works to translate, thanks to his profligate use of imagery, but the translators do an excellent job rendering the original text into English. As in most of his works, Kanafani experiments frequently with different techniques for telling a story, techniques that were revolutionary during his time (1960s). I particularly enjoy the twists of plot at the end of each story, and how the very last sentence forces me to re-think and re-evaluate my entire understanding of that story. Seeped in the author’s struggle for freedom and for a homeland, these stories reflect a deep understanding of human relationships and the human condition. Yet despite this depth (or perhaps because of it), the main characters tend to always be ordinary human beings – in this book, children from the villages and the refugee camps. A major feature of “Returning to Haifa” is the seamless melding of two narratives, as a Palestinian family expelled from Haifa in 1948 return for the first time to see their former home after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967. The story of the expulsion is juxtaposed seamlessly with the story of their second visit and encounter with the Israelis currently occupying it. But the main contribution of “Returning to Haifa” is its portrayal of those Israelis, whom he shows to be themselves refugees (from the Nazis), and its success in epitomizing their perspective and their logic. It is therefore often described as the first Arabic novel which genuinely portrayed the feelings and emotions on the Israeli side. The other short stories contained in this anthology are no less worthy of praise, each in its own right. Truly, one cannot truly understand what it means to be a Palestinian without reading “Palestine’s Children” or any other of Kanafani’s works.

Umm Sad (1969) reflects the situation of the Palestinians following the defeat of the Arab armies in 1967 and the rise of the Palestinian Resistance Movement. One of the central persons in the story is a woman, Umm Sad, whose son joins the resistance movement. Kanafani’s last published novel, Aid ila Hayfa (1970) was also written with a direct political message. In these books Kanafani had abandoned interior monologues, flashbacks, and other complex techniques and used straightforward narrative and dialogue.

Books: -Men in the Sun and Other Palestinian Stories -Palestine’s Children: Returning to Haifa & Other Stories -Men in the Sun -Ardh al Burtuqal al Hazin: Short Stories in Arabic -Rijal Fil Shams: Riwaya Arabiyya (Arab Literature Series) (Arabic Edition)                       -Returning to Haifa (Arabic Edition) -All That’s Left to You: A Novella and Short Stories (Interlink World Fiction – Rasael Ghassan Kanafani ela Ghada al Samman (Arabic) -Death of Bed No. 12 (Arabic Edition) -Land of Sad Oranges (Arabic Edition) -A Bridge to Eternity (Arabic Edition) -On Zionist Literature (Arabic Edition) -Palestine’s Children – Um Sad

Short Stories

Death of Bed No. 12

Land of Sad Oranges

A World Not Our Own

Of Men and Rifles

The Stolen Shirt



A Bridge to Eternity

The Door

The Hat and the Prophet



Resistance Literature in Occupied Palestine 1948 -1966

Palestinian Literature of Resistance Under Occupation 1948 – 1968

In Zionist Literature |


Further reading:

‘Return to Haifa’ crosses borders of war ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/21/AR2011012107180.html)

Ghassan’s memories (https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening/yasir-tineh/ghassan%E2%80%99s-memories)   – Remembering Ghassan Kanafani through the watch and the Volkswagen (http://uprootedpalestinians.wordpress.com/2014/07/09/remembering-ghassan-kanafani-through-the-watch-and-the-volkswagen/

– Ghassan Kanafani: The Symbol of the Palestinian Tragedy by Rasem Al-Madhoon (http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/6885/ghassan-kanafani_the-symbol-of-the-palestinian-tra