With the destruction of traditional Palestinian society in 1948, much of Palestinian culture has ceased to exist. As Edward Said has noted, to write of Palestinian culture is to write of dispossession and exile. But organisations have been founded in order to preserve what Palestinian culture remains, with many crafts still practised in various refugee camps throughout Palestine.
Palestine was by geographic location a bridge - between Asia and Africa, and
between the desert and the sea - and by cultural position, a crossroads. Thus
the civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, the Crusaders
and the Arab and Ottoman empires, have all left their mark over the centuries
forming Palestinian culture, through the mingling of empires, cultures and nationalities.
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 required to look after, not only houses and children,
but played a significant part in agricultural activities. In some regions they
were expected to work in the fields and hold responsibilities for the harvest.
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
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Embroidery is one of the most important womens craft in Palestine. Its origin goes back more than four thousand years to the Canaan period. In the past, womens traditional costumes were designed by using embroidery needle work. It was possible to recognize a womans hometown or village from the geometrical designs or gaily-coloured flowers embroidered on her dress. These designs were embroidered with various coloured threads in cross-stitch. Traditional costume for men in Palestine was of 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 re-sewn onto new garments.
Embroidery projects set up to assist Palestinian refugee women with income, as well as to maintain and promote traditional Palestinian culture, appeared as early as the 1950s. Most, however, were established in the mid 1980s, when the need for such projects was finally recognised by the international aid community. While some of these projects are still tied to foreign organizations, many are now managing on their own and are especially in need of international markets for their products.
There are several different categories of embroidery project - those established and maintained by foreign aid organisations, those that were established by foreign aid but are now run locally, and those set up and run by one of the various Palestinian women's organisations or societies. The latter group have a long history in Palestine, where the women's movement began in the early years of the 20th century. Mainly social and charitable organisations with humanitarian objectives were established at that time, which contributed greatly in promoting the role of Palestinian women in the educational, social, economic and political spheres.
For more information on refugee embroidery/handicraft project listings and how you can help, please go to Al Badia the Palestine Costume Archive , ASDC or Sunbala
A popular Palestinian dish literally meaning "something that is heated."
Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Remove excess fat.
Combine sumac, spices & salt. Set aside 2 tsp of this mixture, mixing the rest with the lemon juice. Rub into the chicken and marinate for up to 24 hours.
Sauté the onions in olive oil, add half the chicken stock, reserved spices and a pinch of salt. Cover and cook gently for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 ° F.
Place the chicken on a baking sheet, and cover with the onion mixture. Cover with foil and cook for 20 minutes.
Lightly brush an oven dish with oil, place the flat bread on this and sprinkle with the remaining stock. Place the chicken quarters on the onions and bread, and return to the oven for a further 20 minutes or until tender and nicely browned. Serve immediately sprinkled with pine nuts.
Palestinian am I
No one can take away from me
For it is mine.
Palestinian am I.
I am the river that flows
Through my land.
I am the mountain
Noble and magnificent
Rising up out of chaos and destruction.
I greet the morning sun
That shines down on my fertile valleys
And parches my barren desert.
I am the red poppy and yellow daffodil
That grow upon my bloodstained hills.
I am the battle cry of freedom
That echoes through my corridors
And every fibre of my being.
Palestinian am I.
I am the proud owner of
Orange orchards and lemon blossoms
And honey bees, wild and free.
I am the David child wielding a single stone
Against the Israeli Goliath.
I am not afraid,
For truth is with me and God is on my side.
If I die,
A choir of angels will honour me
And later, my parents will grasp my outstretched hand
And join me in Heaven.
I am the tears of
Mothers weeping for their dead sons.
I am the footsteps of ancient prophets
Who foretold of doom and destruction
To those who torture and oppress me.
My brethren are the doves, hummingbirds and seagulls
That fly unhindered above my sea.
I am Palestinian,
Therefore, I am.
No one can take my identity
Away from me,
Not tanks or guns or bombs
Meant to desecrate me and kill me.
My country lives in me.
I am the cry of liberty
No matter what they take from me,
They cant take away my identity
Or my dignity.
Palestinian am I.
By Edna Yaghi