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‘Palestinian embroidery is under threat from Israel’

Rajaa Alzeer has been doing Palestinian embroidery for a lifetime, she only stopped when Israeli settlers broke her arms.
Rajaa Alzeer teaches a child to sew on 6 April 2018 [The Palestinian Museum/Facebook]

Rajaa has been stitching Palestinian embroidery for 50 years, she only stopped when settlers broke her arms six years ago while she was picking akkoob (gundelia) from the wild.

“I was with my husband and friends of ours. Settlers from the settlement saw us and came down and started beating us, the bones in my arms were shattered,” she recalls.

The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has documented an average of some 100-400 Israeli settler attacks on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank every year since 2012. Each led to Palestinians sustaining injuries to themselves or their property.

The injury changed Rajaa’s life, yet, she was keen to overcome it and go back to her favourite hobby.

I couldn’t do embroidery for two years, one of my arms has healed, the other is not completely healed yet, I can use the needle now, I just can’t carry anything heavy.

Rajaa learned how to do embroidery when she was a child going to school in the occupied West Bank city of Salfit. “In the old times they used to teach us embroidery in elementary school, I enjoyed it at the time and haven’t stopped doing it for the past 50 years.”

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“I wake up early in the morning for fajr [morning] prayer, I pray and most days start embroidery after, at like 5:30-6am. I keep stitching until my grandchildren come to my place at about 8am,” Rajaa says.

If the house work didn’t get in the way, Rajaa says she would spend all her time doing embroidery. “There are no constrains but time for me,” she explains.

Rajaa makes embroidered dresses, frames and furniture decorations. “I love it, it’s close to my heart, I enjoy it and I don’t feel time pass when I start,” she says.

Rajaa Alzeer speaks on her work, 28 July 2018 at “Labour of Love” exhibition at the Palestinian Museum. [The Palestinian Museum/Facebook]

Rajaa Alzeer speaks on her work, 28 July 2018 at “Labour of Love” exhibition at the Palestinian Museum. [The Palestinian Museum/Facebook]

Her work extends to traditional Palestinian dress, thobes, and she has made 12 for herself and “two or three” for each of her daughters. The thobe she wore to her son’s wedding was recently displayed at the “Labour of Love” exhibition at the Palestinian Museum.

“That thobe was a masterpiece, I wore it at my son’s wedding ten years ago […] the cloth was fully embroidered and it took me about one and half years of work,” she explains. “The Palestinian Museum invited me to hold two training workshops to teach embroidery, which I did […] we need to introduce it to the younger generation and make sure they know about our heritage,” she adds, warning that the ancient Palestinian tradition is being abandoned and forgotten.

It’s our identity, it’s the Palestinian culture, we have to defend it. Israel tries to claim our culture, they learn about it and then say it’s theirs.

After 50 years of embroidery, Rajaa now has a special relationship with her craft, “to get a good piece you have to use original silk threads,” she explains, adding that: “if you’re not familiar with embroidery, you won’t differentiate between the original and non-original silk.”

Rajaa continues the hobby which she does not get enough of, threading for her is not about money, “the pieces I work on are precious to me, I keep them with me, it’s hard for me to give them away”, she says.

“It’s a good business if your aim is money. But I don’t aim to make money out of it, I’m happy when someone appreciates embroidery, but it’s not getting enough attention these days despite how important it is as part of our heritage.”

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