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Scotland's first Festival of Palestine kicks off with history tapestry exhibition

Festival of Palestine, on 9 October 2021 in Edinburgh, Scotland [provided by Festival of Palestine]
Festival of Palestine, on 9 October 2021 in Edinburgh, Scotland [provided by Festival of Palestine]

The first Festival of Palestine in Scotland kicked off yesterday in the capital, Edinburgh, with a remarkable exhibition of the Palestinian History Tapestry as its main feature.

Organised by Edinburgh Action for Palestine and the Palestinian community in Scotland, the week-long event celebrates the 4,000 year history of Palestine in tapestry, traditional music, 'dabkeh' folk dance, photography, films, talks, as well as children's activities.

"The event was created by a true multicultural community who live together in Scotland," the organisers told MEMO, saying they were delighted to be displaying panels of the Palestinian History Tapestry on its tenth anniversary.

Stitched by Palestinian women in the occupied Palestinian territories and in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon, the tapestry is a large collection of illustrative panels which tell the story of the land and people of Palestine through the ages using traditional Palestinian embroidery. In the ten years since the launch of the project, over 100 panels were produced depicting Palestinian history from the Neolithic Period to the present day under the ongoing Israeli military of Palestine.

"Scottish support for Palestine, the Palestinian people, the Palestinian struggle are simply inspiring and empowering," the Palestinian Ambassador to the UK Husam Zomlot said as he welcomed guests in a recorded video message played on the opening day of the festival.

Zomlot described the Palestinian History Tapestry as a "mind-boggling achievement" which "shows the beauty of our land, the depth of our culture, the intensity of our history and the strength of our attachment to our home."

"What a wonderful way to present the Palestinian history that dates back to the Neolithic period; takes in the walls of Jericho, the Philistine era and everything in between through various conquests, invasions, imperial ambitions, up to the 1948 Nakba and our many tragedies since, as well as some of our victories," he said, adding:

It blends history and politics with one of our national art forms, that of tapestry and textile art in general.

Among attendees of the exhibition were Ms Joanna Cherry MP and Mr Tommy Sheppard MP, both members of the Scottish National Party and long-time supporters of the Palestinian struggle.

"This project has very much been a collaboration of love and solidarity, with people in the UK and around the world showing their greatest support for the struggle against oppression," Co-chair of the Palestinian History Tapestry, Jehan Alfarra, said in a video message.

Edinburgh is not the only British city to celebrate Palestinian history and culture this autumn. Oxford, which officially twinned with the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah in 2019 and where the tapestry was first founded in 2011 by Jan Chalmers, hosted two exhibitions of the Palestinian History Tapestry last month.

The University of Oxford's Pitt Rivers Museum first showcased a collection of the tapestry's panels during its Oxford Open Days event 'Talking Threads: Palestinian Textiles Day.'

This was followed by another exhibition celebrating Palestinian history, art and embroidery at the Oxford Town Hall, organised by the Oxford-Ramallah Friendship Association (ORFA).

Officially opening the exhibition, Deputy Lord Mayor of Oxford Stephen Goddard said he was struck by "the sheer length of the history that the tapestry represents" as well as the "variety of its remarkable pieces of artwork".

"The history of Palestine and of the Palestinian people goes back not hundreds but thousands of years, and the fact that the tapestry is able to represent that is so crucially important," he added, explaining that the tapestry not only shows history but "in many ways it is history."

"The fact that it is an ongoing project means that it is now part of the ongoing history of that part of the world."

Addressing the crowd, he concluded: "If the tapestry has to have a home outside of Palestine, then Oxford is a very, very obvious place for that place to be."

Professor Avi Shlaim, who is a patron of both the Palestinian History Tapestry and ORFA, said both organisations have specific missions, but "underlying that there is a commitment to justice for the Palestinians and what brings all of us together here is this same commitment to justice to the Palestinians."

The exhibition in Edinburgh runs between 9-16 October and is open for visits FREE between 11:00-16:00 at St Columba's by-the-Castle Episcopal Church.

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