An official UN organisation, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), has finally added the art of Palestinian embroidery to its List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This is certainly good news. In addition to appreciation, recognition, and distinction for this national art, this step adds to the registration of Palestine in the world as an identity with features, marks, and a long history. This helps the battle for survival in the face of the continuous fierce attack launched by Zionist colonialism and its supporters to abolish the Palestinian identity and its symbols.
One of the last manifestations of the Israeli occupation's robbery of Palestinian embroidery was dressing Miss Universe contestants, who were hosted by Israel, in Palestinian traditional dress and using their pictures to promote tourism, on the grounds that this dress is an Israeli symbol. Israel's theft of everything Palestinian, from land and homes to dishes, fashion, art, and even monuments and architectural styles, is an attempt to give an identity and heritage to a fabricated nation by appropriating the identity of a real people. We remember the Minister of Culture in Israel, Miri Regev, when she wore a dress at the Cannes Film Festival with the Old City in occupied East Jerusalem with the walls of Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock painted on it.
In fact, there is hardly a national dress in the world as beautiful and distinctive as the Palestinian women's dress. It's not completely uniform as most people's national costumes are, but it is also considered to be one costume. It is a very diverse composition within the unity framework. Its versions differ in colours, details, and forms of embroidery so that it identifies the region its owner is from. There is the Nablus dress, the Ramallah dress, the Jenin dress, the Jerusalem dress, the Bethlehem dress, the Beersheba dress, and so on, but they are all Palestinian dresses.
The Palestinian dress, or thobe, is not made by simply cutting the fabric and sewing it together, like most dresses in the world. It was not bought ready-made from the market. Girls learn embroidery from their mothers as part of their upbringing and life skills. Most of the strong Palestinian women made their own thobes and it took them a long time to embroider and miraculous precision. The size of a rose, a stalk, a bird, or any shape in dozens of these artistic units repeated in the garment will not differ from each other, not even by a single stitch. Thus, Palestinian women are natural artists when it comes to creating and wearing these distinctive pieces of art.
Palestinian women around the world still keep traditional dresses in their closets as part of their Palestinian necessities. These dresses are not only of sentimental and heritage value, but they can be worn on any occasion and are a fashion for every occasion and time. The traditional forms of the Palestinian dress have developed, and embroidery is used on different patterns and modern designs of women's dresses. Palestinian embroidery is also used in paintings and bedspreads and ornaments which decorate homes and objects. One cannot mistake the Palestinians for anything bearing the unique Palestinian art of embroidery.
Unfortunately, the generation of mothers who used to wear the hand-embroidered Palestinian dress all the time is gradually disappearing, especially outside occupied Palestine, while girls wear it for occasions only. However, this garment deserves to be returned to the world stage and worn wherever possible as a sign of the strong and enduring Palestinian presence in the world. In fact, despite all of the modern Palestinian dresses and the various designs "embroidered" with drawings or sewing machines that are emerging, the original mothers' dresses who embroidered them with their own hands have that special spirit that distinguishes manual work and is organically related to Palestinian history.
Acknowledgments of the elements of the Palestinian identity continue, and it is becoming clear that it is impossible to ignore the Palestinian people and expel them from existence, as the godfathers of the Zionist settler-colonial project had hoped. No matter how bleak the Palestinian scene may seem, the history and heritage of Palestine triumphs overall factors of obliteration and are distinguished from the turbulent, ahistorical, and artificial formation of the Zionist enemy. The long decades of conflict have proven that the Palestinian identity cannot be erased because of its authenticity and the richness of its components. It is a struggle in which the fragile and loose competitor that is perpetuated by money, weapons, injustice, and the power of external supporters will not withstand, nor will it be perpetuated by the self-qualifications that it does not possess. Everything human or natural in Palestine will continue to resonate with its Palestinians and remind the strangers that they do not belong to the things there and nor to Palestine.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Ghad on 22 December 2021
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.