Culture encompasses a dynamic and multifaceted array of unspoken social norms handed down from one generation to the next. It shapes individuals’ mindsets and finds expression in various aspects, such as national costume, traditions, language, arts, cuisine, music and distinct behavioural patterns unique to specific regions or nations.
Among the diverse forms of cultural representation, fashion is a powerful medium and a prominent symbol of identity. Clothing serves as a way for individuals to showcase their beliefs, principles, uniqueness and connections to preceding generations. The display of traditional attire allows countries to establish a link with their past and celebrate their individuality.
In the contemporary context, currency has emerged as a new cultural identifier. For example, the US dollar is inextricably linked with the US, the British pound to the UK and the Japanese yen and Chinese yuan to their respective countries. There has also been an attempt to introduce the so-called “biblical shekel” as a historical “Israeli currency”.
Israel’s assertion tracing the shekel back to an ancient Hebrew currency is as valid as the dollar is an original Ecuadorian currency. The ancient Hebrews, who emigrated from Mesopotamia, adopted the existing and prevailing international currency of that era, known as TQL, much like Ecuador uses the US dollar today.
The term “shekel” originates from the Hebraised version of the Aramaic root word TQL or its Arabic equivalent, ThuQL (ثقل), signifying a unit weight of approximately ten grams. TQL is believed to have first appeared during the Akkadian Empire in ancient Mesopotamia around 2,500 BC. Much like the modern dollar, it evolved into a widely accepted currency across Palestine, Egypt, Greece, Rome and Bronze Age Europe. The earliest documented use of TQL by the Maccabees Hebrew tribe was circa 66 to 70 AD, centuries after it was adopted in historical Palestine.
However, transforming TQL into the shekel pales in comparison to Israel’s efforts to appropriate the most notable national symbol of the Palestinian struggle—the black and white keffiyeh. In 2015, Israeli fashion designer Dodo Bar Or attempted to introduce a women’s line inspired by non-other than the black and white patterns of Yasser Arafat’s iconic keffiyeh headscarf.
Globally, when a nation hosts an international event, it seizes the chance to present its unique cultural tapestry to a worldwide audience. Nevertheless, during the hosting of the Miss Universe 2021 pageant in Eilat, international contestants inadvertently showcased Palestinian culture while attributing it to Israel.
Miss Philippines, Beatrice Luigi Gomez, posted photos on 4 December, 2021, using the hashtag “visitIsrael”. In the picture, she posed in a traditional Palestinian dress adorned with handcrafted embroidery (tatreez) and helped local Palestinian women prepare a grape leaves dish.
Similarly, Miss Ukraine, Hanna Nepliakh, shared an Instagram post wearing a rich brocade Palestinian thobe, describing her day: “On the way to Eilat, we stopped at a Bedouin settlement in Israel and plunged into their culture and traditions.”
Unfortunately, the contestants seemed oblivious to the fact that the depicted elements in their photos had no connection to Israeli culture or traditions. Unbeknownst to the contestants, the dresses they wore were painstakingly hand-stitched by young Palestinian girls or older women over months or even years. They might also be unaware that what was referred to as a “Bedouin settlement” predated the creation of Israel.
The foregoing pervasive public ignorance exemplifies one of the most noteworthy achievements of the Zionist hasbara – shaping a misinformed global public opinion. When a Miss Universe contestant plunges into a culture but fails to accurately attribute it to its rightful origin, it underscores the potency of persistent misinformation in shaping alternate realities.
Furthermore, both the contestants and the broader world might not realise that each historical Palestinian city, town or region boasts its own unique embroidery patterns. Miss Ukraine probably couldn’t comprehend that the thobe she wore was unlike any other. For instance, the tatreez found on Bedouin women’s thobes in northern historical Palestine differs significantly from the tatreez worn by Bedouin women in the southern “settlement” she visited. The cross-stitches on a dress crafted in Jerusalem differ from those made less than ten miles away in the city of Ramallah. Some of these dresses, passed down from mothers to daughters, are older than the country associated with the “visitIsrael” hashtag.
Meanwhile, Political Zionists recognise that reconstructing history to connect European Khazar converts to Palestine is futile in the absence of the generational dimension of preserved cultural elements. Hence, the ostensive biblical currency, and now using Miss Universe to Zion-wash the prized Palestinian national costume to bestow upon their fabricated virtual reality culture the tangible presence and historical context it inherently lacks.
**This is the fifth of a series of articles exploring Zionist historical reconstruction and the cultural heist of native Palestinians. The first article: ‘Israeli’ Invention of Artificial Reality, the second article: ‘Israel’: A ‘Fairytale’ History, the third article: Israeli Invention of National Symbols and the fourth article: Israel’s Largest Surface Cultural Heist: Palestinian Cuisine.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.