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Book Review: Traditional Palestinian Costume: Origins and Evolution

by: John F. Mahoney
September - October 2011
The Link - Volume 44, Issue 4

TRADITIONAL PALESTINIAN COSTUME: Origins and Evolution, by Hanan K. Munayyer, cloth, 14-1/4" x 10-1/4", 554 pp., illustrated, 2011; List: $200; AMEU Price: $165 (includes postage). Copies ordered through AMEU will be autographed by the author and mailed in a special gift box. See book catalog on this website.

Reviewed by John F. Mahoney

We think of history as a written record—most often written by men.

However, as Hanan Munayyer shows in her monumental work “Traditional Palestinian Costume,” history can also be stitched—and nearly always by women.

By just looking at the magnificent dresses in this work—over 500 full-color photos—Dr. Munayyer can tell where they came from: Galilee, Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarem, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Jaffa, Ramleh, Lydd, Al-Khalil, Gaza, Al-Naqab. And not only, where they came from, but when, and under what historical conditions. It’s all there, recorded not with pen and ink, but with needle and thread.

And not only dresses. A whole chapter is dedicated to Palestinian jewelry and home accessories, including wooden sandals, decorated with mother-of-pearl, and a 19th century pottery water jar, produced in Gaza, that families would cover with a crochet net and put on a windowsill to catch the breeze, providing a naturally cooled drink.

Then there’s that section on “Origins.” And here we need to note that today’s Zionist state of Israel is one of the rare cases in history where the colonizers are bent on expropriating the culture of the colonized. Palestinian dresses are a case in point.

During the Catastrophe of 1948, over 750,000 Palestinians were forced into exile, their homes looted. The Zionist military leader Moshe Dayan filled his home and garden in Tel Aviv with stolen artifacts, while his wife opened a shop in London, where she sold Palestinian dresses as examples of Israel’s heritage.

In 1980, flight attendants aboard Israel’s national airline El Al adopted the Palestinian dress from Ramallah as their official uniform, introducing it as Israeli culture during the tourist season.

In 2007, in the 4th volume of the International Encyclopedia, Israel registered the bride dress from Bethlehem, known as “Malak,” as an Israeli traditional costume. Later, under protest from Palestinian groups, the editors expunged the claim. (A radiant picture of the Malak dress can be found on page 190 of the Munayyer book.)

This is why pages 8 to 50 of this book are so important. It puts the lie to the Zionist claims. Palestinian spinning, weaving, dyeing, and embroidery evolved over 3,500 years, going back to Canaan, the “Land of Purple,” so called for the purple dye extracted from murex sea snails on its shores. Canaan would later be known as Palestine.

The dream of the Munayyers is that, one day, in the not too distant future, visitors will be able to walk through a museum, located somewhere here in America, where they can experience, first-hand, the full richness and beauty of their extraordinary collection. Until then, however, this book is the next best thing. ■

John Mahoney is Executive Director of Americans for Middle East Understanding
 
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