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Stop the appropriation, Israel: First hummus now cross-stich? Open in fullscreen

Mohammed Arafat

Stop the appropriation, Israel: First hummus now cross-stich?

Palestinian model, Ramallah [Getty Images]

Date of publication: 3 February, 2017

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Not content with occupying land, Israeli fashion designers are appropriating Palestinian culture as their own, writes Mohammed Arafat

From the old castles in Japan to the ancient pyramids of Egypt; from St. Peter's Basilica church in the Vatican to the old city of Jerusalem in Palestine, civilisations emerged and created histories with their traditions, customs and crafts. In every country, there is a rich history developed by its skilled people through their talents and the crafts they master.

Despite being under dozens of different civilisations for centuries, Palestinian customs and traditions remained the same and until this day remain witness to Palestinian history. In its embroidery motif, the cross-stich, Palestinian heritage has a distinctive touch.

This custom emerged in Palestine during the Canaanite period (1500 BCE). Cross-stitched clothes were made at home and worn by Palestinian villagers, or Fellaheen. Embroidery is still learnt at home, taught by older generations, and traditionally passed from mother to daughter and from daughter to sister.

Sewing the embroidery or cross-stitch is not easy, and it could take days to complete a single piece as it requires certain precise skills and patience. Many enjoy doing it together, and gather inside a home to sit and embroider as a group.

I met up with Nadia Sahmoud, a young Palestinian girl from the Gaza Strip, who specializes in clothing embroidery, in particular the Palestinian villagers dresses. While many choose to pursue a talent they love, with Nadia, it is also a form of resistance and a way of preserving Palestinian customs.

 Palestinian embroidery [Nadia]       
 Palestinian embroidered shawl / Nadia [Arafat]


Starting her story, Nadia describes how she was watching a fashion show on T.V, and during the show, Palestinian traditional clothing were being showcased. Initially, she felt proud and happy, "but suddenly, I was shocked. They said the designer is Israeli."

"The clothes designer stated that the designs are Israeli, and they describe the Israeli history."

From then, Nadia decided to learn and master this craft so she can correct the misconception of Palestinian embroidery and resist the historical appropriation.

Nadia dreams about having her designs and products shared in an international fashion show, to become a talented embroidery maker with her own trademark.

Like other Palestinians, Nadia shares a dream teaching the world about Palestine with the growth of her talents. She has plans to sew her first Palestinian wedding dress, and will then begin selling these dresses globally, hoping that, "the world can know that these heritage cloths are Palestinians not Israeli."

She continued, "As you know every country has its identity represented by its traditions and customs, and of course embroidery is a very strong symbol that roots the Palestinian identity making it a beauty spot among the Middle Eastern countries and the world as a whole."

Answering the question whether the embroidery is a craft or a talent, Nadia has said that talent and craft are two sides of the same coin.

"That means, when you have a craft, you need a talent to perfect it," she explained.

Amid Gaza’s current risky unemployment, this is also Nadia’s major source of income.

Nadia finishes the conversation saying that the Palestinian dress should be as famous as other Arab dresses since embroidery is a sign of history and, "a country without its history is meaningless."

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