December 25, 2008

In fashion but still without a homeland

Filed under: opinion article — newritings @ 11:42 pm

Of scarves and people: the Palestinians

There she stood beautiful, perfect woman from Palestine. I have observed her during this year, here in Barcelona and since my arrival this mannequin draped enticingly in the Palestinian scarf, in front of a shop not far from La Rambla, reminded me of something simple: it is my second winter in Barcelona and I know that many people will again be wearing the Palestine scarves.

This kefiyeh for them is a warm and loving caress in the European winter, far away from the creators of this work of art, who, as I write, are engaged in a daily obstacle race within hells furnace – courtesy of the Israeli security noose, whose mission is to choke liberation from a lungs of mother Palestine.

Marta Garrich, friend, social scientist and collaborator on various projects, says that most of the young people wear the scarf “as a statement of solidarity with Palestinians in their just struggle against Israeli occupation – and in the process to keep warm.” Furthermore she observed that at least one shop called the scarves “arafats”, and as proof she brought me the stub and the relevant barcode presumably detailing price and item.  This is not surprising because it confirms my own experience of the “kuffiyeh,” “hatta” or  “yashmagh” as the Palestinian headgear has been popularised by many but for me particularly by the late Yassir Arafat. Arafat, it was said wore it, to represent the motherland – proportions and shape of the motherland.

It is reported that during the 1930s the keffiyeh took off as a symbol of Palestinian nationalism marking a close identity with the rural areas and the peasants rather than with the city folks who it is reported wore the fez.

Whilst in some senses party political rivals, it is true that images of Palestinian revolutionary Leila Khaled with the scarf too captured the imagination of many as it introduced them to the suffering of the Palestinians through dramatic hijacking of aeroplanes. (Photo of Leila can be found here)

Over the years it appears that the Keffiyehs were trend setters in many parts of the world, from the USA, Australia, Tokyo, to widely in Europe reaching a crescendo during the first Intifada.

My testimony is about them being worn in Barcelona, but I must confess I cannot scientifically put reasons why it is so enduring, outside the obvious beauty of the scarf and the fact that it is a good buy. Many people I have spoken to, do bear knowledge of the scarves’ Palestinian association as Marta indicated earlier. In fact, the popular name here of the scarf is “palestino”. In addition, I do know that the people of Catalunya and Barcelona city are generally speaking, well informed, and progressive people having a long history of struggle against injustices, in particular Francoist fascism. Today the land boasts one of the highest number of people who volunteer for good causes with many different non governmental organizations A couple of years ago, Fundació Pere Tarrés numbered the number of volunteers in Catalonia around 700.000, which ranks amongst the countries with most volunteers in the EU.

Yet I could not put my finger on it, why this love affair with the Palestinian scarf?: was it the people’s recognition of their own struggle for greater autonomy (or even independence?) seen through symbols of resistance of the Palestinians? Or was it simply chic? But then, why not wear other symbols then?

The Palestinian scarf is everywhere. I see at least 10 -15 a day, walking or taking the train, bus or simply gazing from a park bench. It is true… that the Palestinian kefiyeh is today a fashion icon, now in many colours although the black and white is by far the most popular and likely to remain so.

So, whilst some may wear it as a fashion statement, the aesthetic intrinsically talks to us, the wearer and the outside admirer, of the history of the people that it evolved from: the Palestinians – as talented and creative beings as well as unfree beings. For me, the very act of wearing the keffiyeh, will always speak “about” and “for” the people of Palestine and their legitimate struggle to be free. It is is also a daily reminder of what we all must do to enhance the struggle for freedom of Palestinians and for all those who suffer oppression and exploitation.

The struggle for justice in Palestine includes dealing with the human rights  of close to 4 million Palestinians living under Israeli military rule in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The millions of refugees, who were forced into exile, in violation of international law and resolutions of the United Nations and still denied the right to the land of their birth.

As I conclude this small posting, Gaza remains under siege, with some negotiations underway to get food and basic necessities into the enclave.


1. November 16, 2008 after seeing over 100 scarves in one week. 2. This is only being posted now in December during the holidays and the numbers are much higher.

1 Comment »

  1. […] The Pope will visit Bethlehem amongst other places in May 2009. See also: in fashion but […]

    Pingback by Pssst - did you hear that the Pope wore a Palestinian scarf? « newritings — April 23, 2009 @ 9:15 am | Reply

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