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All You Need to Know About the Palestinian Keffiyeh

posted on: May 11, 2022

Palestinian Keffiyeh

BY: Sara Alsayed / Arab America Contributing Writer

Worn throughout the Middle East region, the traditional chequered black and white scarf (Keffiyeh) has become a symbol of Palestinian nationalism, and an emblem of resistance and struggle.

The keffiyeh is a simple square-meter fabric, traditionally folded diagonally into a triangle and worn draped over the head of rural Palestinian men. However, today, it is securely fashioned around the necks of human rights activists, anti-war protesters, sports stars, and celebrities; transcending gender, religion, and nationality.
The keffiyeh can be worn in various ways. It can be wrapped around the head, similar to a turban, or wrapped around the neck to provide warmth yet obviously to highlight your stand with the Palestinians.

According to Dr. Adham Hassouna, professor of media at the University of Gaza, the keffiyeh dates back to the 1936 revolution against the British Mandate. The Palestinian keffiyeh was not known in the world until it was worn by the revolutionaries who used to cover their faces in order to hide from the occupation and its supporters. Later it became a national symbol not only in Palestine or in the Arab world, but the whole world.

This keffiyeh, which is known to the Palestinians by several names, including the “hatta”, “the shemagh”, the “head covering” and the “scarf”, has become a well-known and sought-after national symbol throughout the world and an inexhaustible fashion that the free people of the world are keen to wear to express their love and solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Abdel Qader Al-Husseini
Leila Khaled

The keffiyeh was associated with a number of leaders of the Palestinian revolution, such as Abdel Qader Al-Husseini in the 1940s, and Leila Khaled, a member of the Political Bureau of the Popular Front, who was famous for hijacking planes in the 1970s.

Franco Fontal

As well as, the Italian revolutionary “Franco Fontal” who joined the ranks of the Palestinian revolution in 1975 and fought in its ranks for 22 years.

Rachel Corrie

The Israeli occupation army killed Rachel Corrie, the American activist defending the Palestinians, in 2003 while she was wearing this keffiyeh and trying to prevent the occupation bulldozers from demolishing Palestinian homes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.

Ibrahim Al-Madhoun

Palestinian researcher Ibrahim Al-Madhoun stressed that every society and people has a specific identity and symbol, noting that the Palestinian people have accumulated a prominent identity and a renowned title, which is the Palestinian keffiyeh.

He stressed that the Palestinian keffiyeh was not considered a symbol of the Palestinians only, but it was a symbol of the revolution, and a symbol of rejection of colonialism, rejection of occupation, and its resistance everywhere.

Al-Madhoun stressed that the importance of the keffiyeh today is that it bears an image of the freedom fighters and an image of the revolutionaries and the ones who sacrifice for their cause.

He said: “Many of the martyrs who fell in the successive revolutions and uprisings wore this keffiyeh which was distinguished from other keffiyehs by being black and white.”

He added: “This keffiyeh has given a pure Palestinian tinge to the world and has become a world heritage because it symbolizes the struggle and revolution and Palestine.”

Former President Yasir Arafat

Also, he considered that President Arafat’s wearing of the keffiyeh reinforced it as a Palestinian symbol.

Cultural Appropriation of the Keffiyeh

The keffiyeh has fallen victim to fashion such as Louis Vuitton, where the keffiyeh was displayed on their website on sale. This angered many Arabs, as well as pro-Palestinian activists due to its cultural appropriation. Omar Joseph Nasser-Khoury, a Palestinian fashion designer says the keffiyeh symbolizes “dispossession, systematic displacement, extrajudicial killings [and] oppression”. Its use by designers divorced from that context is, he says, irresponsible. “It’s almost disrespectful and it’s exploitative.”

In conclusion, similar to the land of Palestine and its people, the keffiyeh carries a long history and past that has been carried on the backs of many well-known Palestinians and pro-Palestinian activists. In addition, to the attempts committed against it, in terms of dispossession and stolen heritage.

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