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History Behind Palestinian Thobes

posted on: Jun 3, 2020

History behind Palestinian Thobes

By: Raneem Ghunaim/Arab America contributing writer  

The Palestinian thobes stand out for their vibrant red colors. Each thobe from every city or village is unique in its own ways. It tells a story and it stands out on its own. Thobes have their own history; they have been around for over 5,000 years, rich with culture and history. Often, we can tell where some Palestinians are from based on the thobes they are wearing.

Telling the difference

One of the ways that we can tell the origination of the Thobe is by color. Each thobe in color differs. For example, the thobe in Gaza its vibrant red color often leans towards a purplish color. While the thobe in Hebron area its rich red color leans towards brown. And the thobes in Bethlehem, Jaffa, and Ramallah all lean towards a much deeper and richer dark red.  Another way we are able to tell where that thobe comes from originally, we can take a look at its embroidery. Palestinian thobes are known for their delicate and complex designs that they use to tell a story through clothes. For example, in a village in Jaffa called Bayt Dajan, they have copied orange flowers along with Cupressus trees because in their village that flower usually surrounds that tree. Each and every thobe is done by hand, which makes that thobe a lot more meaningful.  

This is what a Thobe from Ramallah looks like!  5c1142dc-b1c8-4eb1-a171-9c370d19b34a

Palestinian thobes also are a way that women use to tell a story. For example, in Be’er el Shava. A bride would wear a beautiful red thobe, if she becomes a widow, she replaces it with a blue thobe, and if she decided to remarry, she adds more color to her blue thobe and or adds embroidered toys on her blue thobe. And that indicates that she is ready to remarry and have children. With all of that being said let’s dive into cities and villages in Palestine and see how each and every thobe differs from the other, and understand the story and history behind each one. 


History behind Palestinian Thobes
A map of Palestine and a picture of every thobe placed next to which village or city it originated from.  The map is the creation of Maha Saca, Palestinian Heritage Center, Bethlehem.


The designs that were on the thobe in Nablus are very similar to the ones in Dimashq, Syria, and Hallab, Syria. These cities share a lot in common, mostly because a lot of trading used to take place amongst them. Both Palestinian and Syrian women used to wear long black abaya and cover their faces with a piece of clothing. Due to the closeness of those two places- Nablus and Dimashq- Nablus used to be called “Dimashq al Sagheera” which translates to “small Damascus.

A lot of Nablus traditions come from Dimashq traditions as well. In a lot of villages in Nablus, the thobe is filled with many colors and embroidery. A thobe named Rafidyah stood out the most in Nablus because it is made from linen yarns and silk and it goes back to 1930. It is known for its red and green lines next to the green headpiece with the special scarf that is often “thrown” over the head. This thobe can be found in northern Nablus. 

History behind Palestinian Thobes
Nablus thobes. Each village in Nablus also differs which is why there are several thobes here.


Jaffa is known for its precision and amazing techniques when it comes to embroidery. The way they sew on their details is very precise. They used very thin needles and thread in order to create beautiful and detailed drawings that best represent their culture. Most of their embroidery reflects on their surrounds and often you will see that their thobes are heavily inspired by the green around them. Like mentioned before they use flowers and trees along with feathers and such, all tell us a story of how did their surroundings look like.  These thobes are also created using silk and often in Jaffa thobes are in white and black. But every village in Jaffa differs once again. Designs and culture is very diverse. Ramallah– contains different colors.

History behind Palestinian Thobes



Thobe al Malas and Maqdisi are made for the Quds area its special with its vibrant colors and amazing embroidery, and it’s beautiful red color. Often they add yellow to their thobe only a little and not as much. There are many geometric shapes and triangles going into each other on that thobe. As for the fabric, it is very heavy because Quds is often always cold, which is why they needed that material to be a little heavier in order to warm them.

History behind Palestinian Thobes


Thobe el Talhami or thobe al Malika “queens dress” is a very old thobe. That was specifically made for the queens in Canaanites, the color was a very rich brown. The brown was so dark it almost looked red. They added orange or red embroidery to the top of the thobe when designing it. When doing so they did not use silk but used gold or silver. By doing so it would create the illusion of having jewelry on the thobe without having to actually put any on. Back then all embroidery used to be made with gold and or silver once again, they would shape it to look like a piece of jewelry on that thobe. That thobe was known for its beautiful details, which tells about the places that its current queen.

History behind Palestinian Thobes


Palestinian Keffiyeh

El-Keffiyeh is made with transparent white silk named Al Ayubal. This silk is white and gold striped. In celebration often it gets worn with a golden igal. During the winters Palestinians wear Hatta, which is made with wool and is much heavier than the Keffiyeh. The Palestinian Keffiyeh reflects the simplicity of the average falahi farmer in Palestine. Farmers use the Keffiyeh to wrap it around their heads to soak up their sweat during the summers and to protect their heads from the cold in the winters.

The Keffiyeh is more than a traditional piece of clothing. Its rich history and purpose hold a much bigger value in all of the Palestinian hearts. Its purpose comes from a long history of fighting and solidarity. Palestinians and Arabs all around the world use the Keffiyeh as a symbol of resistance. During the 1936 Arab revolt in Palestine which later was referred to as “The Great Revolt, “Palestinians were rebelling against the British in order to protect their land. Due to that many Palestinians were arrested. To avoid arrest many wore the Keffiyeh to hide their identity from the authorities. Later on, the British Mandate authorities banned the use of a Keffiyeh which then made all Palestinians start wearing it to make it very difficult for authorities to identify any rebels. Due to such events, now the Keffiyeh presents resistance.

History behind Palestinian Thobes


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