Palestinian embroidery: A thread that defines a whole identity
Palestinian embroidery, or Tatriz, goes beyond threads and stitches: It stands for an entire identity.
In a vibrant celebration of cultural heritage and pride, Palestinians across the world marked Palestinian Traditional Dress Day on July 25, 2023. This year's festivities held particular significance as they coincided with the 50th-anniversary milestone of the inscription of Palestinian cultural heritage on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Palestinian Traditional Dress Day, locally known as "Yom Al-thob Al-Falestini," saw men, women, and children adorned in colorful and intricately designed traditional garments that have been cherished and passed down through generations. The event serves as a powerful expression of identity, resilience, and unity for Palestinians amid the ongoing Israeli occupation of their land.
The World Heritage inscription, which took place in 1973, acknowledged the exceptional cultural value of the Palestinian traditional dress, known as Thob, and embroidery, Tatriz in Arabic, recognizing their historical and artistic significance. The trademark of the traditional Palestinian embroidery is the elegant long dress, and each area in Palestine boasts its distinctive style, and locals proudly claim, "The Thob from our region is the most exquisite."
Throughout the past decades, Palestinians have strived to preserve and promote this precious aspect of their heritage, which has been an integral part of their identity for decades.
Reviving Palestinian Embroidery
One Palestinian refugee is taking a stand to ensure the preservation of this cherished cultural heritage. 25-year-old Rawan Krayyem, a Palestinian refugee who grew up in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Lebanon, has launched an inspiring project aimed at keeping the art of Palestinian embroidery alive. Rawan is originally from the Sa'sa' district in Safad-- once a thriving Palestinian village before the Haganah-minded gangs occupied it on October 30, 1948.
With determination and a deep sense of cultural identity, the young Palestinian seeks to revive and sustain this traditional craft, which holds significant historical and cultural value for the Palestinian people.
Driven by a passion for her heritage, Rawan decided to take action and launched her project, titled Rmzna [Threads of Identity], in an effort to preserve Palestinian embroidery despite facing many challenges, such as limited resources, economic hardship, and the risk of losing cultural connections, not to mention dispersal and denial of nationhood.
'Let the embroidery defend itself'
Rawan’s project aims to create sustainable opportunities for Palestinian and non-Palestinian women to engage in the art form, not only as a means of economic empowerment but also as a way to celebrate and safeguard their cultural legacy from the colonizer [Israeli occupation] who set his sights on this precious cultural treasure. The delicate, handcrafted needlework represented generations of history, heritage, and artistic expression.
"Palestinian embroidery, or Al-Naqsha Al-Filasteeniyya, is older than the occupation. This means that it is something significant and deeply connected to the land, as each pattern has a story and represents a place," Rawan told Al Mayadeen English.
Undeterred by the reverence locals held for this art, the Israeli occupation saw only an opportunity for profit and exploitation. With a calculated plan, it sought to acquire the intricate embroideries, dismissing the profound significance they held for the Palestinian community. However, unbeknownst to “Israel”, Palestinians have been fiercely protective of their heritage, and as the colonizer's greed has intensified, so did their Resistance and determination to safeguard their artistic legacy from being stolen and lost to the annals of history.
"Through my research, I discovered that the Israeli entity not only stole our land and homeland but also seeks to steal our heritage and culture."
"I have a skill in my hands, and I had an idea – why not combine them both? Why not let the thread speak for itself? Why not let the embroidery defend itself?" Rawan said.
Every thread has a story
Palestinian embroidery, or Tatriz, is not merely a collection of threads and stitches but a captivating tapestry of stories waiting to be unveiled. Each delicate thread carries with it a tale of its own, weaving together history, culture, and artistry. Every stitch, meticulously crafted by skilled hands, forms a unique narrative that draws us closer to the rich heritage of its origin.
These threads are interwoven in patterns that narrate Resistance, traditions, beliefs, and customs, creating a mesmerizing connection to the rich past. And just as every thread finds its place in the fabric, so too does each embroidery find its rightful spot in the hearts and homes of those who cherish it. Each piece finds its way into the hearts of Palestinian people who pay homage to the artistry and the stories that are forever embedded within.
Rawan detailed to Al Mayadeen English how each embroidered dress [Thob] serves as an emblem of a particular town, encapsulating the essence of its people and history.
Talking about Jenin dresses, Rawan explained that it is typically embroidered vertically, mirroring the strength of women who used to weave them and how they supported their men.
Rawan highlighted the vibrant and striking colors of Al-Quds dresses, reflecting the wars they have witnessed and the sorrows they faced and still face.
“Nevertheless, it remains resilient, and its culture endures with pride,” she stressed.
As for Yafa and Haifa dresses, Rawan said that she feels immersed in them, seeing the lemon and orange blossoms, the colors of nature, and feeling connected to something greater.
"The Palestinian dress means as much to me as it does to many others and a lot to various cultures. In the end, this is what we experience as Palestinians and people from the Levant, as Palestinian heritage and embroidery are not just tied to Palestine," Rawan added.
“I have two dreams”
In an impassioned declaration, Rawan shared with Al Mayadeen English two profound dreams that resonate with Palestinian embroidery and its cultural significance.
Rawan’s short-term dream is to witness Palestinian embroidery embraced and made accessible in various aspects of daily life, from celebratory events like henna parties and weddings, to more mundane moments.
The goal is to elevate Palestinian embroidery beyond a mere for-profit endeavor and transform it into a global cultural symbol, testifying to the refugees' unwavering connection to their land, homeland, and heritage. Rather than waiting for external validation, Rawan emphasizes the responsibility of young Palestinians and Arabs to take it upon themselves to preserve this cherished art form.
Looking into the future, Rawan’s long-term dream echoes the collective yearning of those longing to return to Palestine and experience its essence firsthand. The emotional toll of being unable to deliver a package to Palestine highlights the profound desire shared by many to connect with their roots.
Despite the land's history of suffering under the Israeli occupation, Rawan’s unwavering determination to visit her sacred homeland underscores its enduring significance and resilience.
“My long-term dream is a dream shared by anyone who longs to set foot on his/her homeland and breathe in the scent of its soil. When they ask me if I can deliver a package to Palestine, I choke up and sadly say I can't. I try to find any way possible, because if there’s such great passion involved for [news of] the piece of clothing I make to reach Palestine, then how do we, as humans, feel that longing internally? I wish to visit that sacred land, which has suffered and still suffers, yet remains steadfast,” Rawan passionately said.
Preserving cultural heritage
By showcasing the beauty and significance of these traditional designs, Rawan hopes to foster a greater appreciation for Palestinian culture, both within the local community and on a global scale.
Through her remarkable project, Rawan is an inspiring example of resilience and determination in the face of adversity. By reviving Palestinian embroidery and empowering women, she is making a profound impact on preserving the cultural heritage of the Palestinian people. With each embroidered stitch, Rawan and the women she works with are weaving a vibrant tapestry of tradition, resilience, and hope for future generations.
While the future remains uncertain, Palestinians have demonstrated that their cultural heritage is not only a source of pride but also a tool for solidarity, resilience, and understanding. As the 50th anniversary of its recognition on the UNESCO World Heritage List was celebrated, the Palestinian traditional dress took center stage, reinforcing the timeless message that cultural heritage is a powerful force that transcends borders and unites people in a shared appreciation of the past, and hope for a future where Palestine is liberated.