Radical Objects: The Palestinian Tapestry: A People’s History

By Jan Chalmers

In 1969/70 I worked in the Gaza Strip.  I was employed by UNRWA [United Nations Relief Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees] and I worked as a maternal and child health nurse in a clinic in Jabalia refugee camp, which at that time accommodated more than 40,000 refugees.  I was young, and it was an adventure for me, particularly as I was accompanied by my future husband.  I was visiting the historical Holy Land and the places my uncle had talked about after he had served in Palestine during his national service in the British army in the 1940s.  Throughout the two years I lived in Gaza I was immersed in the love and hospitality of Palestinian friends, from which I have never recovered!

At the end of the nineteenth century, after suffering centuries of discrimination by European Christians, a movement among some Jews emerged calling for the establishment of a Jewish state. Concurrently, the Arabs of the Near East sought independence from Ottoman rule.  In 1917 Britain promised self-determination in Palestine to both these national movements and so established the basis for the tragedy that has unfolded ever since. The Jewish state of Israel that emerged has become the regional super power; the non-Jewish Arabs of Palestine have become one of the most politically abused populations in the world.  Today, along with others, and towards the end of my life, I want to show my support for Palestinians and to express my sorrow at Britain’s betrayal, and to say sorry for the dreadful wrong brought about.

In 2012 I invited two friends to join me in setting up a project for Palestinian embroiderers, who are among the most talented in the world.  I thought we should celebrate their skill and help to make it more widely known.  In addition, this would help provide income for Palestinian families by giving women employment, extend friendship and support to Palestinians in general, and record an insufficiently appreciated history of Palestine

The idea was to create embroidered story panels, each one not less than a meter in length, which could be stitched together to build a Palestine Tapestry. Following in the tradition of the Bayeux Tapestry, the Keiskamma History Tapestry  and the Great Tapestry of Scotland, the Palestinian Tapestry aims to tell and preserve the story of the Palestinian people, their livelihoods and traditions, and their struggle under colonial rule and Israeli occupation.

The project started with embroidery groups in Gaza.  Now we are receiving contributions of embroidered panels from Galilee, Bethlehem, Nablus, Ramallah, Hebron, the Naqab, Deheisheh and from Palestinians in refugee camps in Jordan.  We are currently actively exploring the possibility of receiving work from Palestinian embroiders in Lebanon.

The images for the panels are chosen by Palestinians, drawn by Palestinians, and stitched by Palestinians. The Palestinian panel creators are the only ones who are paid for what they do.  The Palestinian History Tapestry Project is a not-for-profit, volunteer-run, registered charity, and depends on public support and generosity in the form of money donations from those who would like to help it succeed.

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‘GAZA ROOF TOPS’, designed by Adham Jaber and stitched by Hekmat Ashour of Atfaluna

Gaza Roof Tops was designed by Adham Jaber and stitched by Hekmat Ashour of Atfaluna, the association for deaf children in Gaza. It shows the Great Omari Mosque, which is situated in the Daraj Quarter of the Old City of Gaza, at the eastern end of Omar al Mukhtar Street, southeast of Palestine Square.  The building has been erected and destroyed many times over the centuries.  It is believed to stand on the site of an ancient Philistine temple.  The site was used by the Byzantines to build a church in the 5th century, but after the Muslim conquest in the 7th century, it was transformed into a mosque.

The mosque is well known for its minaret, which is square-shaped in its lower half and octagonal in its upper half, typical of the Mamluk architectural style.  It is constructed of stone and wood.  Through time Gaza has been renowned for its abundance of oranges and fish, and the clay pot industry, and all of them are depicted here in the Gaza Roof Top panel.   (more…)