The Jewish Keffyieh

The keffyieh was once associated to the Palestinian cause but is now consigned to the tasteless level of fashion accessory in women’s magazines. This traditional headgear has now become the season’s “star scarf” (according to “Elle” Magazine) and most fashion victims now display it without the fear of being strangled by a political conscience. But what about those – rare – others? Pro-Israeli women rest assured! It is also available in blue and white with David stars on top. Yasser Arafat must be turning over in his grave.
The Jewish Keffyieh
In fact it was precisely the late head of the Palestinian Authority who made the keffyieh famous. This headdress, used for centuries by the Bedouins, had become the symbol of Arab nationalism since the 30’s, under the British mandate. Today, in East Jerusalem and in the Territories, older men still wear this cotton wrap around their head to protect themselves from the heat and cold. In the past years young Europeans adopted it as a sign of solidarity with the Palestinians or to mark a wider political engagement. The keffyieh has thus become an indispensable tool for the alter-globalist demonstrator who wishes to remain anonymous while protecting himself from tear gases.

A rumpled trend

The Jewish KeffyiehWomen’s magazines announce it: since Balenciaga paraded it on his fashion show, the Palestinian scarf is “trendy”. Modish bloggers aren’t afraid to tackle basic issues such as: What colour should I wear? How should I knot it? Where can I buy it?
Indeed, its purchase can be difficult since the US chain store Urban Outfitters removed its “pacifist scarf” from sale, when it was branded as a terrorist symbol by its detractors.

But a counterfeit keffiyeh can still be found at Zara, the Spanish ready-to-wear shop.
A star of the “global-mix” trend of this past autumn 2007, the fringed scarf even reached Israeli boutiques. This created no problems whatsoever, according to the local press service. “Maybe there aren’t any anymore because of the bargain sales” they tell us.

Obviously, Jerusalem’s souk shops have always sold keffiyehs. You can find all sorts of qualities in the streets of the Old Town, from delicate scarfs made in China to coarse ones coming from Jordan. The classical black or red dyes have been joined by a polychrome model, a “tourist colour” whispers a seller.

The Jewish KeffyiehYoung Palestinians understand that strangers may wear the keffiyeh as a souvenir but refuse to reduce this symbol to the rank of accessory.
Reem, a 16 year old high school girl, doesn’t hide her disappointment when faced with snapshots showing American starlets with a Palestinian headscarf wrapped around their necks: “They only like it for the colour and the pattern (…) I can’t consent to seeing people dressed this way if it only means pure decoration to them”. Her schoolmate Lana, although a trend follower herself, doesn’t like it either. “This is not a fashion”, she says, and adds that she only wears her keffiyeh for “national celebrations” like the Anniversary of Independence (oh yes, there is one, it’s on 15 November).

The Jewish “keffiyeh”

The story of this emblematic scarf is certainly not lacking in colour. Two years ago, two Israelis, industrial designer Moshe Harel and sculptor Gabriel Ben-Haim, created a new model: blue stars of David crisscrossing on a white background and the edge resembling the Israeli flag. The idea took time to come through but the “keffiyeh” is now available on the internet and in the Jewish district of Old Jerusalem. “We need to identify ourselves”, justifies Moshe Harel. To him, “if Jews and Arabs wear their scarf with their symbol, there’s no problem”.
Except for the Palestinians who feel dispossessed.
The Jewish Keffyieh“I hate the idea” confesses Hasan Nusseibeh, 27, a teacher at Al-Quds University. “They stole our land I guess it’s normal that they steal our Keffiyeh too”, comments his little sister Sahar, a student. Their brother Munir reminds that this country dress is part of the culture of the region and that “Israelis are looking for new bonds with this ground”. He believes that the “keffiyeh” is only another “effort” they’re making in this sense. This young lawyer then enumerates the previous cases of cultural appropriation: traditional dress and embroidery, falafel and hummous. “Soon they’ll claim that the Konafa (Arabic pastry) is Jewish!” jokes Ma'moun M. Kassem, responsible for an Italian NGO, who accuses Israelis of being “arrogant” and “thieves”.

Moshe Harel obviously defends himself. A long time ago Jews wore the keffiyeh and that’s where the talit (the prayer shawl) comes from, he assures. The scarf was kept in “Arab society, because it is more conservative”. And Palestinians “shouldn’t resent the fact that we appreciate this element”. According to this businessman, “when you eat the same food, sing the same songs and wear the same clothes you grow closer. Maybe it could be a step towards peace”.

Ofer Neiman, an Israeli teacher, is actually closer to the Arabs, especially as to their opinion on this textile invention. “The keffiyeh symbolises the link of the Palestinians with their land”, states the 37 year old computer science teacher. “Zionists want to imitate” this aspect of Palestinian culture.

Sahar Nusseibeh, aged 20, fears that the bond to their earth may suffer the same fate that the earth itself. Years ago, “the country was named Palestine and everyone knew it was Palestine. Now, everyone calls it Israel”, asserts the young student. “I guess the same thing will happen with the keffiyeh. In a few years, everyone will say that’s it’s Israeli”.


Marie Medina
Translated by Nada Ghorayeb


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