The Keffiyeh: A Symbolic Tale of Palestinian Resistance | Savoir Flair
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The Keffiyeh: A Symbolic Tale of Palestinian Resistance
article SLIMAN MANSOUR
by Sarah Haddad 5-minute read November 2, 2023

The keffiyeh is more than just a piece of fabric; it's a symbol of resistance, unity, and a profound connection to Palestinian heritage.

While the keffiyeh (a.k.a. kufiya, shemagh, or hatta) first originated thousands of years ago in Bedouin and agricultural communities in the Middle East as a protective garment, it has come to take on profound meaning and political connotations in connection to Palestine. The black-and-white keffiyeh, with its distinctive pattern of intersecting lines, has transcended its origins as a practical garment to become a powerful symbol of Palestinian identity and resistance. 

But how did this garment come to hold so much cultural and historical meaning?

A Brief History


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article DR. V. L. FERGUSON TALKING TO A MAN OF THE DESERT, GAZA, 1939 | GETTY IMAGES

During the British Mandate, a time when borders were less defined, the keffiyeh found its way to Palestine. This traditional headdress, woven from lightweight cotton, originally served as protection against the harsh desert environment. Over time, the keffiyeh's unique checkered pattern emerged, symbolizing a profound cultural connection to the land and a proud expression of heritage.

1930s: The keffiyeh became intrinsically linked to the Palestinian struggle, particularly during the Arab Revolt in Palestine in 1936. British authorities attempted to ban it, as Palestinian rebels and revolutionaries adopted it to obscure their identities. In response, Palestinians, en masse, defiantly wore the keffiyeh, thwarting authorities' efforts to identify dissenters.

YASSER ARAFAT | GETTY IMAGES

1960s: The keffiyeh began to represent Palestine on the global stage. Yasser Arafat, former President of Palestine, famously wore it at every public appearance. His distinctive style – wrapping the keffiyeh around his head with its tail laid out on his right shoulder – symbolized a map of Palestine pre-Nakba. Rarely seen without his keffiyeh, Arafat helped popularize the garment on an international scale, particularly after the Israeli authorities banned the Palestinian flag for almost three decades (1967 – 1993).

1970s: Leila Khaled, a revolutionary freedom fighter and member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), embraced the keffiyeh as a headscarf. She encouraged Palestinian women to wear it in an act of solidarity. This act normalized the keffiyeh, leading to its ubiquitous presence, proudly worn by people of all genders and ages as a unique symbol of unity.

LEILA KHALED | GETTY IMAGES


This sentiment transcended Palestinian borders during the First Intifada in 1987 and the Second Intifada in 2000. The keffiyeh was worn in neighboring countries, including Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Yemen, in solidarity with the Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation.

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WE are making the SYMBOL of PALESTINE.

— Yasser Hirbawi, founder of Palestine's last remaining keffiyeh factory.

Decoding the Keffiyeh's Patterns

Three symbolic motifs form the intricate pattern adorning the keffiyeh, creating a rich tapestry that showcases the history of Palestine:

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Olive Leaves: Symbolizing the deep-rooted heritage of Palestine, the olive leaves woven into the keffiyeh carry a profound message of hope and endurance. These leaves extend beyond symbolism; they represent the economic and cultural significance of olives in Palestinian life. Today, approximately 100,000 families in Palestinian territories depend on the production of Palestinian olive oil and its derivatives as a vital source of income. 

The olive tree, which boasts an impressive lifespan of 300 to 600 years, stands as a powerful emblem of Palestinian resilience and an unwavering attachment to their land.

Interconnected Fishnet: This intricate pattern links Palestine with the Mediterranean Sea, underlining the nation's historical relationship with its neighboring waters. Some see the fishnet as a unifying symbol of collectivism, weaving Palestinians into a broader and stronger entity. For others, the pattern evokes the likeness of barbed wire – a poignant nod to the enduring occupation that the nation grapples with. And there are those who interpret the lines as representations of the walls that encircle Palestinian territories, impeding their freedom. 

In all its interpretations, the fishnet pattern becomes a symbol of identity and resistance – an identity that faces the threat of erasure and the necessity to stand resolute against adversity. Each interpretation carries its own unique identity, reflecting the multifaceted nature of the Palestinian struggle.

Bold Lines: The bold lines etched into the keffiyeh serve as a historical record of trade routes throughout Palestine. These lines, which thread their way across the fabric, mirror the histories of commerce and connection that have defined the region. The bold lines not only recount the past but also symbolize the challenges of the present. For some, they are reminiscent of the walls that surround Palestinian territories, acting as barriers to freedom and self-determination. These lines have become emblematic of the Palestinian identity, representing a people who persistently confront adversity.

The Keffiyeh Today

The keffiyeh's message of Palestinian solidarity has transcended borders, gaining global recognition among activists and supporters of the Palestinian cause as a unified symbol of resistance. Its presence has extended well beyond the Middle East, reaching different corners of the world.

Worn by activists, celebrities, and everyday people, the keffiyeh has grown to become a powerful signal of support for Palestine. Far more than a fashion statement, wearing a keffiyeh now stands as a universal symbol of defiance in the face of occupation and a testament to the enduring history of Palestine, narrating tales of heritage, resistance, and resilience.

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In the same way that the TREES can survive and have deep roots in THEIR LAND, so too do the PALESTINIAN PEOPLE.

Sliman Mansour, Palestinian Artist

Hirbawi

The Last Remaining Keffiyeh Factory

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img HIRBAWI

The Hirbawi factory and its artisans have woven the authentic Keffiyeh since 1961. Nowadays, most keffiyehs sold worldwide, and even in Palestine itself, are imported from distant shores, primarily from China or India. However, amid these changing tides, one steadfast family continues to weave the original keffiyeh in its Palestinian homeland. The Hirbawi family in Hebron, Palestine, maintains the legacy of crafting the genuine keffiyeh, preserving its cultural and historical significance. As we eagerly anticipate the restocking of these cherished Keffiyehs, preordering becomes a tangible way to stand in solidarity, ensuring support for the Hirbawi family during these challenging times while securing a piece of authentic Palestinian heritage for yourself.

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Black & White  Keffiyeh aed110 at Hirbawi
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Palestine Flag Keffiyeh aed110 at Hirbawi
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Red & White Keffiyeh aed110 at Hirbawi
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Traditional Blue Keffiyeh aed110 at Hirbawi
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Gray Keffiyeh aed109 at Hirbawi
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Green & White Keffiyeh aed110 at Hirbawi
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