Newsletter of the Palestinian Heritage Foundation
PHF Exhibits at HCEF Convention in
The Palestinian Heritage Foundation participated in
the Second National Conference sponsored by the Holy Land Ecumenical Foundation:
The Future of the Holy Land: A Cry For Justice held in Washington DC between
October 20 and 21, 2000.
Guest speakers at the conference included experts
from the Holy Land and the United States. On Friday evening, Mr. Rateb Rabie,
president of HCEF welcomed the audience that numbered over 300 participants.
Participating in the conference were Ambassador Marwan Muasher of Jordan, The
Right Reverend Riah Abu El-Assal,
Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, H. E. Afif
Safieh, Palestinian National Authority Representative to the United Kingdom and
the Holy See, H. E. Dr. Clovis Maksoud, Archbishop Lutfi Laham, Greek catholic,
Melkite Rite, Jerusalem, Reverend Majid Siryani Esq., Advisor to Latin
Patriarchate, Jerusalem, and many others.
The conference included a cultural part that
involved the Palestinian Heritage Foundation and included a display of
Palestinian dresses from the different regions of Palestine and a lecture by
Hanan Munayyer relative to the history of the textile arts in Palestine.
Costume Society of America Highlights PHF
Activities By Michelle Boardman
Costume collections are often framed, both
serendipitously and consciously, by the personal interests and cultural heritage
of the collectors who form them. One of the region's magnificent private
collections-that of the Palestinian Heritage Foundation-makes manifest these
guiding influences of its Arab-American founders.
Established in 1992, PHF boasts a collection of over
1,500 Middle Eastern garments including dresses, jackets, headdresses,
headscarves, and jewelry. But quantity alone does not distinguish this
thoughtfully conceived and thoroughly researched collection; many superb and
rare examples of Palestinian and Syrian costumes are included within the
Collecting costumes began accidentally for PHF
founders Farah Munayyer and his
Hanan. The Munayyers, born in the Middle East, have lived in the United States
since the early 1970s. On a return trip to Jerusalem in 1985 Hanan, searching
the markets for hand embroidered fabric for pillows, was offered an old
Palestinian dress to cut apart.
After returning home to New Jersey, both she and
Farah quickly became fascinated with the beauty and workmanship of the handmade
dress; they recognized the garment as a colorful, if curious, statement of their
Palestinian heritage. A subsequent trip to Jerusalem, found Farah searching for
books about Middle Eastern costume and for more dresses. He returned with ten,
all constructed and embroidered in the same regional style. Although the
collection is now quite diverse, the Munayyers' second purchase highlights one
of the accomplishments of the PHF collection-its depth. With numerous examples
of a regional style-over 20 wedding dresses from Bethlehem alone-the collection
allows for a comprehensive understanding of individual variations within a
village tradition. PHF was formed around what had become, for the Munayyers, an
expansive private collection that they wished to share. "The dresses spoke
to us," states Hanan, "as a beautiful, non-political, aesthetic
statement of the human side of the Palestinian people." The Munayyers
wished to share with the American public, including a growing Arab-American
community, the history and culture expressed through the costumes.
The mission of PHF is educational and is expressed
through the numerous lectures, exhibitions, and writings of its founders. Farah,
PHF fund raiser, publicist and marketing strategist publishes the PHF
newsletter, and with Hanan, has managed the production of a video highlighting
the collection. Hanan brings to bear on her research of Middle Eastern costumes
a disciplined analytical approach honed from her profession as a molecular
biologist. The results of their combined efforts are plans for both a museum,
and a book tracing the roots of Palestinian and Syrian embroidery and clothing
A glaring omission in existing literature on Middle
Eastern costume became evident to Hanan in her early years of collecting. She
quickly exhausted available resources in both English and Arabic -her favorite
among them being Shelagh Weir's books- and found a more creative approach to
answering her questions. "Costume styles and intricate embroidery patterns
don't grow overnight," she explains, "I wanted to know how old these
Instead of tracing regional styles back through
time, Hanan began her research with the first recorded histories of the Middle
East and quickly found documentation of early dye methods and details of
professional textile production.
Hanan discovered that the nineteenth century styles
discussed in Weir's books had antecedents in the second through sixth centuries
A.D. She has shared her research through lectures at Rutgers, Harvard, and
Georgetown universities and through coordinating exhibitions drawn from the PHF
collections --ncluding installations at the United Nations, the Mingei
International Museum of Folk Art, and the Hermitage Museum in Ho Ho Kus, New
Success in building the PHF collection, according to
Farah, lies in making many connections, including those outside scholarly arena.
Through his acquaintance with Mr. Joseph Qutub, president of Arab Student Aid
International, Farah received an introduction that was to have an immense impact
on the collection in a profoundly personal way.
In 1990, Farah and Hanan met the wife of the late
music professor Rolla Foley, Ulla Foley who upon hearing of their work, decided
to part with her late husband's superb collection of Palestinian and Syrian
costumes to the Munayyers. Rolla Foley collected almost a hundred complete
women's costumes from several distinct regions of Palestine during the 1940s and
the 1950s when he was living and teaching at the Quaker Friends School in
To the Munayyers, Foley was a complete stranger with
whom they shared only a passion for Middle Eastern costumes. Farah's surprise is
still evident today when he relates the story of Mrs. Foley sharing her
husband's papers including a 1953 letter from Farah's own father to Rolla Foley
in Oakland Illinois. With the help of his only living aunt, Farah was able to
piece together a story of his grandparents hosting Mr. Foley in the early 1940s
when he came to teach music at the Orthodox Girls High School in Jaffa,
Palestine in the early 1940s.
For the Munayyers, the formation of the PHF costume
collection brought many unexpected connections most important among them being
the opportunity to link contemporary American audiences with the beauty,
heritage, and craftsmanship of the Middle East.
Michelle Boardman is the editor of the Costume
Society of America Newsletter and until recently textile curator at the
Allentown Museum of Art.
Ismail Shammout: A Profile of an Artist in
By Mary Joury
Ismail Shammout, now living in Amman, Jordan, is a
pioneer of Palestinian contemporary art, a firmly established and widely
recognized artist of power and distinction.
In 1997, Ismail Shammout returned to his hometown in
Palestine, Lydda, as a "tourist" after an absence of 50 years. The
visit was an intensely emotional experience: part happiness at being once again
in the town where he was born and spent his childhood and youth, and part
wrenching pain at the loss and forced exile of his Palestinian people.
Shammout was filled with joy at finding the mosque
and the church of St. George still standing side by side as he remembered them.
As a child, he had attended many services in the church with his Christian
friends, and celebrated with them the big, joyous "Feast of Lydda" or
"Eid Lid" in honor of St. George, who is buried in the church. The
first thing Muslim Ismail and his wife Tamam did, was to enter the church and
light two candles. Then they visited the Mosque to pray and give thanks.
Next, Ismail looked for the house where he, his
father and grandfather had been born. A Jewish family was now in possession of
his family home and Ismail was bitterly disappointed when he was refused entry.
Ismail was just 18 years old in 1948, and clearly
recalls the tragic events of that time. "Contrary to the myth perpetrated
by Israel and the US and Western media, the people of Lydda did not leave their
homes voluntarily," says Ismail. Lydda was an agricultural town of 25,000
Palestinians in the central part of Palestine allocated to the Arabs in the UN
partition plan of 1947.
On July 9, 1948, when the Israeli army entered Lydda
in force, there was no Arab army there, the townspeople had no arms or weapons,
and there was practically no resistance. Yet, in spite of this, the Israeli army
acted with deliberate ruthless brutality. All males were rounded up and enclosed
in a compound or "Ghetto" as called by the Jewish occupying forces. A
curfew was imposed for two days preventing the purchase of food and necessities.
On the morning of the third day, Ismail and his family watched from their
windows as Israeli soldiers gunned down their neighbors' doors, and screaming,
striking and shoving with their guns, drove the people out on the street. Then
it was the Shammout family's turn. Soldiers beat down their door shouting
"Out! Out!" As the terrified family hastened to comply, they were body
searched and all valuables removed. At the last moment before being evicted
Ismail had quickly picked up a small photo album which was lying around and his
prized British Palestine passport. An Israeli soldier tried snatching them from
him, but Ismail stubbornly refused to let go. These two items were all that the
Shammout family-father, mother, four sons, and three daughters-came away with
from their ancestral home.
The townspeople were first herded into compounds.
"There were tens of thousands forcibly evacuated from villages around Lydda.
There were old men and women, children, babies, pregnant women, sick
people." At noon the Israeli soldiers, with indiscriminate brutality, drove
the people out of the compounds and marched them to the east, shouting: "yallah
'ala Abdallah", "Go to Abdallah" referring to king Abdallah I of
It was Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting;
the July sun beat down relentlessly as the townspeople were marched over rough,
dusty terrain toward the east, towards 'Abdallah.' They marched in bewilderment
and helplessness, parched with thirst, into exile, homelessness, to an unknown
destination. The Shammout family marched all that hot July day, until midnight
when they reached the Arab village of Ni'lin, north of Ramallah, where the
villagers welcomed them with a couple of loaves of Arabic bread and water.
"We where the lucky ones," says Ismail. "We were among the first
to arrive. It took the others between two to three days to get to Ni'lin. Many
collapsed on the way. Many did not make it." For two weeks, Ismail and his
family subsisted on bread and water. But then, Ismail's father who had been a
wholesale produce merchant in Lydda, realizing that the Israelis had no
intention of allowing the refugees to return to their homes, moved his family to
Khan Yunis in the Gaza area, where he had business colleagues, and there, with
thousands of other refugees, he and his sons eked out a living.
In Khan Yunis, when a school was opened for refugee
children, Ismail and a brother applied as volunteer teachers. They taught school
in the morning on volunteer basis, and sold halawa to the children in the
Through this period Ismail had held tight to his
dream. His overriding love was drawing and painting and his dream was to attend
art school and become a great painter. He had been drawing and painting since
childhood. The school authorities in Khan Yunis soon recognized his talent, and
he was appointed art instructor in three schools, this time with a tiny salary.
It took Ismail a whole year to save 10 Egyptian pounds ($30). With this paltry
sum in his pocket, and a big chunk of courage, Ismail left for Egypt in search
of his dream. He applied and was admitted to the college of Fine Arts in Cairo.
He painted in every free minute, and in July 1953, Shammout carried over 60
paintings (oil, watercolor, and drawings) to Gaza for the first-ever Palestinian
In Gaza his paintings were received with great
interest and pride. Here was a Palestinian artist with Palestinian themes, which
aroused intense emotional response among the viewers. The success of the
exhibition gave Shammout self-confidence and an appreciation of the power of
painting to educate, influence and affect. One of the paintings exhibited was
the now well known "whereto". A distraught father, on the forced march
out of Lydda, carries a sleeping child on his left shoulder, while a little girl
clutches his right hand and looks up at him in exhaustion and bewilderment, and
a third child trails behind: a graphic record of the heart-rending loss and
helplessness with which each of the viewers identified.
This exhibition was followed by a second exhibition
in Cairo, which was inaugurated by president Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt.
Shammout displayed 55 paintings. Two other Palestinian artists were invited by
Shammout to participate. Tamam al Akhal (Shammout's future wife) and Nihad
Sibasi. With the money from the sale of his paintings, Shammout, still following
his dream, traveled to Italy to enroll at the Academia De Belle arti in Rome.
Three months after his arrival, he won first prize at an exhibition: the prize
was two years study at the academy. Shammout's dream had been realized.
Palestinian themes and the tragic Palestinian
experience continue to be a hallmark of Shammout's work. He and his wife, Tamam
are in the process of recording Palestinian history in oil on canvass. To date,
they have produced eight large wall-sized panels of Palestinian life in Lydda
and Jaffa (Tamam's hometown) before, during and after the "Nakbah",
the Palestinian tragedy of loss and expulsion. Shammout's painting of life in
Lydda before 1948 depicts in colors of sun and fruit the tranquil, peaceful joys
of a small agricultural community.
These epic pieces of art are witnesses to
Palestinian history, to the Palestinian attachment to their land, the wrenching
pain of loss and exile, and undying hope for future redemption. They are Ismail
and Tamam Shammout's finest legacy.
Ms. Joury was born in Nazareth, Palestine. She holds
a B.A. degree from Smith College in Northampton, Mass. And MA degree from
Heverford College at Heverford, PA.
Palestinian and Syrian Embroidery and
Crafts at Pequannock Valley High School
Earlier this year, Mrs. Kathy Azrak, an eighth grade
class teacher at the Pequannock Valley High School in New Jersey visited with
the Palestinian Heritage Foundation. Mrs. Azrak, an American married to Mr.
Azrak of Syrian background, was interested in expanding the public's awareness
of the history, culture and crafts of the Middle East.
PHF helped Mrs. Azrak by supplying her with many
items including dresses and headpieces from Palestine and Syria specially
designed for schools. Here is what Kathy Azrak had to say a few weeks later:
"My eighth grade class at Pequannock Valley
High School had an interesting cultural experience. We spent the class time
'visiting' the Arab countries of Palestine and Syria, through the help of the
Palestinian Heritage Foundation. This cultural organization enthusiastically
embrace any chance to educate American students about Palestine and other Arab
countries of the Middle East.
The students enjoyed wearing and examining the
dresses and were enriched with information about this art. We actually had a few
of the boys wanting to try on the dresses, too!
The day was enhanced with Arabic music and wonderful
desserts prepared by the women of St. George's Church in Little Falls, NJ. and
included graybeh, ma'moul and baklawa. The day was a great success and the
students definitely got a slice of the Middle Eastern way of life."
International Day of Solidarity with
Palestine at the United Nations
A Palestinian art display entitled The Land, was
exhibited at the United Nations in commemoration of the International Day of
Solidarity with the Palestinian People. This occasion was held at the Public
Lobby of the General Assembly Building and included a variety of paintings by
Palestinian artists Suliman Mansour, Nabil Anani, Tyseer Sharaf, Khalid Hourani,
Tayseer Barakat, Husni Radwan, Muhammad Saleh, Ali Qleibo, Hassan Hourani,
Muhammad Khalid and Taleb Dweik.
The exhibit's opening ceremony on Wednesday,
November 29, 2000, was attended by the Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise
of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, H. E. Ibra Degue'ne Ka, Mr.
Farouk Kaddoumi, Head of the Political department of the PLO, and Palestinians
from the Metropolitan Area.