The Palestinian Heritage Foundation

By Hanan and Farah Munayyer 

The Palestinian Heritage Foundation is a cultural and educational organization aimed at promoting awareness and understanding of Arab and, specifically, Palestinian culture and traditions. These aims have been pursued through programs that deepen the pride of Arab-Americans in their heritage, namely, lectures, live costume shows and exhibits in the United States, Canada and Palestine, and introduce the general American public to this Arab heritage.  

                       Wedding scene at the Brooklyn Museum during Mahrajan Al Fan.

Our activities commenced in April 1987, with the acquisition of a large collection of Palestinian costumes and jewelry. In 1990, we acquired a unique collection owned by the late Rolla Foley, an American Quaker who was in Palestine in 1938 as a teacher at the Friends School in Ramallah. Foley’s collection, purchased from Mrs. Ulla Foley included a large number of quality items of Palestinian and Syrian costumes, some date back to 1850.

Utilizing these incredible art pieces and the research material Hanan had gathered in 1990, we produced a video documentary “Palestinian Costumes and Embroidery: A Precious Legacy”, explaining the origin and history of the art of embroidery in Palestine and the Near East, now widely used in schools, universities, public libraries and other institutions.  

                                      “Bani Na’im”,  Hebron region at National Cathedral.

In 1992, we established the Palestinian Heritage Foundation. The PHF owns a small collection, thanks to the generous donations by the late Miriam Ross of Virginia, Sandra Shatila of Montreal, Dr. and Mrs. Freedman, Mrs. Margaret Carr and Mrs. Robert Munn of California, Dr. Elise Crossby of Wyoming, Mrs. Elizabeth FitzHugh, Mrs. Carol Sutherland, Mrs. Sheridan Collins, and Mrs. Helen Gillard of Washington DC.

The Palestinian Heritage Foundation is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization, aided by an Advisory Board composed of dedicated and talented personalities in the intellectual, cultural and artistic fields. 

A Commitment to a Glorious Arab Civilization  

To acquaint the American public with Arab culture and art, the Palestinian Heritage Foundation presented major exhibitions at the Mingei Museum of Folk Art in La Jolla, San Diego, California, the Fuller Museum of Art near Boston, special exhibits at Leehman Hall, Harvard University, the United Nations in New York, and a display designed for public libraries that toured New Jersey for over two years.

Live shows were presented at the United Nations, The Arab World Festival in Michigan, Dar El Tifl in Los Angeles, The Ramallah Federation of Palestine National Convention in Jacksonville, Florida, the Canadian Palestinian Cultural Foundation in Canada, The Hermitage Museum in Ho Ho Kus, New Jersey, the Rockland Historical Society, New York State, The Washington National Cathedral, The Jerusalem Fund and The Textile Museum in Washington DC, International Friendship Festival, Los Angeles, The West Point Military Academy, and The Brooklyn Children Museum, New York.

For three consecutive years, the Foundation participated in Mahrajan-Al-Fan at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. At present the Foundation is participating in a unique and exclusive exhibition, Community of Many Worlds: American-Arabs in New York.

For the past fifteen years, Hanan Munayyer has researched Middle Eastern textiles and embroidery and has given lectures at museums, universities, cultural societies, schools, and at the West Point Military Academy in New York.

In 1998, the Palestinian Heritage Foundation was awarded the Cultural and Heritage Award by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee at the Awards banquet of the 15th Annual National Convention in Crystal City, Virginia.

The Foundation’s activities have been covered by many newspapers around the world including AL AHRAM International, the London based AL HAYAT daily, AL SUNNARA of Nazareth, The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, AL HAKIM Quarterly of the National Arab American Medical Association, and the California based BEIRUT TIMES. Moreover the Foundation has been featured in television and radio broadcasts on ANA Television of Washington, DC, ART Television and Dubai Television of the United Arab Emirates.  

Display at Cedar Grove Synagogue, NJ

The March/April issue of ARAMCO WORLD, a highly respected cultural publication, featured the Palestinian Heritage Foundation as part of an 11 page two articles “These Stitches Speak” by Jane Friedman, CNN Middle East correspondent, and “New Images, New Patterns: A Historical Glimpse” by Hanan Munayyer.  

On April 3, 1999, the Foundation honored Dr. Edward Said at a special dinner banquet celebrating the 12th Anniversary of PHF that was attended by over 450 prominent Arab Americans from across the United States including diplomats from Washington, New York and Lebanon. The guest speaker that evening was His Eminence Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America.

April 28, 2002, the Foundation celebrated its 15th anniversary by holding a stunning banquet and costume show. On this occasion, PHF honored distinguished historian Dr. Walid Khalidi of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Dr. Joseph Qutub, President of Arab Student Aid International of New Jersey. The evening was attended by over than 300 friends of the Palestinian Heritage Foundation.

On Sunday, May 5, 2002, the Palestinian Heritage Foundation participated in an all Arab Costume show at the prestigious Canadian Cultural Center, Place Des Art in Montreal representing both Syria and Palestine.

Young Arab-American men and women who took part in the shows developed a genuine pride in their heritage. They came to view these costumes not as pieces of clothing, but as pieces of history. More importantly, people who had never before seen artistic or cultural material from the Arab World walked away from the exhibits with a great appreciation for the intricacy and beauty of the traditional costumes and respect for the people who created them. 

The women who created these dresses probably did not consider their embroidered “script” to be anything more than village tradition. How proud they would be to know that theirs is the language by  which  Palestinian and Arab culture is being defined to the public and to our children. Each time one sees the glimmer of pride in a Palestinian child’s eyes, or feel the excitement of an American audience upon viewing and discussing this little-known aspect of art history, we know that we are one step further on a long and arduous, but immensely rewarding road.

Hanan Karaman Munayyer and Farah Joseph Munayyer of West Caldwell, New Jersey, are Palestinian American scientists, who immigrated to the United States in 1970 from Haifa and Lydda, Palestine. Since then, both have been working in pharmaceutical research.