Palestinian Heritage Foundation 

Newsletter of the Palestinian Heritage Foundation
    Volume 5, No. 2                     December 1999     

نشرة مؤسسة التراث الفلسطيني

Foundation Exhibits at Rockland Historical Society
By Kimberly A. Beach

On Sunday, August 22, 1999, the Historical Society of Rockland County held a reception to commemorate the opening of the exhibit “East Meets West: Common Threads in Cultures.” The exhibit showcased late nineteenth and early twentieth century Middle Eastern costumes on loan from the Palestinian Heritage Foundation and the Farah and Hanan Munayyer Collection, as well as comparable American costumes from the permanent collection of the Historical Society of Rockland County.

“Taqsireh” jackets from the Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

The opening featured a lecture by Hanan Karaman Munayyer about the ancient traditions of Middle Eastern costumes. Mrs. Munayyer spoke about how the same patterns and styles that appeared in antiquity could also be found at the beginning of this century. A tasting of traditional Middle Eastern food followed her lecture, which was attended by about fifty guests.

“East Meets West” explores the connections between the traditional dress of the Middle East and the United States. At first glance, these two distinctive regions may not seem to have much in common. But both cultures had specific fashion guidelines for mourning and wedding attire that were quite similar. American clothing also had intricate designs, complex headwear, brightly colored fabrics, and other characteristics found in traditional Middle Eastern costume.

Costumes from Kalamon, Syria and Haifa, Palestine.

The dresses in the exhibit represent centuries of continuity in the style of Middle Eastern costume. For hundreds of years, the brightly colored textiles and rich embroidery of traditional Palestinian costume remained unchanged. Throughout the ages, the crafts of spinning, weaving, dyeing, and embroidery were held in high esteem in Middle Eastern culture. In Palestine and Syria, the period between 1880 and 1940 were the last years of traditional dress before the changes wrought by the tumult of war. Though there are still some women who continue to preserve traditional patterns by copying older dresses, Western influences and the Palestinian Diaspora have changed the regional style drastically.

In contrast, rapidly changing cycles of fashion in the United States have made it difficult to establish a traditional style of dress. In a relatively new society that has always been a mixture of different cultures and traditions, Americans have not had an ancient style of dress to preserve for future generations.

Despite these differences, several similarities between the costumes became apparent upon closer examination of both collections.

Bethlehem, Ramallah and Hebron Dresses

Ceremonial occasions, such as marriage and death, provided clear areas of comparison. All of the Middles Eastern pieces in the exhibition were wedding dresses, hand embroidered with silk thread, mostly on hand woven fabrics. Some aspects of American wedding costume are similar to the Middle Eastern traditions. In the nineteenth century, most American brides-to-be did not wear white dresses. They often chose colors like brown or blue that would not normally be associated with wedding customs today. 

In both America and the Middle East there was a specific style of dress to express mourning. In American society, women traditionally wore black from head to toe for a specific period of time, depending on the relationship to the deceased. By the end of the nineteenth century, the rules of mourning had relaxed, but there was still a code for mourners to follow.

In the Middle East, color schemes for mourning were more subdued than colors used in everyday dress. The period of mourning was also lengthy, many times lasting as long as a year.

Both cultures prized intricate decoration on their costumes. All of the Middle Eastern dresses in the exhibit are covered with embroidery on the chest piece, back and side panels.

Two of the American dresses on view are also embroidered. Metallic thread was used in both cultures to decorate clothing. A jacket from Bethlehem prominently displayed gold metallic thread done in couching stitch. A sleeveless red and gold lame dress from the 1920s in the Historical Society’s collection had metallic thread accents.

Man and child costume with Hebron scarf.

During this time period, fashion and culture in both cultures dictated that women must cover their heads. Palestinian women wore heavy headdresses laden with coins, covered by a large headscarf. American women in this period were also wearing ornate hats and headdresses to compliment their attire. Beads, ribbons, and large plumes of feathers decorated the fashionable woman’s head in a rainbow of colors. Head coverings were popular for both men and women throughout the first half of the twentieth century. The exhibit featured two hats with large plumes of ostrich feathers perched on top.

The exhibit also featured Palestinian Costumes and Embroidery: A Precious Legacy, a video produced by the PHF that describes the various styles worn in the villages of the Middle East. It also explained the symbolic meaning of the patterns and traces their origins in antiquity.

Hanan and Farah with Rockland County Historical Society staff.

According to educator Christopher Kenney, the Historical Society plans to augment this exhibit through a variety of programming and special events. “I plan to hold an embroidery workshop to give people a chance to create their own works of art based on patterns found on the dresses,” says Kenny. “People will have the opportunity to see what it was like to embroider, and they will get a sense of how long it takes to make one of the dresses. Anyone who sees the exhibit will see the beautiful embroidery, and I would like to give people a chance to try it themselves. I would like to put these dresses into the context of the cultures in which they were created and worn.”

The embroidery workshops will be held for both adults and children. Kenny is also working to create some after school tours and activities relating to the exhibit.

Tal es-Safa, a luxury 38-home development, perches on one of the western ridges of Ramallah with a view that stretches to Jaffa on a clear day. Built in classical style that can be found in Jerusalem’s Old City and other neighborhoods, it seeks to recreate the feel of a traditional terraced Palestinian village. Two rows of spacious Jerusalem stone apartments and villas cling to the hillside, with arcade walkways and stone staircases running between them. Olive trees are scattered throughout the development.

Each of the individually designed homes features domed ceilings, decorative ironwork, hand-carved pillars and internal courtyards with plumbing for a fountain. Residents also enjoy en suite jacuzzis, air conditioning, under-floor heating, underground parking and many other conveniences of 21st century living. A community center with a swimming pool and aerobics hall is also available.

The blossoming luxury-housing compound is one of a kind in Palestine. Tal es-Safa has an authentic 19th century village ambience, where the charm and character of traditional Palestinian architecture can be felt all around. The village provides a whole new concept of a model community where family life flourishes, where east and west, and past and present come together to create the best of all possible worlds.

As you drive up to Tal es Safa, the beautiful stone walls meet you, with electronic access gates enclosing the village and providing an added value to the 24-hour high level security services. The quality of life in the village is in itself an invitation to luxury and comfort. The landscaped gardens, plazas, terraced olive groves, lanes and stairways preserve the privacy of each residence while controlling pedestrian/ traffic flow in common areas. A playground specifically designed for entertaining the children was also created.

Tal es Safa is only 10 minutes away from Ramallah and about half an hour away from Jerusalem, providing easy access to the shops, restaurants and prestigious schools and universities.

The project’s backers are Zahi Khouri, a New York-based Palestinian entrepreneur originally Jaffa in 1948, and the Masri family of the West Bank.

For information call 972-2-296 1701 or Fax: 972-2-296 1702 E-mail:

Revealing the Holy Land

The Photographic Exploration of Palestine (Reproduced from the Dahesh Museum Brochure)

The first golden age of photography coincided with the modern rediscovery of Jerusalem and Palestine by nations of the West. Many motives drew visitors to this land. There were amateurs intent on documenting part of the Grand Tour, academics seeking proof of Biblical events or archaeological theories and, of course, commercial purveyors of exotic views and native portraits for tourists and armchair travelers. Others arrived on an imperial mission to map the territory of this important political crossroads: a gateway to the Indian subcontinent, a bastion of the British Empire.

Each photographer tried to capture the “reality” of a land that has enormous spiritual, emotional and political connotations for most of the Western world. How well they succeeded was documented in the exhibition, Revealing the Holy Land: The Photographic Exploration of Palestine, in last summer’s exhibition at the Dahesh Museum in New York City.

Organized by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in California from the brilliant collection of Michael and Jane Wilson, Revealing the Holy Land presented 91 vintage prints made over a period of three decades, 1850-1880. The core of the exhibition is a group of thirty-five previously unexhibited photographs taken by Sergeant James McDonald for Britain’s Royal Engineers’ surveys of Jerusalem (1864) and the Sinai Peninsula (1868-69). His mandate was to capture “the most interesting places in and about Jerusalem.” Combining the skills of a surveyor, topographer and excellent photographer, he captured the haunting, majestic and often severe landscapes and architectural sites that document the early history of the region as well as the early history of photography.

The exhibition opens with images by the French writer Maxime Du Camp, who learned photography in order to travel through the Holy Land, and by some talented amateurs like the Rev. George Bridges and the Anglo-German banker, Ernest Benecke, whose salted paper prints date from mid-century. Auguste Salzmann’s images of Jerusalem published in 1856 are considered the first examples of applying photography to Biblical archaeology. The bold compositions of his large-format paper prints are masterpieces of early photography.

Bible and Empire are joined in the work of the next generation: Francis Bedford and the famous, commercially successful Francis Frith and Frank Mason Good. The team of James Robertson and Felix Beato produced views and portraits as souvenirs, sold in albums or as stereoscopic cards that preserved in three dimensions great architectural studies, important landscapes and portraits of the people of the region for a Victorian audience.

The history of art in the 19th century cannot be considered separately from the birth and development of photography. In Revealing the Holy Land, we see how photography moves across the boundary of aesthetic aid to discrete work of art.

The Cultural Thread

By Meriam Lobel

“The Cultural Thread” project will highlight one of the outstanding artistic traditions of New Jersey -the art of embroidery- a tradition that has continued to evolve with changes in global migrations and global economy. The project will produce a group of exhibits to be displayed in galleries and libraries, lectures and walking tours highlighting the production of embroideries, as well as music and dance performances by cultural groups whose members create and use the embroideries.

Scarves from Hebron, Gaza, Beit Dajan and Ramallah at Textile Museum DC.

The Cultural Thread is designed to draw public attention to an area of New Jersey rich in cultural traditions, but one whose identity is largely unknown. Situated just across the Hudson River from New York City, northeastern New Jersey is the capital of the embroidery industry in the United States. From the 1870s, when Swiss and German immigrants set up the heavy machines they brought from Switzerland on the strong bedrock of the Palisades, through the 1970s, the small embroidery shops in this area supplied up to 90% of the U.S. market with Schiffli embroidery.

Over the past twenty years, the embroidery shops have suffered due to increased competition from overseas where production costs are significantly lower. Nevertheless, 5500 people still work in the embroidery shops of the North Hudson-South Bergen corridor. Waves of immigrant groups have found their way into the U.S. economy working in this trade. Entering a shop as a semiskilled laborer and working their way up through apprenticeships, individuals and families have built livelihoods creating embroidery.

Ramallah “Khirka” scarf at the Fuller Museum, Brockton, MA.

The Cultural Thread is a major project of the Folk Arts Program at the Park Theatre, a community cultural institution in the heart of the embroidery corridor. It will not only draw much needed attention to a key element of the area’s cultural heritage, but will also draw attention to the strong identities of distinct cultural groups who populate this region but whose cultural traditions are overlooked by the dominant mainstream culture.

All of the programming in the Cultural Thread will be carried out in venues easily accessible to the diverse general public. One exhibition site will be the Arts and Crafts Building of Union City, an old silk mill that now houses garment shops and artists’ studios. Other exhibits will feature the work of artists with personal explanatory notes that convey the importance of these traditions to the people who created and treasure them. A model for the exhibit format is”From Baba’s Hope Chest: Macedonian Treasures in Canada,” an exhibit mounted at the Museum for Textiles in Toronto.

The performances accompanying the exhibits will be held in the 1400 seat Park Theatre and will illustrate the spectacular use of embroidery and lace in the costumes worn by performers from diverse cultural traditions. These costumes are cultural signifiers, and are often just as aesthetically important to the performers as their music and dance repertoire.

Display of Palestinian costumes at Mingei Museum of Folk Art, CA.

There will be a large group of collaborators on this comprehensive project including Hanan Karaman Munayyer, a Palestinian scientist who has a world class collection of Palestinian and Syrian embroideries, has experience in exhibition displays, expertise in Palestinian and Middle Eastern embroidery and knowledge of other ethnic embroidery traditions. Hanan will present a lecture demonstration on Palestinian embroideries and assist in the exhibitions of the project.

The artists selected both for the exhibits and the performances will be the strongest representatives of the traditions in New Jersey: Arabs, Greeks, Africans, South Americans, Ukranians and Americans.

The exhibitions will be held in a variety of settings throughout the state to give the widest exposure possible to this artistic tradition. Lecture demonstrations will be held in community centers, libraries and schools throughout the area.

This program will reach audiences throughout New Jersey and the tri-state area. Publicity materials will be sent to major news publications in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Target audiences will include the communities of North Hudson-South-Bergen many of whom know many people working in the embroidery industry, members of ethnic groups whose cultural traditions are included in the exhibitions and performances, and the general public interested in embroidery and fashion.

United Palestinian Appeal Donates to PHF Activities

The United Palestinian Appeal has approved a grant of $1000 to support the cultural activities of the Palestinian Heritage Foundation. This generous donation came at the recommendation of UPA Board member Issam Salah Esq., of New York. Mr. Salah, who has been following PHF activities, is very interested in the Foundation’s mission.

In a letter to the Foundation, Deputy Executive Director Ms. Makboula Yasin wrote: “I am pleased to inform you that the Board of Trustees of United Palestinian Appeal has approved $1000 to support the Palestinian Heritage Foundation’s display of Palestinian arts, crafts and culture during the “East Meet West: Common Threads in Cultures” exhibit at the Rockland County Historical Society of New City, New York.

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, please accept our deep appreciation for the excellent work you are doing in promoting Palestinian arts and culture.”

A Community of Many Worlds: Arab Americans in New York City

The Museum of the City of New York presents a two-day symposium on February 5 and 6, 2000 that traces the historical development of New York City’s Arab American communities and explores the formation of Arab American identity through the arts, the creation of social and economic institutions, and political activity.

The symposium is co-sponsored by the Middle East Institute of Columbia University. and the New York Council for the Humanities, a state program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Museum hopes to create an exhibition on Arab Americans in New York City that will visually explore the themes of the two-day symposium.

For this exhibition, the Museum and its partner group of scholars of Arabic heritage seek to borrow photographs, documents, and three-dimensional objects that will help them tell the rich and varied story of Arab Americans in New York City.

The symposium will include panels on such topics as Early Immigration Patterns, Early Arab Immigrant Culture, the Public Sector, Private Expressions/Public Representations and Social Changes in New York’s Contemporary Arab Culture.

The Palestinian Heritage Foundation encourages its friends to register early. Although there is no admission fee for the symposium itself there is a $10.00 per person per day fee for catered lunch. Guests may bring bag lunches instead.

Musician and Oud Maker Najib Shaheen

The Oud, the oldest and most central instrument in the Middle Eastern music tradition, is widely considered the ancestor of the Pharaohnic Nafer and the ancient Persian Barbat. It is known as the forbearer of the European lute, which emerged after the introduction of the oud in Andalusian Spain.

Najib Shaheen, a New York based musician and oud maker, believes that the particular resonance of the oud lies in its wood, which contributes to the general sound of the instrument. The oud’s sound resonates within its hollow body, which has a rounded back and a soundboard enclosing it. The back is made of fifteen to twenty-five strips of wood, usually ebony, rosewood, walnut or a combination thereof. The soundboard is characterized by a main circular opening called the rosette. Towards the base of the soundboard is the bridge (al-ghazal) where the instrument’s strings are attached.

The specific elements of an excellent oud have not been comprehensively explored nor scientifically investigated. They are the trade secrets of oud makers, said Najib Shaheen. The oud maker’s intention in crafting the oud is to achieve maximum resonance. The soundboard is a particularly delicate component of the instrument.

Najib has taken steps to increase the sound quality and projection of the oud through subtle modifications of the soundboard’s habitual structure. Like most oud makers, Shaheen uses different kinds of wood for the beams and the soundboard. He combines the warmth of spruce and the crispness of cedar to produce a high quality tone, and maximizes the reverberations of the sound by minimizing the beams and soundboard. Since its emergence in early civilization, the oud’s unique tone has established itself in traditional musical forms throughout the Arab world and North Africa. Developments in the structure and craftsmanship of the oud will remain the purview of oud makers for years to come. Notwithstanding, the oud cannot but maintain its very viable place in the family of instruments.

Jerusalem Fund Hosts PHF Exhibition for Six Months.

The Jerusalem Fund of Washington DC has recently asked the Palestinian Heritage Foundation to set up a display of Palestinian arts and crafts, including Palestinian traditional costumes and embroidery, at the Fund’s center for a period of six months.

The Jerusalem Fund has recently expanded its center creating space and an arrangement of cabinets that is more suitable for the display. Hanan Munayyer will also give two lectures during the year to friends of the Jerusalem Fund as part of the Fund’s lecture series.

Palestinian Heritage Foundation at Nazareth 2000 Celebrations

During his recent trip to the Middle East this past October, Farah held several meetings to discuss the possibility of establishing a Museum of Palestinian Heritage in the town of Nazareth as part of the 2000 Celebrations being planned for the towns of Nazareth and Bethlehem.

Farah met with Mr. Ramiz Jaraisy Mayor of Nazareth and his deputy, Attorney Walid Fahoum, as well as representatives of the Ministry of Tourism in Jerusalem and the Arab media in Nazareth. The idea was well received by all and the project was put into motion.

The proposed exhibition will provide a “glimpse into the past” and will include modern Palestinian arts, crafts and culture. The exhibition will be housed in a building located in the old town of Nazareth.

Although the PHF hopes that the exhibition will be a tourist attraction in Nazareth, its greater goal is to host visits from Arab school children throughout Palestine growing up in a modern world removed from their fascinating heritage.

Egyptian Art in the Age of the Pyramids

The astonishing sculpture, reliefs, paintings, and other works of art on view in this featured exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art were created in Egypt during the third millennium BC, when the famous pyramids at Giza were built. Youthful vigor, confidence, and joy in life are reflected in the distinctly lifelike images of the pyramid builders, whose sculptors and craftsmen defined once and for all the essence of Egyptian art.

This major international loan exhibition displays some 250 works from more than 30 museums in Egypt, Europe, and North America. Included are portraits of kings and queens, a statue of the architect of the pyramid of Khufu, several portrait-like heads, delicate relief scenes, elegant luxury vessels, and furniture, together with a great variety of sculptures depicting high officials and their families.

“Egyptian Art in the Ages of the Pyramids” was organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Re’union des Muse’e Nationaux, Paris, and the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.

Jamal Badran Renowned Palestinian Artist Dies at 91

Jamal Badran was born in Haifa, Palestine in 1909. In 1922 he left Palestine for Egypt to join the School of Arts in the Hamzawi neighborhood of Cairo. In 1927 he graduated with a degree in arts, concentrating on kufic Arabic designs. Upon returning to Palestine he joined the Egyptian Expedition to Renovate the Dome of the Rock “Al Haram Ash Sharif” in Jerusalem and taught art in the Ministry of Education.

Under the auspices of Mr. Stewart, a teacher of Jamal Badran in Cairo and the newly appointed Inspector of Education and Art to Palestine during the British Mandate over Palestine, Mr. Badran was sent to study at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. He graduated in 1937 and assumed a teaching position at the prestigious Arab College in Jerusalem, Palestine.

In the early 1940s, Jamal Badran was delegated by UNESCO to teach art in Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya and immediately after the Palestinian Naqbe in 1948, he left Jerusalem for Damascus, Syria, to teach at its Art institutions.

After the war of 1967 and during his years in Ramallah, Palestine, Jamal Badran was appointed to head the team to renovate the Al Aqsa Mosque after an extremist fanatic citizen of Israel set fire to it. This task lasted for six years during which all carved wood, ceramic artwork and kufic Arabic calligraphy was restored to its original condition.

Some of Mr. Badran’s outstanding work involved parchment lampshades and olive wood carved lampposts handpainted with Persian and Arabic motifs, Koranic verses in Arabic kufic writing on Hebron glass, and wall hangings with Koranic verses painted in gold.

Mr. Badran was the recipient of several medals for his role in educating many generations of Palestinians, Syrians, Libyans and Jordanians including a Medal of Honor from King Abdullah I of Jordan.