Palestinian Heritage Foundation 

Newsletter of the Palestinian Heritage Foundation
  Volume 6, No. 2                      December 2000    

نشرة مؤسسة التراث الفلسطيني

PHF Exhibits at HCEF Convention in Washington DC

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 holdings.

Collecting costumes began accidentally for PHF founders Farah Munayyer and his wife 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 styles.

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 traditions were.”

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 –including installations at the United Nations, the Mingei International Museum of Folk Art, and the Hermitage Museum in Ho Ho Kus, New Jersey.

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 Ramallah.

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 Exile

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 Trans-Jordan.

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 afternoon.

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 art exhibition.

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.