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Journal of Gender Studies
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Palestinian Costume, the Intifada and the Gendering of Nationalist Discourse
Conducting postgraduate research in the Department of Communication and Image Studies, University of Kent, Canterbury Available online: 28 Apr 2010
To cite this article: Tina Sherwell (1996): Palestinian Costume, the Intifada and the Gendering of Nationalist Discourse, Journal of Gender Studies, 5:3, 293-303 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09589236.1996.9960651
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however it has been invested with multiple meanings as a result of the dispossession and exile of Palestinian communities. women express their national aspirations and have used the dress to challenge the positions assigned to them in national discourses. in her work on women and nationalism has revealed the way in which women are unequally positioned in the project for nationhood.Journal of Gender Studies. The woman's traditional peasant costume has become one of the dominant identity representations of Palestinians.0. the Intifada and the Gendering of Nationalist Discourse TINA SHERWELL Downloaded by [151.76. She suggests that: Nationalist movements invite women to participate more fully in collective life by interpellating them as 'national' actors: mothers. Vol. The flag dresses are an example of the re-articulation of traditional costume and were worn by young women from villages and refugee camps during the Intifada as statements of their political aspirations.47] at 18:22 30 July 2011 ABSTRACT The essay explores why the peasant woman's costume has become one of the dominant representations of Palestinian cultural identity. Deniz Kandiyoti. The focus of the conflict are competing claims to the same territory. Mo. The costume was traditionally a marker of regional and familial identity. Thus the use of peasant symbolism is a result of Palestinians being engaged in articulating an identity rooted in the land. 5. educators: workers even 0958-9236/96/030293-11 © 1996 Journals Oxford Ltd . In this essay I want to address why the woman's costume is chosen as an identity representation and how this is related to the way in which through representation nationalist discourse constitutes the role of male and female subjects in the national struggle. It proliferates in work by artists and appears in museum collections across the world. It is displayed in the homes of Palestinians living in diaspora and the territories occupied by Israel. Nationalist discourses through imaging the women in traditional dress have sought to prescribe women's national role as confined to the domestic sphere. In re-making the dress. 1996 293 Palestinian Costume. this was particularly evident during the Intifada uprising when women wearing flag dresses crossed the boundaries between private and public spaces. It is predominantly elderly village women who wear a style of traditional Palestinian costume and can be seen in the urban streets selling local produce. 3. However the costume's design and significance is continually transformed by women.
Palestinian women. a 'V-shaped opening from the waist down which was described as "a picture of a woman" (Weir. in particular her father's status. Until marriage. The dress was central to the wedding rituals and announced female fertility with tassels. By remaking a traditional object they invested the costume with new meaning.294 T. over generations have continued to find the dress a meaningful space in which to represent their identity and as that identity changes. by drawing on the in-depth study of Palestinian dress by Shelagh Weir. The significance and symbolism of elements of national culture are not fixed but subject to the transformative needs of the community. p. The hamula: the patrilinear family unit provided protection and stability in the face of scarce agricultural resources. 11-12). Reproducing the family was essential to the survival of the community. I want to examine the phenomena of flag dresses produced during the Intifada . A young girl through learning to embroider at an early age was initiated into the language of the costume. p. The first was symbolised through the reproduction of particular patterns and their organisation within the dress (Weir. and provided security for older members of the village. Thus what meanings do women take upon the space of their bodies by stepping into the dress and what is communicated to the people they encounter as they move through their environment? In order to answer these questions it will be necessary to look at the changes in style. under the impetus of conditions such as today's military occupation its form and significance are correspondingly reworked. Every woman would produce such a dress for her wedding trousseau displaying her pride in being a member of the community. Her family identity. (Kandiyoti. I will argue that they are statements by Palestinian village women and examples of an intervention into the prescriptive roles assigned to them as members of a national struggle. 216-232) . 214) and through the colour of the fabric and embroidery. Importance was placed on sustaining the village as a collective unit. 75). the garments and head coverings she wore were less ornately embroidered and considered 'incomplete' . I will begin by briefly outlining the significance of the costume in peasant communities prior to 1948. there was no need for major changes in the costume. Downloaded by [151. Weir has explained that the predominance of red in the costume. Sherwell fighters. hence social conventions stressed the perpetuation and reproduction of traditions and did not inspire innovation within the form and design of the costume. 380) I will outline in this essay that the dominance of the Palestinian costume points to the centrality of peasant symbolism which is mobilised to serve political and patriarchal interests of a male middle class leadership. family and sexual identity.47] at 18:22 30 July 2011 . heavy taxation by foreign governments and raids by bedouin tribesmen (Johnson. as it successfully communicated the village's social values. On the other hand they reaffirm the boundaries of culturally acceptable feminine conduct and exert pressure on women to articulate their gender interests within the terms of reference set by nationalist discourse.0. derives from the association with the blood of defloration. In traditional peasant society the costume symbolised important facets of a woman's village. 1989. p. pp. she came to understand the community's expectations of her. More specifically. 1989.76. The transformation in the style of the dress was subtle during the late 19th century. 1989. was displayed through lavish fabrics and the density of the embroidery which indicated the amount of money that had been invested in the production of the dress and the value placed on the woman (Weir. pp. materials and symbolism and the different contexts in which the dress has been worn. 1993. By making the dress. 1982.
47] at 18:22 30 July 2011 • ? « . (Source: \V.Palestinian Costume.^. the Intifada and the Gendering of Nationalist Discourse 295 Downloaded by [151. mm s*a-»i£fc.0. 1.76. An example of a flag dress from the Hebron region.) . "W^'y^u FIG. Kawar's collection.
Japan 1982).76. Downloaded by [151. Sherwell Ä . « THGS EL ABYAD the white conume FlG. Thob El Abyad.'. [Source: W. Tokyo.] .ft—.296 T. Kawar. -Jfelt. Palestinian Arab national costumes. A white costume from Beit Dajan. 2. (Bunka. -î^.47] at 18:22 30 July 2011 t If-J-C-Tb't K .0. Costumes dyed by the sun.
p.47] at 18:22 30 July 2011 The production of the dress and the meanings attached to it began to be affected by the changes that were occurring in the economic and social field during the last decades of Ottoman rule in Palestine and throughout the British Mandate period. the increased wealth of some families within the villages meant they were less economically and socially dependent on the immediate community. 1989. The West Bank was governed by Jordan while Gaza was administered by Egypt. everything associated with the past was open to re-interpretation. 101—104). developed. With the war of 1948.0. Urban merchants and notables increasingly competed for control of the peasants agricultural surplus which they exported to Europe and the Middle East at a profit. 150. The creation of the State of Israel turned half the Arab population of Palestine into refugees. In Peetet's opinion. Important amendments to the Land Laws during the 1870s encouraged the rise of private property and facilitated the commodification of land (Stein. 151). The territories which were not incorporated into the new state fell under foreign rule. pp. These influences were felt outside the cities as affluent rural families attempted to emulate the cultural styles of the urban power brokers. the density of the embroidery and the number of costumes held in trousseaus. No . p. p.. Zionism defined Palestine as an empty land and the indigenous population needed to be elided physically as it already had symbolically. 222-227). Palestinians. individual prosperity did not supplant the expression of communal identity as women continued to take pride in wearing their local costume (Weir. pp. 1991. In the following defeat of Arab armies in 1967. furniture. It modelled itself on the British occupiers in terms of education. facilitated changes in the costumes. 222). Thus. communal life in Palestine was dramatically transformed. 1989. in the face of increasing land expropriation for the building of Jewish settlements. vehicles were all in vogue during the 1920s. 1989. in conjunction with the introduction of new fabrics and British embroidery techniques and patterns. With the loss of the land which had previously grounded social structures. 1995.Palestinian Costume. Regional symbols continued to be used in the costume.. that disassociated itself culturally from the peasant population. It wasn't interested in 'educating' the natives as citizens of Israel as inclusion in the Nation was contingent only on being Jewish. 108. Palestinians. the peasantry's autonomy from the city was eroded. deportation of local people responded by articulating a counter state and a counter community. "[tjhey were not resurrecting traditional culture but rather consciously devising a blend of old and new to form a 'culture of resistance'" (Peetet.76. p. This was evident in the changing aesthetics of village costume (Weir. 1989. these areas came under Israeli military occupation (Benin and Lockman. Expressions of social differentiation were evident in the desire of women to have unique dresses in their trousseau (Weir. everyone was always embroidering" (Weir. 228). Those cultural artefacts acquired privileged status by virtue of coming from a time that pre-dated Israeli occupation were invested with new importance. 208). 1993. hence European dress. began to be actively involved in creating a national identity and culture. It is important to remember that the Israeli occupation was a particular type of colonisation. with the loss of their homeland. we embroidered at the well . p. 50). These changes heightened the distinction between social groups. creating rich individual land owners and a landless peasantry (Doumani. A wealthy urban class. However. 1989. pp. As a result. 165). This. Women were caught up in the competitive necessity to keep abreast of fashions in the 1930s and boasted how busy it kept them: "we embroidered while we waited to see the doctor. the Intifada and the Gendering of Nationalist Discourse 297 Downloaded by [151. Affluent rural women's dresses became more lavish in terms of the fabrics used. and material culture.
(Bunka.76. Sherwell Downloaded by [151. Chest Panel from a TafFuh Tarkumya costume cl910. Japan 1982).] . Tokyo.0.298 T. Palestinian Arab national costumes.47] at 18:22 30 July 2011 FIG. [Source: Costumes dyed by the sun. 3.
1990. 19) in his analysis of Palestinian and Israeli national symbols has shown that Zionist settlers "launched a massive project aimed at revealing an originary Jewish historic inscription in the landscape". in the struggle against Israel. 25). by focusing its representation around the 'traditional household' sought to suggest that contemporary location of Palestinian cultural identity was to be found in the home and reproduced by women. 1988.. Palestinians lacked official state apparatus. 23).76. pp. 52). Nationalist discourse. "For men. 118-123). particularly as they had lost their main source of status—the land. 33) The focus of conflict was the claims of two peoples to the same piece of land and so both nationalisms had to articulate identities rooted in the landscape. Pots. However women were needed to supplement family income and thus entered the wage labour market where they were concentrated in low paid factory. p. the woman's dress and ways of preparing food all became symbolic . p. Palestinian nationalist strategy emphasised the peoples' natural and organic bond to the land through the use of the peasant as a national signifier (Swedenberg. (Bowman.0. Women were predominantly wearing western clothes since they no longer had the Downloaded by [151.. was excluded. A broader account of changes in land tenure. entered the arena in which culture was increasingly being mobilised to validate the authenticity of rights to the land. and thus stood as an ideal of "holistic" Palestinian society before the advent of Israel (Swedenberg. honour and power over women becomes crucial to men's sense of identity" (Warnock. The figure of the peasant was elevated to a symbol and in the process was dehistoricised within nationalist discourse (Tamari. 1990. Swedenberg (1990). pp. While standing in for Palestine they at the same time function as elements of everyday life. 18). p. As such they have different meanings in different contexts. p. 1990. organising hiking expeditions and museums of Jewish history. 1990. especially the less educated and those who worked as labourers in Israel. Through renaming places to evoke references in the Old Testament. 77-82).. An increasing féminisation of agricultural labour occurred which served to reinforce women's symbolic connection to the land (Swedenberg..47] at 18:22 30 July 2011 . The peasant was imaged as an expression of a Utopian agricultural community free from the effects of modernisation. establishing archaeological digs to find Jewish ruins. Hence as Bowman has suggested: In this process of symbolic formulation and reformulation certain elements of the concerned group's cultural repertoire are given a somewhat overdetermined significance . 1990. 1991. The emphasis is predominantly on the peasants' home and objects from its interior. 1990. p. p. They had nothing but their bodies and their cultural statements with which to express their claims to Palestine. exposing class inequalities and the illusion of the peasantry as a cohesive group. p. class divisions and poverty. Palestinian men were increasingly forced to find work in Israel and abroad as the limited agricultural land that was available for cultivation could no longer support a family. The peasant narrative was narrow in focus emphasising the individual family unit. Not every aspect of the peasant's way of life was taken up as a symbol of the nation. domestic and clerical work (Warnock. the Intifada and the Gendering of Nationalist Discourse 299 aspect of a past way of life could be taken for granted any longer and all of these traditions could be mobilised as signifiers of a nation. 19). the Zionist project "had the effect of denying any Arab historicity in Palestine" (Swedenberg. cushions. particular elements were highlighted while others that did not correspond to the political project were omitted. The absence of men meant village women were left to run households and work on small family plots. the family compensated for the alienation and humiliation of their experience outside .Palestinian Costume.
p. p. 1993. Men's role in the national struggle was seen to take place in public space it would seem. However during the Intifada. p. 273). the dresses functioned as a way of accessing memories and 'returning' to villages that no longer exist (Weir. It is significant in this context that the complete male peasant costume was not mobilised as a national symbol since it did not correspond to the dynamic youthful image of the fighter. 1995. Male activism was epitomised by the resistance fighter who struggled to regain the honour of Palestine . while women's activities were restricted to the home. and as the patterning had indicated regional identity. Anderson (1991) has outlined the importance of print culture in facilitating a way of imaging the nation. He has highlighted the gendered implications of membership. embargo on Israeli products. demonstrations.47] at 18:22 30 July 2011 .300 T. and male and female roles were disrupted as families and communities needed to survive in the face of Israeli military violence. 376). 55—57). This was strategic as Rosemary Sayigh's research among refugees has shown: the family continued to be the main source of support for individuals in camps in the immediate absence of political parties and adequate international relief (Sayigh. 1990. By imaging and speaking the nation in terms of the family and the home. such as collecting water. "July 9—10 a general strike to mark the eighth month of the uprising and the fall of the first band of martyrs" (Mishal and Downloaded by [151. Yet the woman in the traditional dress in the home proliferated in paintings and narratives by Palestinians living in diaspora and the occupied territories . wealth or female support network to produce the traditional costume. non-payment of taxes and boycott of Israel's administrative machinery (Hunter. baking bread and nursing children (Kandiyoti. In this imagery women were represented as untouched by modernisation and occupation and "privileged bearers of cultural authenticity" carrying out traditional activities. Nor were they able to obtain the same fabrics which had originally been imported from Damascus and Cairo. nationalist discourses naturalised affiliation. What began as spontaneous demonstration in Gaza evolved into a set of resistance strategies which were co-ordinated by local popular committees and directives from the United National Leadership of the uprising in the form of leaflets. arguing that in fact the nation is constituted as bond between men (Massad.0. when villages and towns were sealed off and placed under prolonged curfew. They provided calendars of strikes and remembrance days for martyrs and recounted events of the uprising in the territories. 1991. During a period of severe social disruption. Women were always depicted in the costume. leaflets were vital sources of information. p. 79. p. Nor was the figure of the worker used because of the implications of his subjugated position within Israeli labour market. pp. Peretz. boundaries between public and private. There was a continuum between men's protection of women in the domestic sphere with their commitment to the national struggle because Palestine itself was imaged as a peasant woman. 1979.76. Women actively participated in all aspects of this programme thus helping to strip Israel of the financial benefits of occupation. The Intifada was a popular uprising in the Gaza Strip and West Bank that was sparked by the increasing denial of civil liberties to the Palestinian inhabitants. Sherwell time. 128). In Massad's discussion of Palestinian masculinity he focuses on problematicing Anderson's (1991) definition of the nation as a fraternity. and presented themselves as continuous rather than discontinuous break with the past social order. 471). 1989. The policy of the uprising was to refrain from the use of weapons and to organise a mass resistance which took the form of strikes. This is particularly pertinent in this stage of the Palestinians struggle for nationhood. Thus nationhood facilitated and secured male authority over women in a moment when the patriarchal organisation of community had been disrupted.
women began to transgress social norms. However in spite of this prescriptive rhetoric. and merchants. p.. Leaflets were addressed the "Sons of Palestine". carrying rocks to the youths. In attempting to reconcile these representations with their lived experiences. They were increasingly visible in public spaces. pp. The dresses are Downloaded by [151. The highest accolade was given to the 'Mother of the Martyr'. while simultaneously engaging in unconventional activities. As Peetet has noted "[h]er maternal sacrifice is a supreme political act that translates into respect and prominent community stature" (Peetet. Abdo has argued that those who were the most active and visible during the Intifada came from villages and refugee camps. p. p. 1994. 25). by calling for the veiling of all women. Mayer (1994). 1994. they are our constitution" (Rigby. during conflicts. 'When they were spoken of. When they arrive in the villages they are studied. Palestinian women of all different professions and classes would have to accommodate. shielding them from arrest. 24). However. Therefore. Hamas also asserted their new political authority. a tension exists between nationalist imagery and actual female agency. 186). the Intifada and the Gendering of Nationalist Discourse 301 Ahoroni. "Brothers". activities for which they were injured and jailed (Giacaman and Johnson. 1989. Women were seen as vital in passing on Palestinian traditions and instilling political consciousness within the young. a burden which was not evenly spread among the classes (Abdo. Communique 21). nations engage in demographic wars. Yuval Davis argues that women are assigned to reproduce the boundaries of community and. which took the form of arbitrary night raids and the demolishing of houses. 28). 1986. Within traditional social structures women would have been 'shaming themselves' by interacting with unknown Palestinian men and with Israeli soldiers. During the uprising women's "supportive" roles were undertaken in dangerous circumstances. "Cubs". p. 1990. students. supplement and resist the definition of a 'Palestinian Woman' they were furnished with. that leave women with limited control over their own bodies (Davis. 1994. This was evident during the Intifada when pregnant women suffered miscarriages as a result of tear gas attacks carried out by Israeli soldiers in confined spaces (Young. "They are like the Koran to the people. Consequently boundaries between exterior and interior were less rigid and many women extended their traditional domestic role into the streets being interpellated into the position of 'Mother of Nation'. It was these same women who. it was inevitably as mothers. organising food and health care for the community under curfews and petitioning for the release of prisoners. Nationalist discourse defined 'Palestinian woman' in terms of her reproductive capacity thereby making of women's sexuality and fertility a patriotic and explicitly political issue. 1991. The flag dresses take the same shape as the traditional costume but are made from cheap synthetic fabrics. as the Intifada was articulated as the product of male agency. 9). those who did not comply were considered collaborators and traitors to the struggle (Hammami.. 161-163). they defined the activities of the various sectors of the national population. in her work on women and the uprising has argued that as a result of the domestic sphere being a target of the military. 1989. to the youths. discussed . p. p. it was these women who were interpellated into reproducing the nation.Palestinian Costume. women were active in every sphere of the Intifada struggle. literally on the surface of their bodies to challenge the reproductive imperative and to represent themselves as standard bearers of the future nation. "Soldiers of Justice". with their flag dresses took upon themselves.0.76. Communique 21). "Let the mother of the martyr rejoice she has lifted her voice twice: first on the day of her son's death and again on the day of the declaration of the state" (Mishal and Aharoni. A discussion of women was conspicuously absent from the majority of leaflets. 24). By addressing different groups in society: workers. She was seen as having given up her son for the birth of the Nation.47] at 18:22 30 July 2011 . 1991.
with great risks to themselves. All information on the flag dresses was supplied by Mrs Kawar during an interview in March 1995. Johanne Sloan and Furrukh Khan for their continuing support and comments on earlier drafts of this paper. By identifying with the struggle through the flag. The flag appeared in paintings. Sherwell evidence that the women who made them actively participated in the uprising using the space of their bodies to communicate their national aspirations. graffiti murals. The act of identification on the contrary destabilizes the identity of the object" (Laclau. housed in her home in Amman Jordan. The iconography on the dress was part of a larger phenomena of the use of national symbols in popular culture (Peretz.L. The flag dresses show the way in which 'traditional objects' continue to be transformed by national actors in relation to the historical moment. Communique 21). Professor Lynn Innes. They underline the importance of culture as a space of struggle in articulating Palestinian identity and the significance of women's identity representations within national culture. who would passively incorporate all the determinations of the object. 114). Since graffiti slogans.302 T. 1994. which was commonly used to indicate a desire for Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian state. 1993. of the power of representations and the gaze of their national community as well as of Israeli soldiers and the international media. Thus the makers of the dresses challenge the representation of women in Palestinian nationalist discourses. songs. 14). .  Within peasant communities male honour was derived from the amount of land one had access to as well as the conduct and appearance of female family members.76. T-shirts tattoos. individuals were able to dissolve themselves into the wider national collective which psychologically protected them in the face of life threatening situations. p. over the churches and turrets of mosques" (Mishal and Aharoni. showing them to be a space in which positions and meanings are not fixed. Thus an "economy of style" (Ashrawi. In doing so they open up the issue of definition of gender roles in the future Palestinian nation.O. 1994. The majority of leaflets called for the display of the flag. p. the letters P.  This is evident in Palestinian paintings. flags etc. were swiftly destroyed by the IDF. Thus maps of Palestine. abandoning regional identity markers in the form of specific patterns and substituting them with popular national symbols. literature and the objects found in individual homes. invested with patriotic significance signalling that the women wearing them were part of a larger national struggle. With the emphasis on civil disobedience dresses could become symbols.47] at 18:22 30 July 2011 Acknowledgments I would like to thank Glenn Bowman. This reveals an increasing awareness on behalf of the Palestinians. They highlight that "The act of identification is not a purely submissive act on the part of the subject. and the word 'Palestine' appeared on the dress along with the banned colours of the flag. p. In doing so they radicalised the costume.0. but subject to continual renegotiation.  This reflected the view that womanhood was not achieved until the consumation of a marriage. Some dresses even depicted the Dome of the Rock. "Let Palestinian flags be raised over every house and building. 102) developed with the emphasis on expressing a collective national unity rather than individual identity. it was necessary that the form and content of the message be accessible to the widest possible audience. NOTES  The flag dresses I refer to are part of Widad Kawar's collection of Palestinian costumes. Downloaded by [151. 1990.
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