Keeping you informed about Palestinian cultural heritage research, and our work here at the Archive

Keeping you informed about Palestinian cultural heritage research, and our work here at the Archive

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Pageants, doves and "national" dress

Miss Israel 2007
Sharon Kenett in the national dress parade
 of the Miss Universe pageant in Mexico City
Picture: AFP  source

 A friend brought this photo to our attention, in a post on Azadeh's blog, who commented:
"I was watching the photographs taken at the Miss Universe national costume parade published in Herald Sun. I was surprised by the very peaceful costume of Israel. Although I have so many problems with what Israel does in Palestine, this picture is carved in my mind as another aspect of Israel"
Oh, indeed. Although we are probably coming from this, from a very different angle to Azadeh.

We must admit, we don't often get the chance to gain much enjoyment out of all things Israeli - our entire mandate here at the Archive is simply trying to prove to a world that has been told otherwise by Israelis, that Palestinian heritage exists - but one thing we do enjoy each year is watching Israeli pageant entrant organizers struggle to come up with another design for Miss World or Miss Universe' "national costume" section.

Poor Israel. They have so much else. But not a national costume.

Don't believe us?! Until Ayala Raz published on this subject in 1998 there wasn't much around, but Raz is well worth a read. Her article - on fashion in Eretz Israel - will send Palestinians cross eyed, as she promotes the accepted Israeli line ("at the end of the 19th century ... the land was largely deserted and neglected") but her discussion of what the Jewish population of Palestine and later Israel, wore, is fascinating and well researched. As part of this wider subject she then raises the question of "national costume: fact or fantasy?":
"Is there a need for a national costume in Eretz-Israel?" This question arose frequently in pre-state newspapers, both in the fashion pages and in letters to the editor. Citizens sent in their suggestions for an original costume, and these were published widely in the press. ...

"The first practical step towards consolidating a national costume was taken at the Levant Fair of 1936. During the fair there was a competition, with prizes, for an original design for a Hebrew costume, "that amalgamates eastern culture with western culture and symbolizes the renewal of the Jewish heritage in Eretz-Israel".
Which in a round about way, is how we at the Palestine Costume Archive, came to be involved. Because one of the "national costumes" Israel tried out during the 20th century was Palestinian. It seems the ultimate irony but Israeli cultural appropriation is like that - you deny the reality of a people but help yourself to various aspects of their heritage (language / cuisine / dance / music / costume) in your search for a cultural heritage of your own.

Julia Auster first put the idea into words in her 1926 article in the Israeli women's magazine Laisha:
"The time has come for the Hebrew woman in Eretz-Israel to devote some attention to the style of dress. We, women of the east and also women who have decided to make their home in the east, continue to this day to copy the west. We blindly follow the fashions that come from Europe, without reflecting that these styles are not right for us, not for the climate of this country nor for its unique atmosphere."
Raz noted that Auster "suggested that the national dress be a high-collared, long-sleeved tunic, decorated with embroidery around the collar. She adds that the same dress can be worn, without sleeves, for a house dress or a party dress". Well by the 1970s that's exactly what many Israelis were doing - either wearing original Palestinian long sleeved and embroidered dresses or examples of contemporary garments with cross stitch embroidery in familiar designs and placements. You can see an example below - probably a Maskit dress featuring pre1948 traditional Palestinian cross stitch, worn with a pre1948 embroidered and coined headdress -  from Ruth Dayan's book "Crafts of Israel", bless her!

We have some very interesting Maskit examples preserved in our collection here. We also have photographs of similar garments designed for El Al air hostesses. And even a photo of Miss Israel "wearing national dress" greeting an American mayor - and yep. Miss Israel is definitely wearing a pre 1948 Bethlehem outfit. As our director writes in her forthcoming book on post 1948 Palestinian heritage:
"for Israelis, wearing early 20th century costumes - which were clearly old textiles - as well as later outfits featuring embroidered panels cut from these rare garments - evoked a sense of place and past, and of continuity of culture. The question was, of course, who's culture".
"This practice slowed after Palestinians reclaimed embroidery as a symbol of national identity in the 1980s. Perhaps it became a little difficult to claim the embroidery as your own when it featured the flag of another country, which you yourself had banned".
By the 1990s even Raz had to conclude:
"it is a fact that to this day there is no national dress and it is doubtful if there ever will be. A national costume is not the fruits of one persons or many peoples deliberate invention. It is not enough for some fashion designer to come up with an idea. The national dress of a people evolves through many generations".
Exactly. And after all, Israel is a very new state. But alas, none of this is going to help Miss Israel in Miss Universe's "national dress" section....


Anonymous said...

Wow im totally impressed by what you have done so far and i hope you do more ... I always wondered why there's nobody taking the responsibility to protect and preserve our heritage which is more in danger now than before .. despite the increased interest of some people in preserving it .. because preserving the heritage isn't merely by collecting the pieces .. actually if few of the lay people are interested in reviving and keeping this heritage alive .. then whatever we collect or preserve will end up in galleries and exhibits as a sad end to a genocide to our people and as a declare of the destruction of this heritage ...
What i mean is we need to encourage people to revive their heritage and keep it alive with them , in their daily lives or at least in certain days of their lives ...
I want also to raise your attention to the point that there are many original and antique dresses and head pieces being offered for sale on the E-BAY ... many of them offered by young palestinian descendants living in he states who had their hands on the stuff of their grandmothers or mothers after their death and are selling it .. I wish I had the financial capability to get them and preserve them . I wish I can help you in what you do or at least know you and maybe exchange some ideas of which I got many creative ones .. I never had the chance to know a great person such as you to enable me to do that ..
Thanks a lot

A palestinian refugee

rubyinthedust said...

I remember reading in a magazine about a tour of these heritage dresses where the whole ensemble was ''misplaced'' at LAX airport.

I never heard anything else about the outcome ~ if these antiquities were returned I think I would have read about it.

Thank you for your tireless work.

The post above mine talks about ebay to find these precious garments, you might try to appeal to world of exiled Palestinians for donations.

Many people would love to see their beloved family's treasures kept for future generations.

You may also appeal for money, times are tough but I would absolutely love to contribute (tho my fixed senior income would be a drop in the bucket) I'm sure there are others like me who are disgusted with zionist arrogance, aggression and theft.

Israelis try to say they invented hummus & falafal ~ I've seen that they're trying to claim debka dancing also.