“What a pretty scarf!” Some things I learnt about keffiyehs and Palestine

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I seem to have accidentally stolen a scarf, having driven home wearing one that my mum lent me to keep warm while I was visiting at the weekend.

I don’t regret doing this as much as I should because a) I love it and b) it led to me learning something new this week that I’d like to share with you.

My husband told me that my new scarf was trying to be a keffiyeh. Although I had heard this word before, I didn’t really know what a keffiyeh is. I’m trying to be better at admitting my ignorance and asking people about things. So while a few months ago I would have just said “yeah maybe” and left it, I decided to ask what a keffiyeh was and why this scarf isn’t succeeding at being one.

You probably already know this but if, like me, you didn’t, a keffiyeh is a middle eastern headdress fashioned from a square cotton scarf.  It has become a Palestinian national symbol, helped in part by Yasser Arafat rarely being seen without one. It has a distinctive pattern, which mine doesn’t, hence it only trying to be a keffiyeh.

In the last 20 years ago, they have become very fashionable. I asked my husband if he thought this was cultural appropriation. He told me that my star-patterned one definitely was.

Wikipedia says:

Today, this symbol of Palestinian identity is now largely imported from China. With the scarf’s growing popularity in the 2000s, Chinese manufacturers entered the market, driving Palestinians out of the business. In 2008, Yasser Herbawi, who for five decades had been the only Palestinian manufacturer of keffiyehs, is now struggling with sales. The Herbawi Textile Factory has 16 machines. In 1990, all 16 machines were functioning, making 750 keffiyahs per day. Today, only 2 machines are used, making a mere 300 keffiyahs per week. Unlike the Chinese manufactured ones, Herbawis uses 100% cotton. Yasser Herbawis son, Izzat, states the importance of creating the Palestinian symbol, in Palestine, “the keffiyah is a tradition of Palestine and it should be made in Palestine. We should be the ones making it.”

Mother Jones wrote, “Ironically, global support for Palestinian-statehood-as-fashion-accessory has put yet another nail in the coffin of the Occupied Territories’ beleaguered economy.”

Oh dear.

Rather than get bogged down in the discussion of whether or not it is okay to keep wearing the scarf that I have, I think it’s important to support the one factory that is still producing them in the Occupied Territories. I’m not usually a fan of buying Christmas presents (I like to give experiences or make things instead) but I think I’ll be buying a few of these this year.

This shop seems a legitimate place to buy them from (if anyone has any other knowledge about this – let me know) and you can also buy one from the Amnesty International shop.


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