Palestinian Thobe – Identity in art

Palestinian Thobe

There is almost no Palestinian occasion, including weddings or special events, where you don’t find women participating wearing the embroidered Palestinian Thobe. The Palestinian Thobe is a popular form of art and culture that was inherited by the Palestinian women throughout generations. It tells the story of a city, town or village, and an identity that has undergone much change since 3000 years of the Canaanite era.

The History of the Palestinian Thobe

Until the pre-Nakba (1948) period, the Palestinian thobe was manufactured in Acre and Ascalon, where they were the center for the export to the Levant and Iraq. Making these thobes was considered a traditional craft for rural women who learned knitting and embroidery from an early age. Especially as a craft that needs precision, patience, and taste.

After 1948, the quality of the embroidery varied and became a mixture of the cultures and the impressions of Palestinian cities. For example, the cypress trees that were distinguished by the Palestinian dress in Jaffa with the roses in Ramallah.

Young women in Palestinian Thobes doing the traditional dance - Dabka
Young women in Palestine Thobes doing the traditional dance -Dabka

But for those Thobes, they have a “code” that is known only by those who know the intricacies of these overlapping threads and colors. By only looking at a women wearing a Palestinian Thobe,  one can know her age, social status, family class and village.

These engraved geometric units are inherited by mothers and girls from their grandmothers. Young girls learned the art of embroidery as soon as they knew how to sew, where they will start conveying the identity of their villages to their dresses.

Palestinian Thobe
Variations of Palestinian Thobes each represent a different area in Palestine

Even though the Palestinian woman was honest in transferring that heritage, she was also creative in changing her embroidery without compromising the structure of the composition. And despite the simplicity of these changes; she gave the Thobe a renewed look that makes anyone who wears it proud. To find out some details of the identity of the Palestinian Thobes in terms of location, social status, and age, we list some interesting details:

Variations of the Palestinian Thobe by city:

1. Jerusalem Thobe

The Jerusalem Thobe was made of Lilac velvet embroidered with gold flowery threads, except for the Turkish style known as the Serma, worn by girls on wedding occasions.

The thobe bore an inscription for all the times that the Holy City passed through. On its chest, they graved the dome of the Canaanite monasteries. On its sides inscriptions of crosses to reflect the Christian rule, and crescents to reflect the return of Islamic and Arab rule.

Brides in Jerusalem used to wear an embroidered Thobe with a velvet jacket and skirt, while their hair was covered with a silk silver shawl. Jerusalem Thobe was used in the Ottoman Empire since 1920.

The effects of the Nakba also appeared on the Jerusalem Thobe. The bright colors disappeared to indicate sadness and nostalgia.

2. Ramallah Thobe

The famous Ramallah texture known as “al-Roumi” or “Romanian” was woven by the manual loom and was made up of white linen for the summer season. The dress was dyed black for winter. These women were known for their precision in counting threads to produce even stitches.

Ramallah women introduced the flower pattern in red and black threads. But the relative affluence of the city gave its women ample purchasing power to buy linen and silk to sew their Thobes. And it wasn’t long till their fame spread in owning luxury Thobes.

3. Jaffa Thobe

These coastal Thobes were famous for their decorative elements, always surrounded by cypress trees. This thobe was affected by its Turkish counterpart, extending its influence on the cities of the north such as Tiberias, Acre, and Haifa.

4. Hebron Thobe

The Dora’s Jacket set Hebron’s girls apart, which was adorned in black ink cloth; with a multicolor Fallahi cross design, and prints of leaves, flowers and tree trunks.

The Hebron Thobe is complete only with a headscarf called Wiqayat Al-Darahim (Dirham’s Armor) and al-Ghadfa, which is for married women only.

The Thobe is decorated with geometric inscriptions on the collar, sides, and buttocks. It is also colored with dark blue cotton cloth. Its shoulders are decorated with a yellow silk piece, while a wide red bracelet is on the sleeves. The ends of the dress were round with an orange strip of silk.

The cotton headdress decorated with red and black silk, with drawings of the veins of grapes, squares, moons, stars, and flowers.

hebron thobe with headscarf
hebron thobe with headscarf

The mesh cap is also a symbol to define the area. It is a blue cotton fabric with glass beads attached to it for floral and star patterns. Wearing with or without a shawl for married women. If unmarried women wear it, then they are known from Gaza.

Hebron Mesh Cap
Hebron Mesh Cap

5. Gaza Thobe

Gaza’s garments were known for their embossed patterns with large geometric units. The dresses were made of cotton and linen, and attached to a distinctive bonfire or hem of colored silk only. The fabrics were called by the colors of their yarns; Like a striped fabric in green and purple that was called “the thobe of Heaven and Hell”.

6. Jericho Thobe

The thobe of Jericho was characterized by embroidery along the thobe for more than 8 arms, and it was folded in several layers. The hair cap was a red keffiyeh or a headband-shaped napkin.

7. Nablus Thobe

Nablus thobe is similar to its Damascene counterpart, due to the nature of the two trading cities at the time. Nablus women were known for their velvet gown in the form of a long black abaya and a scarf covering their faces. While the rural women of the city flirted with their embroidered dresses in red and green and a green tie with a shawl, especially the girls of Rafidia.

Nablus Thobe
Nablus Thobe

8. Bethlehem Thobe

Bethlehem thobe was specially made for the ancient queens of Palestine. It carried a pole on the chest called “Talhamiyya” or “reed”. The bride’s dress was made of silk in bright colors and characterized by the intensity of embroidery on the collar. As for its sides, it is called Al Banaiq, and it is in the form of a triangle adorned with spring and the clock graphics. The sleeves are wide and embroidered. The top “short sleeve jacket” is made of velvet fabric and embroidered with silk and reed threads.

Bethlehem Thobe where you can see the reed on the collar
Bethlehem Thobe where you can see the reed on the collar

The Theft of the Palestinian Thobe

Like other Palestinian cultures and heritages, the Palestinian Thobe was also bound to be robbed by the Israeli occupation, who is trying to prove his identity after he established his entity 70 years ago on the land of a people after expelling more than 750 thousand of its children and turned them into refugees.

For instance, Israel recorded the Palestinian Thobe under its name in the fourth volume of the International Encyclopedia in 1993.

Prominent Israeli figures are also interested in appearing in international events wearing the Palestinian Thobe, to give their public image historical depth and national character, as did Israeli Minister of Culture at the Cannes Film Festival, and before her the wife of former Minister of the Army Moshe Dayan; She was visiting the world and wearing the stolen identity.

The Israeli flight attendants working for the Israeli airline, Elal, also wore the Palestinian dress, apart from organizing fashion shows for famous models wearing that heritage dress, realizing that it was worth stealing for carrying a deep culture and identity.

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