Tuesday, April 18, 2006

booklet on bethlehem

Widad Kamel Kawar is famed for the extensive collection of Palestinian and Jordanian traditional costumes, weavings, jewellery, amulets and everyday tools she has built up over 45 years. As well as being a means of salvaging and preserving Palestinian culture, the collection is a vital resource for researchers and museums.

Now Mrs Kawar, who lives in Amman, has written a booklet entitled "Bethlehem: From Golden Threads to Cement Blocks." The Golden Threads are the threads used in the exceptionally rich embroidery of Palestinian dresses in Bethlehem, which were traditionally imported from Syria. The Cement Blocks are the hideous grey ramparts of the apartheid wall that is making daily life in Bethlehem so difficult. Mayor Dr Victor Batarseh describes the town as an "open air prison".

Mrs Kawar writes that her booklet contrasts Bethlehem's glorious art form of textiles and embroidery "which reflects an innovative and refined society, with the current Israeli actions and policies to isolate, impoverish and dispossess its people."

The wall isolates Bethlehem from Jerusalem, less than six kilometres away. Economic life is declining, and Bethlehem has deteriorated from a flourishing centre for pilgrimages and tourism into an isolated enclave.

The attractively-designed booklet juxtaposes black and white historical photographs of Bethlehem and its people with examples of colourful embroidery and costumes. It also highlights the architecture of the town including the castles (qasoor), built by prominent families, some of which now lie outside the apartheid wall.

The pinnacle of the costume industry is the malak (royal) dress, so called because of its richness. In addition to the brightly striped and embroidered dress, the malak ensemble includes a short-sleeved embroidered jacket known as the takseereh, a high fez-like shtaweh headdress adorned with the gold coins of the dowry, and a silk shawl. The headdress is fastened under the neck with the silver Chain of Seven Souls. The costumes reflected the wealth of the town.

The booklet, designed by Salua Qidan of the Jordanian design and digital solutions company SYNTAX, is a most valuable and informative publication, and it is to be hoped it will be widely distributed. In depicting the fate of Bethlehem and its culture, it powerfully portrays the conditions that the Palestinians have had to endure more widely.

The Kawar collection is at www.arabheritage.org

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette April 18 2006

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