The Palestine History Tapestry by Gwyn Daniel

The Palestine History Tapestry  introduced by family therapist Gwyn Daniel

Academic historians tend to ply their trade via the written or spoken word but the Palestinian History Tapestry, on display last week at the Middle East Centre of St Antony’s College, Oxford, represents another long and honourable tradition for narrating history – that of textile and embroidery.

As a settler colonial state, Israel has not only expelled a large proportion of the indigenous population and wiped out much visible evidence of their towns and villages but it has also attempted to erase their history. The Palestinian History Tapestry is one of many initiatives to reclaim this history and bring the destroyed or deliberately hidden back into view. For this alone and for its celebration of Palestinian life it deserves huge praise. But its significance goes well beyond this. Quite apart from the beauty and poignancy of each of the individual panels and their cumulative narrative power are other dimensions relevant to our own focus on mental health and resilience.

First the tapestry does not shrink from the overtly political, with the Balfour declaration, UN article 194 on the right of return, population and death statistics and BDS stitched onto panels among more pictorial representations of suffering and oppression. Second the project trains and employs many people, mainly women, in Gaza and the West Bank, providing much needed income and with further developments planned. Third, it validates and celebrates a long and proud tradition of sophisticated cross stitch and geometric design going back over centuries, adapting it for the illustrative imagery required for history tapestry.

Finally what I found especially moving to reflect on was the metaphoric power of the word ‘stitching’ itself. As the panels were contributed by Palestinian women from within and outside Palestine, many of them within refugee camps, or within communities that cannot visit each other, the tapestry is not only an expression of ‘sumud’ (steadfastness) but also a profound rejection of the fragmentation brought about by occupation and an insistence on connectivity, on ‘stitching together’ at all its many levels of meaning.

Gwyn Daniel

December 2018


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