The Palestinian Thobe as a Symbol of National Pride

Colorful with intricate designs, the Palestinian thobe inspires awe and pride

  • By externalwire | June 11, 2020,6:28 pm
Rachida Tlaib is sworn in wearing a Palestinian thobe

Consisting of multiple pieces, including front and back panels, a square chestpiece, and sleeves, it is possible to trace the Palestinian back to the second century B.C. Records from the era show the Canaanites (as people from the region were then known) dressed in the distinct fashion.  

The detailed embroidery that features on the thobe, known as tatreez, is a skill that mothers have passed down to their daughters for centuries. In the post-Crusades era, tatreez patterns and the thobe styles began to influence the attire of European women. 

Paintings from the period show garments featuring the same intricate patterns or Arabic calligraphy. By tracing the trading routes of the Middle Ages, historians have been able to link the garments directly to modern day Palestine. 

Popular patterns featured on the thobe include the ancient eight-pointed star. The symbol has been found in crafts across the Middle East since antiquity. In Europe, it featured heavily on garments where it was known as the “Holy Star of Bethlehem.”

In recent years, the thobe has emerged as an important subject in projects seeking to preserve Palestinian history and culture. For historians and activists alike, the ability to trace the presence of the thobe in the region for thousands of years further legitimizes Palestinian claims to the territory as their ancestral homeland. 

#TweetYourThobe

In January 2019, US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress, wore a thobe during her swearing-in. 

Tlaib’s announcement in December 2018 that she would wear the thobe sparked controversy with some netizens claiming that it was “anti-American” to wear the traditional dress of another country. 

The backlash prompted fellow Palestian-American Susan Muaddi Darraj to start the hashtag #tweetyourthobe. In defiance of the anti-Arab sentiment at the heart of the controversy, hundreds of women shared photos of their thobes and pride in their Palestine heritage. 

On her decision to wear the thobe, Tlaib wrote, “It fills me with joy to be able to show aspects of Palestinian culture.” For Tlaib, the decision was also political with the thobe as symbolic of the diversity of the United States. She described the move as “an unapologetic display of the fabric of the people in this country.”

The survival of the thobe and the practice of tatreez following the creation of Israel and mass exodus of Palestinians in 1948 is in itself a political statement. For many, the hundreds of hours of labor needed to produce a thobe is as much about Palestinian nationalism as it is about the production of the dress. 

As Rachel Dedman of the Palestine Museum noted, “The historic thobe conjures an ideal of pure and untouched Palestine, before the occupation.” In diaspora communities, the thobe and tatreez have become important means of connection to Palestine and keeping Palenstianian culture alive. 

In recent years, the production of cheaper and lighter versions has facilitated the thobe’s transition to an everyday piece worn to express pride and nationalism.  

Related Articles

Street Art Beirut
Beirut NGOs Launch Emergency Fund for Lebanon’s Struggling Art Scene

In May two Beirut-based organizations, the Arab Fund For Arts and Culture (Afac) and Culture Resource (Al Mawred Al Thaqafy), launched a $1 million dollar fund to support cultural institutions struggling to survive in Lebanon.  The country is currently experiencing the worst financial crisis in its history with its currency losing 70% of its value […]

26197970 2015538091806220 2562631544813553295 O
Lebanese Blogger Calls out French Fashion Industry Racism

On paper, the blogger originally from Lebanon, sounds like the quintessential Parisienne, but according to a conversation with her manager posted to Instagram, she was not “Parisian enough” to grace the pages of the as yet unnamed French fashion magazine.  

Has Saudi-Arabia Won the Oil Price War?
Has Saudi-Arabia Won the Oil Price War?

With American shale gas in trouble and Saudi market share at a 40-year high, it appears the risky Saudi gamble has paid off.

Campaign against short shorts
Men’s Shorts Become Target for Islamist Policing Attempts

A social media campaign to stop men from wearing short shorts has emerged in Morocco. Supporters of the campaign are calling for men to “protect their entourage and the muslim community” by refusing to wear above-the-knee shorts in public.  Targeting a style of shorts particularly popular with young men, the campaign claims they are “not […]