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HERITAGE
Newsletter of the Palestinian Heritage Foundation
  
           Volume 9, No. 1                                  March 2003
             

PHF Meet with Secretary General Amre Mousa

On Friday, September 6, 2002, the Palestinian Heritage Foundation participated in a meeting of Arab American representatives from New Jersey and New York called by Arab League Secretary General Mr. Amre Mousa at the Palace Hotel in Manhattan. About 30 people representing different organizations in the Arab American sector attended the meeting.

After welcoming the guests, Mr. Amre Mousa opened the evening with a short statement about the Arab League efforts in avoiding war against Arab Iraq, the fall-out of the September 11 terrorist acts in New York and Washington, and Arab League efforts in organizing the Arab American community in the United States. Mr. Mousa spoke of a future convention planned for May 2003 to be held in Detroit, Michigan, that will serve as an umbrella organization for the Arab American organizations and the Arab American community.

Immediately after concluding his remarks Mr. Mousa opened the floor for questions and suggestions. Hanan and Farah Munayyer representing the Palestine Heritage Foundation presented Mr. Mousa with information about the activities of the Foundation during the last 15 years.

 

The Cultural Thread 

130 Years of Embroidery and Lace in New Jersey 

By Meriam Lobel

Throughout history, embroidery and lace have been used to embellish fabric and to identify people according to their social roles. In traditional communities, the people of each village or region embroidered clothing with particular local patterns handed down through generations. In contemporary communities, people like to wear clothing embroidered with the logo of their favorite designer or hero. People in prominent roles, like priests, athletes, police, brides, and movie stars, wear embroidered and lace fabrics that signify their special status.

The North Hudson area of New Jersey, just outside the Lincoln Tunnel, has been a major center of the creation of commercial embroidery and lace for 130 years. In 1870s, Swiss immigrants who came from the region around St. Gallen imported embroidery machines from Europe and set them up in the towns now known as Union City, West New York, Weehawken, Guttenberg and North Bergen. The firm bedrock of the Palisades was perfect as an anchor for the 20,000-40,000 pound cast iron Schiffli machines, and the regions proximity to New York gave the stitchers access to the fashion market. German immigrants from the Plauen embroidery region soon joined the growing embroidery community. Successive waves of immigrants from Eastern Europe, the Near East and Latin America contributed hard work and talent to the industry in subsequent years.

Embroidery started out as a cottage industry run by families who passed down their knowledge and skills from one generation to the next. Each family anchored a machine or two on the ground floor of the house or in the backyard, and they divided up the tasks involved in production. Women kept the books and did piece work upstairs, while children played with the discarded damaged goods, the empty spools, and the silver schiffli ("little boat") shaped shuttles.

Although over the decades some shops grew in size to 30 machines, for the most part shops

 here remained small. Working side by side with the stitchers, related companies such as thread manufacturers, thread cutters, bleachers and dyers made it possible for the industry to flourish. A number of embroidery companies active in North Hudson today are still run by the families of immigrants who established these businesses almost a century ago.

In addition to the prolific embroidery produced in the factories of North Hudson, New jersey has a history of outstanding individual embroiderers and lace makers. They have brought the aesthetic taste of their homelands to this gateway state where they have stitched exquisite clothing, decorated their homes and added to the glorious look of altars in religious institutions of many different denominations. This exhibit features the work of some of New Jersey's finest hand embroidery artists from a variety of cultural communities, alongside the work of the commercial embroider factories.

 

Palestine Costume Archive Director Jeni Alenby Visits PHF

Jeni Alenby, Director of the Palestine Costume Archive in Canberra, Australia, visited the Palestinian Heritage Foundation for three days late September 2002. Ms. Alenby had the chance to see selections from the Munayyer Collection and that of the Foundation collection. For the past two years Ms. Alenby has written for PHF Newsletter describing Palestinian Costume collections around the world.

The Foundation has donated $200 to support Ms. Alenby's efforts in promoting Palestinian art and embroidery through the Palestine Costume Archive in Canberra, Australia.

 

PHF Donates $500 to Help Establish Palestinian Film Archive

On Wednesday, February 5, 2003, Hanan and Farah Munayyer, representing the Palestinian Heritage Foundation, attended a benefit dinner graciously hosted by Ms. Huda Khouri at her residence in New York. Present for this occasion were distinguished Professors Edward Said, Richard Pena, and Lila Abu Lughod.

This evening was to benefit the establishment of the most comprehensive archive of Palestinian films following a spectacular success of the Palestinian film festival, Dreams of a Nation hosted by the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University in New York. This success is a clear indication that our community is in critical need of exposure to contemporary Arab culture in its varied aspects.

Featuring over 34 films by established and emerging Palestinian filmmakers, the Palestinian film festival consistently drew out a diverse crowd and sold out many of its screenings between January 24-27, 2003 to packed auditoriums of 400 viewers. Words of the festival has now reached other major American and European cities with requests that the festival travel to those venues.

 

DREAMS OF A NATION: A PALESTINIAN FILM FESTIVAL 

By Inea bushnaq

Fulfilling what had been a wish of many years, Hamid Dabashi of Columbia University was pleased to bring about Dreams of a Nation, a celebration of Palestinian film presented this January through the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures. Anne Marie Jacir who directed and curated the festival and is herself a young film maker, creatively arranged the screening of more than thirty films in a marathon of well balanced programs running through one long weekend.

Usually, in a national film festival, artists from one country offer a variety of films on any number of topics. In the case of Palestine the opposite is true: film makers, living in Gaza, the West bank, inside the borders of Israel or scattered over Europe and North America, and working in a range of styles, all focus on the one subject - Palestine. In his remarks on opening night of Dreams of a Nation, Edward Said stressed that it was for precisely this reason, for the fact that they "make visible the invisible" that the role of Palestinian film makers is significant. Indeed, they lay out in black and white and color what much of the world prefers to forget.

Of the dozen or so films shown here for the first time in the U.S. two very different works stand out as 'must sees'. JENIN JENIN directed by the Palestinian actor Muhammad Bakri (best known in the lead role of Rashid Masharawi's HAIFA, 1995) is a well edited documentary, a powerful tribute to a people's resilience. FORD TRANSIT by Hany Abu-Assad, who claims his films are "100% documentary and 100% fiction," had the audience laughing out loud at the tribulations of a 'service' driver shuttling passengers between checkpoints. Those who missed Hany Abu-Assad's humorous NAZARETH 2000, not shown at the festival, were able to see his new full length feature, RANA'S WEDDING: JERUSALEM, ANOTHER DAY, a painful comment on what has come to pass for 'normal' under Israeli occupation.

From the better known Palestinian film makers, there was Mai Masri's 1995 documentary, HANAN ASHRAWI: A WOMAN OF HER TIME and Michel Khleifi's TALE OF THREE JEWELS, 1995, a fairy story set in the midst of IDF violence in Gaza. There was a special screening of Elia Suleiman's new film, DIVINE INTERVENTION as well as his 1996 film CHRONICLE OF A DISAPPEARANCE. These four films, and altogether well over one third of the works at Dreams of a Nation, have won awards or were official selections at a number of international film festivals including Venice and Cannes.

Among the shorter films there was a gem of an oral history, NAIM & WADEE'A, (20mins)1999, by Najwa Najjar, evocatively using family photos and voices to document happy pre-1948 days in Jaffa; Anne Marie Jacir's THE SATELLITE SHOOTERS, (16 mins) 2001, a quietly witty take on the cowboy myth in a clear Palestinian American voice; FOUR SONGS FOR PALESTINE, by Nada El-Yassir, (13 mins) 2001, a visual ballad without words made in Palestine; and THE MOUNTAIN, also from Palestine, by Hanna Elias, (35 mins) 2002, a story of elopement and, not incidentally, of woman power.

The titles mentioned above are just a few that caught one viewer's eye from the impressive collection of works presented by Dreams of a Nation. For more information about the films and the festival visit: www.dreamsofanation.org.

 

"The Last Virgin" by Tuvia Tenenbom and Maria Lowy 

By Inea Bushnaq

A play about Islamic virgins produced by The Jewish Theater of New York with an Israeli cast. 

Triad Theater, 130 West 72nd St.

This play about Islamic thinking and suicide bombers is advertised as based on interviews with Arab men and women in Amman, Ramallah and Hamburg which were conducted "under borrowed identities" by the playwrights, both of whom are Jewish. The element of deception made this reviewer curious about the why and the how of such an exercise. In the printed program, Tenenbom, whose nationality is Israeli, thanks "all the loving people he met in the Arab world recently for opening their hearts to him - when he did not." Maria Lowy is described as a former belly dancer in Iraq and also as a German journalist who specializes in the Middle East.

The program notes "assume that most New Yorkers might not be familiar with Islamic theology and culture" and therefore offer three pages of "Islamic sources". In addition to the oral interviews already mentioned, sixteen newspapers from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, London and the Palestine Authority are cited as secondary sources. Half a dozen Qur'anic verses describing Paradise are quoted.( In a style more slangy than the printed translations of the Qur'an available in English, the unnamed translator lists: "comfortable sofas in Paradise," "eye-catching virgins," "expensive carpets," "special drinks, choice chicken plates." etc.) There are six quotes from the Hadith, the longest of which discusses the digestive system of the dwellers in paradise. Finally, there is an explanation of Arabic names e.g. Fatima the daughter of the Prophet "is also known in mystical Islam as 'Al Batul' or 'The Virgin'" (The Arabic title of the play is Al Batul al Akheerah and the only female character in the play is called Fatima.)

So what is this weightily researched play about? It ends with a speech by Fatima urging the Israelis to take their modern selves and their technology out of Palestine and leave its beautiful nights to the Arabs who contemplate virgins rather than satellites inhabiting the heavens. Fatima is going on a suicide mission and eagerly looks forward to her reward of 70 ideally built male companions in a feminist version of a Muslim paradise. The theme of the play is that it is the 70 virgins awaiting them in the afterlife, as promised by their sex obsessed religion, that motivate suicide bombers.

A review in Back Stage by Irene Backalenick says, "Tenenbom has obviously done his homework, and one gets a picture of Muslim thinking on the afterlife. This business of amiable virgins in paradise is no joke, it would seem." Certainly the script is under strain to squeeze some hilarity out of its subject, and lets cheery obscenity and childish lavatory humor pass for wit. (At one point there is a plan to photograph Fatima being raped on an open Qur'an by an Israeli secret service chief with a Star of David tattooed on his buttocks.) The play's main offence, however, is that it is a bore, and the acting like a high school production. Of the six people who made up the audience at the matinee attended by this reviewer, three disappeared during intermission.

Beside Fatima there are three male characters in the play which is set in an Irish pub in Jerusalem. They manage to create an incomprehensible muddle by assuming strange accents and double and triple disguises: Jews turning out to be Palestinians who are really Israelis etc. It does not really matter since they are simply the vehicle for the playwrights' antics such as every one on stage spitting profusely every time the name George Bush is mentioned and quips like the suggestion that "this could be the land of milk and honey again" if someone dropped a nuclear bomb on Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia etc. (In case anyone is wondering, the play which was written in Amman in the summer of 2002 has not been produced in any Arab country.)

"Effectively satiric, provocative and expertly acted," is how The New York Times describes the play. If the intent was to ridicule those who prefer to blame religion for the suicide bombings rather than examine 35 years of Israeli military occupation and all the misery and humiliation it has engendered, that is a message that does not come through. Rather, by their elaborate claims to expertise and firsthand knowledge of Islamic thought, the writers seem to seek a semblance of authority for their own rendering of a stereotype that is already widely accepted here - the one equating Islam with terrorism.

 

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