Culture of Palestine

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The Culture of Palestine is closely related to those of the nearby Levantine countries such as Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. Cultural contributions to the fields of art, literature, music, costume and cuisine express the Palestinian experience despite the geographical separation between Palestinian territories, and the Diaspora.[1][2]


Palestinian folklore is the body of expressive culture, including tales, music, dance, legends, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, customs, and comprising the traditions (including oral traditions) of Palestinian culture. The folklorist revival among Palestinian intellectuals such as Nimr Sirhan, Musa Allush, Salim Mubayyid, and the Palestinian Folklore Society of the 1970s, emphasized pre-Islamic (and pre-Hebraic) cultural roots, re-constructing Palestinian identity with a focus on Canaanite and Jebusite cultures.[3] Such efforts seem to have borne fruit as evidenced in the organization of celebrations like the Qabatiya Canaanite festival and the annual Music Festival of Yabus by the Palestinian Ministry of Culture.[3]


Girls in Bethlehem costume pre-1885
Main article: Palestinian costumes

Foreign travelers to Palestine in late 19th and early 20th centuries often commented on the rich variety of costumes among the Palestinian people, and particularly among the fellaheen or village women. Until the 1940s, a woman's economic status, whether married or single, and the town or area they were from could be deciphered by most Palestinian women by the type of cloth, colors, cut, and embroidery motifs, or lack thereof, used for the robe-like dress or "thoub" in Arabic.[4]

New styles began to appear the 1960s. For example, the "six-branched dress" named after the six wide bands of embroidery running down from the waist.[5] These styles came from the refugee camps, particularly after 1967. Individual village styles were lost and replaced by an identifiable "Palestinian" style.[6] The shawal, a style popular in the West Bank and Jordan before the First Intifada, probably evolved from one of the many welfare embroidery projects in the refugee camps. It was a shorter and narrower fashion, with a western cut.[7]


The Dabke dance is marked by synchronized jumping, stamping, and movement, similar to tap dancing. One version is performed by men, another by women.

Palestinian Dabke folk dance as performed by men

Folk tales[edit]

Traditional storytelling among Palestinians is prefaced with an invitation to the listeners to give blessings to God and the Prophet Mohammed or the Virgin Mary as the case may be, and includes the traditional opening: "There was, in the oldness of time ..." Formulaic elements of the stories share much in common with the wider Arab world, though the rhyming scheme is distinct. There are a cast of supernatural characters: Jinss and Djinns who can cross the Seven Seas in an instant, giants, and ghouls with eyes of ember and teeth of brass.


Kamanjeh performer in Jerusalem, 1859.[8]

Palestinian music is well known throughout the Arab world.[9] After 1948, a new wave of performers emerged with distinctively Palestinian themes relating to dreams of statehood and burgeoning nationalist sentiments. In addition to zajal and ataaba, traditional Palestinian songs include: Bein Al-dawai, Al-Rozana, Zarif – Al-Toul, and Al-Maijana, Dal'ona, Sahja/Saamir, Zaghareet. Over three decades, the Palestinian National Music and Dance Troupe (El Funoun) and Mohsen Subhi have reinterpreted and rearranged traditional wedding songs such as Mish'al (1986), Marj Ibn 'Amer(1989) and Zaghareed (1997).[10] Ataaba is a form of folk singing that consists of 4 verses, following a specific form and meter. The distinguishing feature of ataaba is that the first three verses end with the same word meaning three different things, and the fourth verse serves as a conclusion. It is usually followed by a dalouna.


The Palestinian Olympic committee did not work with the Israeli Olympic committee to train for the 2012 Olympic games,[11] and participation in the 2013 Mediterranean Games.[12]

Main article: Football in Palestine

There is a West Bank Premier League, and Gaza Strip League. The Palestine national football team played Afghanistan in the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. They visited Australia for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup.

The Beit Jala Lions is a West Bank Rugby Union team.

The Turmus Aya Equestrian Club, established in 2007, is a riding club dedicated to the mission of providing affordable access to horses for Palestinians. Ashraf Rabi, the founder, maintains that "this is part of the development of Palestine. Horses are a big part of our Arab culture and we must embrace it." [13]

Modern Art[edit]

Mosaic plate at Khirbat Al-Mafjar near Jericho c. 735 CE
Main article: Palestinian art

Similar to the structure of Palestinian society, the Palestinian field of arts extends over four main geographic centers:[14] 1) the West Bank and Gaza Strip 2) Israel 3) the Palestinian diaspora in Europe 4) the United States and elsewhere.

Contemporary Palestinian art finds its roots in folk art and traditional Christian and Islamic painting. After the 1948 Palestinian exodus, nationalistic themes have predominated as Palestinian artists use diverse media to express and explore their connection to identity and land.[15] In the 1990s Salam Dyab, Hisham Zreiq, Issa Dibe and others began to adopt modern styles and symbolism.

Modern Cuisine[edit]

Main article: Palestinian cuisine
A Palestinian youth serving Falafel in Ramallah
Kanafeh in a pan
Musakhan; The Palestinian National dish

Palestine's history of rule by many different empires is reflected in Palestinian cuisine, which has benefited from various cultural contributions and exchanges. Generally-speaking, modern Palestinian dishes have been influenced by the rule of three major Islamic groups: the Arabs, the Persian-influenced Arabs, and the Turks.[16] The original Bedouin Arabs in Syria and Palestine had simple culinary traditions primarily based on the use of rice, lamb and yogurt, as well as dates.[17]

The cuisine of the Ottoman Empire, which incorporated Palestine as one of its provinces between 1512 and 1514, was partially made up of what had become by then a rich Arab cuisine. After the Crimean War, many foreign communities (namely the Bosnians, Greeks, French and Italians) began settling in the area; Jerusalem, Jaffa and Bethlehem were the most popular destinations for these groups. The cuisine of these communities, particularly those of the Balkans, contributed to the character of Palestinian cuisine.[16][18] Nonetheless, until the 1950s and 1960s, the staple diet for many rural Palestinian families revolved around olive oil, oregano (za'atar) and bread, baked in a simple oven called a taboon.[19]

Palestinian cuisine is divided into three regional groups: the Galilee, West Bank and Gaza area. Cuisine in the Galilee region shares much in common with Lebanese cuisine, due to extensive communication between the two regions before the establishment of Israel. Galilee inhabitants specialize in producing a number of meals based on the combination of bulgur, spices and meat, known as kibbee by Arabs. Kibbee has several variations including it being served raw, fried or baked.[18][20] Musakhan is a common main dish that originated in the Jenin and Tulkarm areas of the northern West Bank. It consists of a roasted chicken over a taboon bread that has been topped with pieces of fried sweet onions, sumac, allspice and pine nuts, cooked and finished with a generous helping of olive oil.[20] Other meals common to the area are maqluba and mansaf, the latter originating from the Bedouin population of Jordan.

The cuisine of the Gaza Strip is influenced both by neighboring Egypt and its location on the Mediterranean coast. The staple food for the majority of the inhabitants in the area is fish. Gaza has a major fishing industry and fish is often served either grilled or fried after being stuffed with cilantro, garlic, red peppers, cumin, and then marinated in a mix of coriander, red peppers, cumin, and chopped lemons.[21][22] The Egyptian culinary influence is also seen by the frequent use of hot peppers, garlic and chard to flavor many of Gaza's meals.[20] A dish native to the Gaza area is Sumaghiyyeh, which consists of water-soaked ground sumac mixed with tahina, which is then added to sliced chard, pieces of stewed beef, and garbanzo beans.[21]

There are several foods native to Palestine that are well known in the Arab world, such as, kinafe Nabulsi, Nabulsi cheese (cheese of Nablus), Ackawi cheese (cheese of Acre), Rumaniyya (from Jaffa), Sumaghiyyeh (a stew from Gaza) and Musakhan. Kinafe originated in Nablus, as well as the sweetened Nabulsi cheese used to fill it. Baqlawa, a pastry introduced at the time of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, is also an integral part of Palestinian cuisine.[23]

Chick-pea based falafel, which substituted for the fava beans used in the original Egyptian recipe, and added Indian peppers, introduced after the Mongol invasions opened new trade routes, are a favorite staple in Mediterranean cuisine.[24]

Entrées that are eaten throughout the Palestinian Territories include waraq al-'inib, boiled grape leaves wrapped around cooked rice and ground lamb. Mahashi is an assortment of stuffed vegetables such as zucchinis, potatoes, cabbage and, in Gaza, chard.


Main article: Palestinian cinema

Palestinian cinema is relatively young compared to Arab cinema overall and many Palestinian movies are made with European and Israeli support.[25] Palestinian films are not exclusively produced in Arabic; some are made in English, French or Hebrew.[26] More than 800 films have been produced about Palestinians, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and other related topics; notable examples are Divine Intervention and Paradise Now.


A wide variety of handicrafts, many of which have been produced by Palestinians for hundreds of years, continue to be produced today. Palestinian handicrafts include embroidery and weaving, pottery-making, soap-making, glass-making, and olive-wood and Mother of Pearl carvings, among others.[27][28]


In the late 19th century and early 20th century, Palestinian intellectuals were integral parts of wider Arab intellectual circles, as represented by individuals such as May Ziade and Khalil Beidas. Educational levels among Palestinians have traditionally been high. In the 1960s, the West Bank had a higher percentage of its adolescent (15 to 17 years of age) population enrolled in high school than Israel; the West Bank had a 44.6% high school enrollment rate versus a 22.8% enrollment rate in Israel.[29] Claude Cheysson, France’s Minister for Foreign Affairs under the first Mitterrand Presidency, held in the mid eighties that "even thirty years ago, [Palestinians] probably already had the largest educated elite of all the Arab peoples."[30]

Diaspora figures like Edward Said and Ghada Karmi, Arab citizens of Israel like Emile Habibi, and Jordanians like Ibrahim Nasrallah[31] have made contributions to a wide number of fields, exemplifying the diversity of experience and thought among Palestinians.[32]


The long history of the Arabic language and its rich written and oral tradition form part of the Palestinian literary tradition as it has developed over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Since 1967, most critics have theorized the existence of three "branches" of Palestinian literature, loosely divided by geographic location: 1) from inside Israel, 2) from the occupied territories, 3) from among the Palestinian diaspora throughout the Middle East.[33]

Modern Poetry[edit]

Poetry, using classical pre-Islamic forms, remains an extremely popular art form, often attracting Palestinian audiences in the thousands. Until 20 years ago, local folk bards reciting traditional verses were a feature of every Palestinian town.[34] After the 1948 Palestinian exodus, poetry was transformed into a vehicle for political activism. From among those Palestinians who became Arab citizens of Israel after the passage of the Citizenship Law in 1952, a school of resistance poetry was born that included poets like Mahmoud Darwish, Samih al-Qasim, and Tawfiq Zayyad.[34] The work of these poets was largely unknown to the wider Arab world for years because of the lack of diplomatic relations between Israel and Arab governments. This changed after Ghassan Kanafani, another Palestinian writer in exile in Lebanon, published an anthology of their work in 1966.[34] Palestinian poets often write about a sense of loss and the diaspora.[34]

Modern Music[edit]

Kamanjeh performer in Jerusalem, 1859.[8]
Main article: Palestinian music

Palestinian music is well-known and respected throughout the Arab world.[9] A new wave of performers emerged with distinctively Palestinian themes following the 1948 Palestinian exodus, relating to the dreams of statehood and the burgeoning nationalist sentiments. In addition to zajal and ataaba, traditional Palestinian songs include: Bein Al-dawai, Al-Rozana, Zarif - Al-Toul, and Al-Maijana, Dal'ona, Sahja/Saamir, Zaghareet. For over three decades, the Palestinian National Music and Dance Troupe (El Funoun) in Palestine[10] has promoted and developed Palestinian traditional songs and dance. Examples include Mish'al (1986), Marj Ibn 'Amer(1989) and Zaghareed (1997) a collection of Palestinian traditional wedding songs reinterpreted and re-arranged by Mohsen Subhi. (See section on "External links"). The Ataaba is a form of folk singing that spread outwards from Palestine. It consists of 4 verses, following a specific form and meter. The main aspect of the ataaba is that the first three verses must end with the same word meaning three different things, and the fourth verse comes as a conclusion to the whole thing. It is usually followed by a dalouna.


  1. ^ Ismail Elmokadem (10 December 2005). "Book records Palestinian art history". Retrieved 2008-04-18. 
  2. ^ Danny Moran. "Manchester Festival of Palestinian Literature". Manchester Festival of Palestinian literature. Archived from the original on March 31, 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-18. 
  3. ^ a b Salim Tamari (Winter 2004). "Lepers, Lunatics and Saints: The Nativist Ethnography of Tawfiq Canaan and his Jerusalem Circle" (PDF). Issue 20. Jerusalem Quarterly. Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  4. ^ Jane Waldron Grutz (January–February 1991). "Woven Legacy, Woven Language". Saudi Aramco World. Retrieved 2007-06-04. 
  5. ^ Weir, Shelagh (1989) Palestinian Costume. British Museum. ISBN 0-7141-1597-5. p. 112.
  6. ^ Skinner, Margarita (2007) PALESTINIAN EMBROIDERY MOTIVES. A Treasury of Stiches 1850-1950. Melisende. ISBN 978-1-901764-47-5. p. 21.
  7. ^ Weir, Shelagh (1989) Palestinian Costume. British Museum. ISBN 0-7141-1597-5. pp. 88, 113.
  8. ^ a b William McClure Thomson, (1860): The Land and the Book: Or, Biblical Illustrations Drawn from the Manners and Customs, the Scenes and Scenery, of the Holy Land Vol II, p. 578.
  9. ^ a b Christian Poche. "Palestininan music". Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Retrieved 2008-03-10. [dead link]
  10. ^ a b
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Equestrian club caters to all
  14. ^ Tal Ben Zvi (2006). "Hagar: Contemporary Palestinian Art" (PDF). Hagar Association. Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  15. ^ Ankori, 1996.
  16. ^ a b Revisiting our table... Nasser, Christiane Dabdoub, This week in Palestine, Turbo Computers & Software Co. Ltd. June 2006. Retrieved 2008-01-08.
  17. ^ ABC of Arabic Cuisine ArabNet. Retrieved 2007-12-25.
  18. ^ a b An Introduction to Palestinian Cuisine: Typical Palestinian Dishes This Week in Palestine, Turbo Computers & Software Co. Ltd. July 2001. Retrieved 2007-01-07.
  19. ^ Modernity and Authenticity: The Evolution of the Palestinian Kitchen Qleibo, Ali, This week in Palestine, Turbo Computers & Software Co. Ltd. December 2006. Retrieved 2008-01-09.
  20. ^ a b c "How many countries recognize Palestine as a state?". Institute for Middle East Understanding. 2006–2007. Retrieved 2008-02-27. 
  21. ^ a b The Foods of Gaza al-Haddad, Laila, This week in Palestine. Turbo Computers & Software Co. Ltd. June 2006. Retrieved 2008-01-07.
  22. ^ The rich flavors of Palestine Farsakh, Mai M. Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU), (Originally published by This Week in Palestine) 2006-06-21. Retrieved 2007-12-18.
  23. ^ "Joseph Massad, 'Munich, or Making Baklava,' ''The Electronic Intifada'', 3 February 2006". Retrieved 2009-04-22. 
  24. ^ VJJE Publishing Co. "Jodi Kantor, 'A History of the Mideast in the Humble Chickpea.'". Retrieved 2009-04-22. 
  25. ^ "Xan Brooks on Palestinian directors | Film | The Guardian". London: 2006-04-12. Retrieved 2009-04-22. 
  26. ^ [1] Archived June 12, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  27. ^ Jacobs et al., 1998, p. 72.
  28. ^ Karmi,2005, p. 18.
  29. ^ See Elias H.Tuma, Haim Darin-Drabkin, The Economic case for Palestine, Croom Helm, London, 1978 p.48.
  30. ^ Interview with Elias Sanbar. Claude Cheysson, ‘The Right to Self-Determination,’ Journal of Palestine Studies Vol.16, no.1 (Autumn 1986) pp.3-12 p.3
  31. ^ Jordanian Poets: Samer Raimouny, Mustafa Wahbi, Haider Mahmoud, Ibrahim Nasrallah
  32. ^ "Biography Ibrahim Nasrallah". Pontas literary & film agency. Retrieved 14 December 2010. 
  33. ^ Steven Salaita (1 June 2003). "Scattered like seeds: Palestinian prose goes global". Studies in the Humanities. Retrieved 2007-09-06. 
  34. ^ a b c d Shahin, 2005, p. 41.

External links[edit]