Wearing a Keffiyeh in West Jerusalem

Wearing a keffiyeh in West Jerusalem is not the same as wearing a keffiyeh in Toronto. Tonight on a walk through the German Colony we came across a house with a bonfire outside, celebrating the jewish holiday of Lag B’omer We stood outside for a while, but entered after some other people wandering down the street who thought it would be appropriate to wander in. It seemed like a really nice party – there was a band playing “Won’t you Stay” in a kind of folk-bluegrass style, people were drinking and enjoying a nice bonfire. We went up and introduced ourself to the host, who asked me “Why are you wearing keffiyeh here”? I said “Because I’m in Palestine”. In retrospect, I think it would have been more appropriate to say “in solidarity”. He scoffed at me and walked off, but didn’t display overt anger.

I ended up speaking at some length with a very tall jewish man about my visit to the wailing wall, and my interest in Jewish theology, specifically Maimonides – and how it helped me experience the profundity of the study people are engaged in at the wailing wall. When I told him I would like to go there and read philosophy, he seemed quite happy. He seemed content about the work we are going to be doing in Kalandia, although I then found out that his daughter is doing a PhD at Brown university in comparative literature – working on Hebrew and Palestinian-Arabic literature. They are worried about her safety, they say it is dangerous for Jews in the West Bank (I’m not in any position to have an opinion on that). This experience was positive, he seemed apprehensive but not negative about my scarf – I did notice he was continually looking down to it.

After speaking with him, I walked over to the side of the fire where my friends had congregated. They were sitting on rocks, but in such a way that I was excluded from the circle. I felt quite uncomfortable and unprotected – essentially I felt that someone at any moment might walk up to me and antagonistically ask why I’m wearing a keffiyeh at a Jewish holiday bonfire to which I was not invited. I wasn’t sure I’d have a good answer – maybe “Because I’m here with my friends”?

Overall, the experience was not so much negative, as challenging. I don’t want to only wear the keffiyeh in neighbourhoods where I think people will appreciate it. If I’m going to wear it in Palestine at all, I’m going to wear it in the State of Israel, in Palestinian Territory annexed by Israel, and in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.    I might make some exceptions for practical reasons, like if we get the chance to meet with a zionist paramilitary from the British Mandate period, but not just because I might feel a bit uncomfortable.  However, I do need to work out in advance what I’m going to say if I’m challenged, and I’m not sure if I should say the same thing in every context.

I think the right thing to say is “in solidarity”, because it opens the conversation to another question and an opportunity to explain why one should stand in solidarity with the Palestinian cause, and perhaps even respond to criticisms people might have with the Palestinian movements.


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