Why I wear a keffiyeh in Palestine

Yesterday I visited Ein Kerem, an Arab/Christian village which was depopulated during the 1948 war. Today I visited Kalandia refugee camp, and met a Palestinian who is disillusioned with the PA and Palestinian statehood, and just wants to go home to the village his family fled from in 1948.

My grandfather was here between 1946 and 1948 with the British forces in mandate Palestine. Britain pulled out and the Zionist paramilitary forces captured Israel up to the ’49 armistice lines. The depopulation of Arab and Christian villages in areas of Palestine now in the state of Israel was a direct result of the British withdrawal.

By withdrawing, the British let the Palestinians down. They could have stayed and fought the Zionists, and allowed the states of Israel and Palestine to be formed according to the Partition plan, which included a corpus seperandum for the administration of Jerusalem. His friend wouldn’t have been killed by an Israeli soldier in the second intifada, because a situation of systematic and ongoing oppression might not have come into being.

Much of the privilege I have in this world comes from having family who had the privilege of British citizenship – which meant easy immigration to British North America (Canada), and access to lucrative employment based on the theft of land from its inhabitants and the unsustainable extraction of resources.

If the British had stayed to fight the zionists, and not withdrawn in may ’48, my grandfather might have been hurt or killed. Which would mean I might not exist.

I am not pro-British, and yet I feel the pull of responsibility which the British renegad upon when they failed to protect the Palestinian residents, both Arab and Christian. I benefit daily from my British heritage, and this binds me to this history whether I identify as British or not.  To speak simply: we failed them, and in refugee camps all over the West Bank you can meet those who are still effected by this failure to protect. In relation to this, I feel intense feelings of shame, regret, and obligation.

This is why I wear a keffiyeh in Palestine.



  1. You separate Arab and Christian, but the Christian villages you speak of would have been Christian and Arab (speaking in a very twentieth century sense of burgeoning non-hyperlocal identities). Arab doesn’t equal Muslim. It’s a bit different with Arabic-speakers like the Druze, and at times Arabic-speaking Christians have fled from the term Arab like the Maronites in Lebanon, but Christian Arabs are famously the formulators of various secular Arab nationalist identities, like George Habash and Michel Aflaq.

    As for the meat of the post, I guess watching The Promise must have been pretty personal for you. I feel like the modern bits could be subtitled “My most intense gap year summer holiday…ever” since it pretty artificially tried to stuff everything in there and that the part in the past was really trying to push the thesis outlined in this post, along with some British nationalism. I think Moshe Machover makes a good point in that the British, in their linedrawing with the French, basically blocked out Palestine for Jewish settlement (“Greater Syria” making more sense as a nationalism without the Zionist distortion that resulted in the creation of a Palestinian nation). I don’t know if that partition plan was ever viable (ethnic cleansing only in the specified areas – areas only barely contiguous? better than what happened, I suppose) and the British culpability goes further back.


    1. Exactly. I have know quite a number of Palestinian Arab Orthodox Christian here in America. They are greatly proud of their heritage. I have head the stories of the troubles in their homeland. Stories of deaths, bull dosed homes formerly occupied for many generations, and being arrested for having a dark completion in Israel.


  2. The village was 60% arab and 30% Christian. Today the tourism is probably about 90% Christian, and less than 1% Arab.

    Of course British culpability goes further back, and is related the fact they were involved in middle east imperialism at all. But the Nakba is a specific event which they specifically allowed to happen by their withdrawal. And today, on the ground, everywhere you see its result.


  3. My point is that Christian and Arab are the same, except in the circumstances of Arabic-speaking Christians of backgrounds like Armenian and the extremely small (even smaller then the dwindling Arab Palestinian Christian population) of “Hebrew Christians” or “Messianic Jews”. I know it’s a site of Christian pilgrimage with a mainly Israeli Jewish population now, but I assume the “60% Arab” figure from before 1948 means “60% Muslim, 30% Christian” – they were all Arab (90%) in the sense of speaking Arabic, having Arabic names, even if the Arab ethnic identity should always be included with the caveat that it doesn’t mean the people are pure descendants of the Arabian peninsula or something like that (all sorts of backgrounds, which is why you have a number of Palestinians with pale skin and red hair and Palestinians with sub-Saharan African appearance).

    I don’t want to harp on the point; it’s just that the Israeli government and media from time to time try to separate the Palestinian Christians from Palestinians, as do some Palestinian Muslims, both for their own reasons (for the Israelis it helps with the stats – moreso pre-state). Of course, the Arab nationalist push for an Arab identity has its own artificiality, but it is one that most Christians in Palestine accept and consider their own.


  4. I see – you’re right, I’ve made an important mistake. Arabs can be Arab-Christian or Arab-Muslim. And that’s something important for me while I’m here, because I want to find out more about the relation between palestinian christians (arab) and christian zionism.


  5. There is generally little relationship. Most Palestinian Christians are Greek Orthodox (or Roman Orthodox as it is phrased in Arabic, since Arabic has always seen the Byzantine eastern Roman empire as Roman), with western Catholicism coming in with the Crusades. Then you have Palestinians who are Roman Catholic or members of various splinters from the Eastern Orthodox or Oriental Orthodox who accept the Pope’s authority, like the Syrian Catholics or Maronites. And then you have the Anglicans and Lutherans, who are the result of nineteenth century missionary work, particularly the building of hospitals and schools. I’m familiar with that last bit, because I lived for five years in Jerusalem, from the age of 13-18, and my parents were pastors of an English-speaking Lutheran church in the same late 19th century church as German and Arabic speaking congregations, and were also tasked as liaisons to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan (and Palestine) from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Those 19th century missionary-imperialists from Germany and Britain decided to pool their resources at the time, along with dividing Palestine into a Lutheran and Anglican area. They may have intended to attempt to convert the Jews who were there, a task which always grabs the Christian’s attention, but Jews were not interested. I’m not sure if they were legally allowed to convert the Muslims. This carries on in Israel’s laws, which don’t allow proselytization, although they do allow conversion and the Israeli government only really pays attention if Jews are converting. It was always fun to watch the Christian Zionist annoyance over Orthodox Jews (Haredim) burning their materials in public. To return to the Anglicans and the Lutherans, they ended up getting most of their converts through “sheep-stealing”, that is, they converted Arabs who were already Christians to Protestantism. The Anglicans and Lutherans slipped into being the last of the recognized seven churches of Jerusalem. You do have modern Evangelicals/Fundamentalists proselytizing among Palestinians, too, so there are Palestinian Baptists and Seventh-Day Adventists, for example, but these are smaller numbers. Only Protestants and particularly those Evangelicals would encounter full-on Christian Zionism. Part of this is due to the Church of England (unlike Anglicans elsewhere, like in Canada) being such a mixed state church, with Evangelicals to Anglo-Catholics. Thus in Jerusalem you have the activities of the Church of England’s “Israel Trust of the Anglican Church/Church’s Mission to the Jews” which supports Israel, runs the Anglican International School Jerusalem and has some sort of connection to an expat Anglican church called Christ’s Church, which is not under the control of the Palestinian Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem.

    I think the bigger pressure on Palestinian Christians is Christianity being the religion of the West (thus being perceived as foreign, even if they’ve been Christians and living there “since Jesus”) and the fact that the Bible focuses on the story of the Israelites. Sometimes Palestinian Christians have an understandable tendency, if troubling to Westerners, to get comfort from passages which criticize the Jews, like the one calling them “stiff-necked”. You also have the attempt to create a Palestinian liberation theology by the Palestinian Anglican priest Naim Ateek with Sabeel, although how that works in a society where the liberation theology is applied to a religion which has dwindled in adherents in the region (lots of Palestinian Christians have emigrated) and is not even a substantial minority like in Egypt or Lebanon is another question, since Latin American liberation theology was at least targeted to the religion of the majority.


  6. this is an interesting blog. i stopped by here because i was doing research for a post i just wrote about keffiyehs, and i am going to check back once in a while. thanks for posting your thoughts – and you are mistaken in one respect: lots of people read blogs! i am reading yours, right now. 🙂

    anyway, hope all is well chez vous!

    keia jin


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