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VOICES AND HANDS

Palestinian Women Embroiderers in Gaza Speak

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Voices and Hands is an initiative of The Poverty Alleviation Fund, Cambridge, MA, USA.
A grant from the Eastman Fund assisted publication. Voices and Hands was conceived and coordinated by Claire Burkert.
She wishes to acknowledge the support and contributions of Arthur Holcombe, President of the Poverty Alleviation
Fund, and Hussam Manna, Nasser El-Khaldi, Hind El-Arabi and Yasser I. Abu Wazna of the Relief and Social Services
Programme of UNRWA in Gaza. Yasser I. Abu Wazna managed field research in Gaza with the support of Sumayya
Abu-Auda. Photos are by Abdallah Sharshara, Yasser I. Abu Wazna and Claire Burkert. Voices and Hands is designed by
Thomas Schrom.
Copyright 2012 The Sulafa Embroidery Centre, Relief and Social Services Programme, United Nations Relief and Works
Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine Refugees, Gaza Strip, Palestinian Territories
First edition: 2012
ISBN
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, by any means (electronic,
photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior permission of the publisher.
Printed in Nepal

For further information, please contact:


the sulafa embroidery CENTRE, Gaza Strip, Palestinian Territories
h.el-arabi@unrwa.org | s.abu-auda@unrwa.org

VOICES AND HANDS


Palestinian Women Embroiderers in Gaza Speak

INTRODUCTION
The historical and cultural
richness of Palestine is
reflected in the vibrancy
of Palestinian womens
embroidery. This publication
offers people an opportunity
to meet Palestinian women,
young and old, and to hear
stories that are integral to
their lives. Shared themes
are childhood, homeland, the
wedding party, marriage and
family life, life in the refugee
camps, and embroidery.
Memories of childhood
and homeland are strong

and poignant. Older women


recollect a simple life in
villages they cannot return
to, and younger women who
grew up on farms in Gaza
are similarly wistful about
simple days doing farm work
and playing games. Most
joyful are the recollections
by women of all ages of the
wedding party and family life.
And it is clear that for all of
the women, embroidery plays
a central role in their lives,
providing not only income
but an opportunity to meet

and share experiences and to


perpetuate their Palestinian
identity.
Since 1950, the United
Nations Relief and Works
Agency for Palestine
Refugees has been promoting
womens embroidery as an
income-generating activity in
Gazas refugee camps. Today
UNRWAs Sulafa Embroidery
Centre employs more than
300 women of all ages.
The eldest embroiderers,
Khadra and Huryia, arrived
at the camps following the

events of 1948. Embroidery


and sewing work became a
means of survival. Now the
children and grandchildren
of Sulafas first embroiderers
are carrying on this art.
Some are engaged in training
programs in the camps run
by Sulafas trainers who
ensure that embroidery
skills and knowledge will
endure. Embroidery for this
next generation retains its
significance as a means of
livelihood and expression
of identity. It also provides

continuity between the life


of the past and present-day
urban life in Gaza.
The Sulafa Embroidery
Centre must be credited for
keeping alive a wide range
of traditional designs, and
for continuing to revive
motifs and patterns. To date
its best customers are local
women who come to Sulafa
to order traditional dresses
for wedding parties and other
special occasions. At the
same time, Sulafa is trying to
reach across Gazas borders

to the international market


by developing a new range of
home textiles and apparel.
As the women observe,
the interaction in the
camps created opportunity
for sharing of embroidery
designs. Embroidery pictured
in this book comprises
stitches from many regions
and includes the heritage
of the Bedouins who make
particularly vibrant, dense
and often geometrical
patterns.

CHILDHOOD

When we were children, there was no time to play. We used to go with our family to the farm
and help them with farming. My family owned big vineyards. During the harvest we went
with them to pick bunches of grapes. We used scissors to cut the stems and then we put the
bunches in wooden boxes. The boxes were carried on horses and donkeys to the main street
for selling. Herebyia is very close to the Gaza Strip. In 1948, we left and went to Gaza on foot
or by riding the donkeys.
Huryia Hussien Salem

My early memories in Yasour are of the swing that my father made for us below an olive
tree on our farm. We used to swing while my family was picking nuts. They grew tomatoes,
onions, and zucchini, which we picked by hand; corn that we harvested with a sickle; and
olives, which we gathered by hitting the olive trees with sticks and then collecting the falling
olives from the ground.
Amna Mahmoud Ayash

a child at the nuseirat refugee camp with


embroidery by the al habeal family
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the intensely embroidered chest panel


of a womans thoub or long dress
traditionally reflected the region where
she lived.

many embroidery motifs are based


on nature, such as the cypress tree,
pomegranate flower, olive branch and
feather.

an embroidery by samar ibrahim el laham


reflects her childhood memories of the
family farm, which had palm trees and
vineyards.

sulafa has adapted thoub patterns from


different palestinian communities to
make a new range of cushion covers and
shawls.

When talking about Al Batany, I feel sad that


I did not live there long enough to enjoy it.
I was too young to remember Al Batany. My
parents told me that they had a big field.
They planted wheat, grapes, figs and guava.
After harvesting grapes, they sold some
and put aside a portion to make raisins and
another portion to make Enabya (grape jam).
While men and some women were working

in the field, other women were working to


provide them with three meals a day. They
prepared each part of the meal they cooked
rice, chicken or beef, and baked bread. They
baked bread using Al Tabun, a clay coneshaped oven with an opening at the bottom
from which they could stoke the fire.

One of our favorite times was in the


afternoon when everybody gathered to have
lunch and drink tea. Nobody can imagine
how much fun we had. We told jokes and
tales and all of us would laugh at some funny
thing that took place while working in the
vineyard, such as being bitten by a bee. After
lunch, when the workers returned to their
work, we used to play Al Gal (a game played

with small stones you throw one in the air


and before you catch it, you have to pick up
another). Some of our cousins were learning
embroidery from older women within the
family. Then we would all leave the vineyard
by sunset.

Fatma Abdellrahman Salman

Huryia Hussien Salem

My family members were farmers. They owned a field of wheat. They planted wheat using
a plough pulled by donkeys and cows. When the wheat was dry and shone yellow, they
harvested it with sickles. A board with blades pointing to the earth was attached to cows
or donkeys to cut the stalks into pieces. Then the animals walked on the harvested wheat
dragging the board. Sometimes we children stood on the board for fun, and to add some
weight. Afterwards, my family threshed the harvested wheat and winnowed it. When thrown
into the air, the heavier wheat fell to the earth and the light chaff blew away.
Khadra Abdel Kader El Heala

I always assisted my father and grandfather in farm work. I worked in farms of corn, olive,
almond, and palm trees. We used to pick almonds, olives and ears of corn by hand, standing
on ladders. During harvest time, some men used to climb palm trees with a rope wound
around their waists and the trunk of the tree. They pushed the rope up when going up, and
down when going down. When they reached the top, they shook the tree to let bad dates fell
down. Then, when the dates were ripe, men climbed up again and cut the dates from the
branches with knives.
Samar Ibrahim El Laham

As a Bedouin family we lived in a tent. Life was simple. We took water from wells. My family
owned camels, goats, horses and donkeys. We used the animals for carrying, for milk, and for
meat. There was no electricity, so we used to bake bread and cook each meal over a fire. We
cooked meat and stored it in a ceramic jar, and then we melted fat and poured it into the jar.
In this way, the meat was preserved for a long time.
Sanaa El Weheady

fathya abu maghseab and her granddaughter in


the deir al ballah camp. born in the camp in 1958,
fathya has embroidered with sulafa for 25 years.
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HOMELAND
I consider Herebyia a piece of paradise. When the Palestinians of the northern cities
reached Herebyia on their way to Gaza Strip during the 1948 conflict, they wanted to stay
longer in Herebyia to enjoy its green land, grapes, lemons, oranges, and all the nature
around them. My secret wish now is to see Herebyia before I die. When we lived in camps
in Gaza, some people bought some land on which to build their houses. My husband
laughed at them for buying land in Gaza. He, and many others, thought they would return
to their land and houses in Herebyia soon. Why waste your money for land while you
own a piece of paradise he used to say. Unfortunately, he passed away, his dream never
realized.
Huryia Hussien Salem

Women played basic roles in our village, Qastina. Besides normal housework, they milked
cows and goats, brought food to the farmers in the field, and collected fenugreek plants to
feed animals. When a woman delivered a baby, we put kohl in babys eyes and lubricated its
body with olive oil. In this way babies became healthy. A woman delivered her baby while
working in her house or field. Women were much healthier and stronger in the old days.
I delivered my first baby while I was carrying a bundle of fodder on my way to feed our
animals. My main wish is to return to Qastina. I still remember each inch of it. Besides,
I hope that the Palestinian people will live peacefully and safely as they used to before 1948.
Khadra Abdel Kader El Heala

Karatiyeh is the original home of my family. My father was born there. His childhood
memories were held in his mind and heart to the last day of his life. He used to play with
his friends in fields with many birds like nightingales and goldfinches. He told us that in
Karatiyeh they used to walk up listening to the birds singing, not to the noise of traffic like
today.
Awatef Younis El Najar
sabha abu mostfa, khan younis camp. in 1948 she was
four years old when she left beir shiva to come to the
camp. she has embroidered with sulafa for 20 years.
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I had an interesting childhood in Beit Lahya. My family owned a big farm with an amazing
green landscape along the shoreline. My father was a fisherman. We used to make picnics.
Sometimes we made a swing in the farm by tying a rope on a fig or a sycamore tree. We
enjoyed a very beautiful childhood.
The sea and I are very close friends. When my father went fishing, we used to follow him.
I still remember how I used to run holding a basket by the shore to follow him and insist on
going sailing with him. He used to take me to Tel Aviv and Yaffa [Jaffa] to see those wonderful
cities, which once were Palestinian. We usually brought lemon and sage from these cities. We
used to sail by sunset and come back by dawn. I still smell the fish we used to fry by the coast
for breakfast and lunch.

By dawn, we always came back to the coast with a lot of fish. With nets we caught mullet,
rainbow sardines, and little tunny. We played on the seashore and made pools and castles
with the sand.
Al Nakba, the conflict of 1948, was suffered by every single refugee of the Palestinian camps.
Despite differences in our customs and origins, we all held the common belief that wed
return to our homes. So you would hardly see a family buying land near its camp, or investing
money in a long-term business. We believed that staying in the camp was temporary, and we
would return to normal lives and our original places soon. This was the consolation of every
Palestinian refugee and it alleviated our feeling of homelessness.
Fatma Abdellrahman Salman

a group of young women who have joined


an embroidery training program at the
unrwa deir al ballah camp.
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an experienced group of embroiderers at the


unrwa beach camp
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THE WEDDING PARTY


Marriage is one of the unforgettable events. As a Bedouin family, our customs and traditions
do not allow the engaged couple to see each other before they are married. My husband sent
his family to my father, a tribal sheikh, to request our engagement. The engagement period
lasted for four months. When he would visit my father, I used to look at my fianc through a
crack in the window although this was prohibited.
Nadia Muhammad El Dheimey

My wedding was amazing, though simple. During the party, my grandmother beat a drum,
and my mother, mother-in-law, and aunts all sang traditional songs like your henna
drawings are beautifulthe drawings used all the henna in the pot. Oh groom you are lucky
that your bride is well-prepared for you. Then the groom came with his family to my familys
house and asked to take me. My father brought me to them and a delightful wedding walk
started from the house of my family in Beit Lahya to the edge of the town. Then we got in
cars and went to Beit Hanoun, where my husband lives. The wedding party lasted for three
days. This was the norm in Beit Hanoun.
Amal Shokry Abu Ouda

My husband is my cousin. We played together when we were children. A wedding party lasted
for two days. Men held Samer, during which the men stand in two rows facing each other
and sing verses to praise the groom and his family. And then they dance Dabka, a traditional
dance using swords. And women hold their own party in which they paint with henna, dance
and sing.
Fatma Abdellrahman Salman

motifs on a dress from the hebron area, embroidered by jameala


esayed, jabalia camp. candles and torches refer to hope and
happiness. women dance with torches during wedding parties.
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Wedding parties were the only thing that we enjoyed as children. They were the only events
in which we saw people dancing and singing. When a wedding party took place, most of
the neighborhood contributed to its success. They shared with the celebrating family their
happiness and helped the family prepare for the ceremony. Women worked together to
prepare Qedra, (a Palestinian dish made of rice and beef meat).
Fatma Abdellrahman Salman

I married just after I graduated from the university. My husband is Bedouin. He is a taxi
driver. When I was student, he used to pick me up in the taxi to take me to the university.
I was surprised when he asked my family to get married to me. It was unusual for a village
girl to get married to a Bedouin man, because the Bedouin always got married to women
from their own families. My wedding was fascinating. The wedding ceremony started in Al
Qarara and continued to Khan Younis by foot. The party lasted for seven days. Men were
dancing Dabka and women were singing. Thank God, my husband is very kind to me and I
enjoy a happy life now.
Samar Ibrahim El Laham

At the time of the wedding, they used to bring a Mashta (coiffeur) to the bride. The brides
hands would be drawn with henna. They drew roses, anemone, or jasmine, leaves and other
decorative designs. The bride dressed in Thoub El Dass, a dress completely decorated with
embroidery. Men used to dance Al Deheya, a type of Bedouin dance, and race horses and
fence. Wedding ceremonies usually lasted for seven days. My father told us that his female
cousin was so skillful in fencing that no man could beat her. The bride was carried from her
house to the house of the groom on a howdah (a canopied seat placed on back of camel)
surrounded by family members of the bride and groom and all the other wedding guests.
The wedding included a big meal of Al Mansaf, a traditional Bedouin dish made of lamb
cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt and served with rice.
Sanaa El Weheady

a womans hands decorated with henna


for a relatives wedding party
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MARRIAGE AND FAMILY LIFE


I married when I was twenty-seven years old to a widower in his sixties with seven daughters.
He was eager to have a son. His daughter came to my family and asked them to accept a
marriage proposal. One of my sisters urged me to refuse the request because she thought
that living with seven mature daughters might be problematic. Actually, I thought about the
daughters and about their hope to have a brother to protect them and take him as a refuge
in hard times. So I married, and then became pregnant with a boy, Omer, and fulfilled the
daughters dream. Since then, I looked after the daughters and enjoyed their respect as their
dream of having a brother became true.
Amna Mahmoud Ayash (Oum Omer)

I was married to a man whose wife was barren. He wanted children. Though my father
accepted the marriage, I was too young to get married. But I was skillful in embroidery and
housework. As I married an already married man, I did not enjoy a wedding party. The most
interesting thing that I still remember when going to my husbands wife for the first time is
that I wore a scarf with amazing embroidery. It was my first embroidered product and at that
time, I felt that it was the most precious thing I had.
Then, my husbands wishes to have children became real. I now have 6 sons and 4
daughters. We enjoyed a happy domestic life as my husband became a father of many
children. Having many children was a norm in our society.
Huryia Hussien Salem

I became pregnant for the first time after 14 years of my marriage. I have five sons and
three daughters. I taught my daughters and daughters-in law embroidery. They are now
embroidering for Sulafa.
Fatma Abdellrahman Salman
samar el laham, khan younis camp
she was born in the camp in 1981 and has
embroidered with sulafa for seven years.
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When I became 20 years old, I enjoyed my first pregnancy. In fact I did not expect to deliver a
baby for I failed to be pregnant for the first five years of my marriage. I thought I was barren.
And I was crying every night for this reason. So when I knew that I had became pregnant
I rejoiced at the news. During those first five years of married life, I occupied myself with
courses on first aid and on health awareness. And so I received the benefit of the courses
when I raised my children. Now, I enjoy a very happy family. We all love each other. My
children study at schools and I sometimes help them in preparing their lessons. We are all
cooperative.
Amal Shokry Abu Ouda

Actually being in a family of 17 kids was not problematic. We were of different generations;
that is, my family was a mixture of mature and little sons and daughters. The older sons
and daughters played the role of parents in the house when our parents were busy. Besides,
having a big family was, and is still in some Bedouin families, normal and necessary since
big families were valued more than small ones in their communities. The number of family
members shows its strength and influence in the region the family lives in.
As a Bedouin, I grew up amongst a conservative family. My father acquired the original
Bedouin traditions and customs and followed them. We consider these traditions to be rules
that govern our life. My father was very kind. As a tribal sheikh, he supported the weak, the
poor, and women. And he was generous with all people. He even used to slaughter an animal
and distribute its meat to poor people every three days.
I learned from my mother how to cook and how to take care of my house. She taught me
housework. We used fire to cookand making fire from wood for cooking is something
traditional in Bedouin life. We collected wood from farms and stored it for making fire for
cooking and for making bread. Bedouin bread is made by preparing dough that does not
contain yeast. Then we bake it on a metal pan put upside down on the fire. I also learned
from my mother how to pick nuts from plants and trees using knives or sickles. And she
taught me my first embroidery stitches.
Nadia Muhammad El Dheimey
women working with sulafa
clockwise from top left:
rateaba abu halal, rafah camp
haneen zuhed, deir al ballah camp
fathya anbar, unrwa beach camp
samer abu tawaheen, deir al ballah camp
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LIFE IN THE CAMPS

After we left our original village we lived in Deir Al Ballah. The UN agency provided us and
the other Palestinian refugees with tents made of cloth. Then, and when the period of our
settlement reached winter, the agency painted the tents with tar to resist rain. I remember
this period as a child. The games we played were different from those in the original village.
In Yasour, we used to run and play in the wide farms and collect flowers. Sometimes we
made chains of flowers and leaves. There were many trees and amazing green fields. We
played in the heart of nature. But in the camp, the narrow roads were the only place for
us to play in. Along each road, there was a channel of sewage water, which contributed to
outbreaks of cholera and chickenpox. But we adapted to the camp environment and played
games that did not need space, such as Nat el Habel skipping rope and Al Gal, a game
we played with small and hard nuts such as cypress nuts.
Amna Mahmoud Ayash (Oum Omer)

I came to Deir Al Ballah with my family in 1996. The life in Deir Al Ballah is different than
in Egypt, where we lived a long time. In Deir Al Ballah, social life and social issues occupy
a great portion of peoples daily life, especially among women. In Egypt, life is much more
practical. There is much more independence for each individual in society. Here in Deir
Al Ballah, family members have strong relationships with each other. You can hardly see
a family that does not know at least seven of its neighbors, though it makes privacy less.
Women visit each other almost everyday. Therefore, every family is aware of the daily news
of the neighboring family.
Awatef Younis El Najar
laila abu jundi (right) and sabha abu
mousa (left) at the khan younis camp
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At that time, people were poor and not focused on entertainment. Their highest priority was
to feed their children. Even children were responsible to help contribute food to the family.
We suffered a lot. Most of the camp refugees depended on United Nations assistance.
But later on, and as their circumstances become stable, refugees began to start their own
businesses. One became able to see several craftsmen and various shops sprang up for
things like bakery, sewing, grocery and shoe making.
My earliest memory as a child was at the beginning of the transition to the camps. When we
reached Deir Al Ballah and took it as a refuge, an air strike attacked the camp. I felt afraid and
hoped no one of the family was injured or killed, but some of the camp refugees did die.
I also remember our first house in the camp. It was first made of clay. Frankly speaking, it
was not healthy. It was humid and there were bedbugs and disease. Then, two improvements
happened to our house as well as the houses of all of the Palestinian refugees. Roofs were
rebuilt with asbestos and the walls were built with concrete.
The camp included refugees from several Palestinian towns and villages. There were
refugees from Isdod, Al Majdal, Hamama, Yaffa, Ramleh, and Lud. Each refugee brought the
traditions and customs of his own original town or village. Therefore, a Palestinian camp
was a community of dissimilar Palestinian cultures, and this led to a mixture of experiences;
the Palestinian embroidered dress now is a good example of a colorful combination of
Palestinian embroidery stitches of different origins. In a modern Palestinian dress, you can
see embroidery stitches that belong to Palestinian villages or towns before 1948.
Fatma Abdellrahman Salman

fatima abu jayab, an embroidery instructor for 27 years with two


embroiderers at the unrwa beach camp, suaad el khaldi (left) and
khadra kreizem, who has embroidered with sulafa for 62 years (right)
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In 1948, villagers from Al Batany , a village located in the northern part of Gaza, passed
through our village with their animals, goods, and children escaping from their own village.
We asked them why they had left their village and where they were going. They said that air
strikes had started in their village and they were escaping from danger. Nobody knew what
was going on. We were surprised by this news. We told them that nothing should justify
leaving their village in such a way.
Then a day later, the air strikes reached our village. At that moment, I was making an omelet
for breakfast. The men of my family came rushing to the house and asked me to stop
everything and get ready to escape. My mother asked if she could get her gold jewelry but my
father forbade her and said they would return as soon as the air strike finished. We thought
the air strike would last no longer than a couple of days. I took my baby daughter and left
behind everything else. Our whole village population escaped together to Al Majdal, a city
close to Gaza and called now Ashkelon, on foot. On our way to Al Majdal, we were exposed
to many air strikes. They created big holes in the ground and were very close to us.
In Al Majdal we stayed about two days, and then my husband told us to get prepared to
move to Hamama, a village 24 kilometers north of Gaza, He thought that it would be safer.
He asked a neighbor of ours to come with him to Hamama but our neighbor refused. As
soon as we began to move, an air strike struck the family of our neighbor. We could not do
anything for them for it was very dangerous to turn back. I was carrying my little baby, and I
was afraid that something bad might occur to her. We were almost running along the fields
and it was exhausting. We all became tired and I could no longer carry my daughter, who was
in her first month, any more. Just then, another air strike started. We immediately fell to the
ground with fear. Thank God, nobody was injured.
My cousin urged us to get up and go on. I stood up but I could not easily pick my daughter.
He told me to leave her and run. I refused. I prayed to God to give me the ability to carry her
again and He responded. To me, it was impossible to leave her behind just to escape. We
reached Hamama and stayed just a few hours. Meanwhile, we discovered that air strikes were
massive and were reaching everywhere--even Hamama was targeted. So then we escaped
with Hamama families to Gaza. It was a nightmare. The war was massive and cruel.
Upon reaching Gaza we stayed in a tent. There were many tents and many families. We
women, met and became friends. They were refugees from several Palestinian villages and
cities. We exchanged our escape stories. Day in, day out, we began to do embroidery. As

each place in Palestine was known for its own embroidery patterns, we started to exchange
motifs. That was the first step of producing dresses with a mixture of embroidery patterns
of different origins. In addition, I learned to use a sewing machine at an UNRWA womens
embroidery development workshop. At the workshop, UNRWA used to teach women sewing
and then provided each woman with a sewing machine.
From that time, refugees tents developed gradually. First, they were made of cloth.
Afterwards, the tents were covered with tar. Then UNRWA built small houses of cinder
blocks with roofs made of bricks or asbestos. We became familiar with each kind of house
created for us. We believed that it was our destiny and we had to accept it, though the living
conditions were very hard. I mastered sewing and taught my daughters to sew. My husband
owned a donkey with a cart. He moved UNRWA food rations from UNRWA food distribution
centres to refugees houses. His income was hardly enough for us; therefore, I started
sewing to ensure my family a better living condition.
Khadra Abdel Kader El Heala

a woman crosses in front of the


unrwa beach camp, gaza city
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EMBROIDERY
My mother taught me embroidery along with my sisters. She was such a very skillful
embroiderer that she was embroidering even when she was in her way to the well, holding a
Zear (a ceramic jar for water) as she fetched water. At the time, other women said that she
was the most skillful embroiderer in all of Yasour.
Amna Mahmoud Ayash (Oum Omer)

In Beir Shiva, a womans type of dress showed her social status. The bride had to wear a
dress that was completely covered with embroidery. A widow wore an embroidered dress
made with blue cloth. Each woman had to master embroidery and make her dress herself.
Our tradition of embroidery has existed for ages, moving from one generation to the next.
According to my parents, Bedouin women in Beir Shiva embroidered everywhere they
went. They embroidered while they were feeding animals, or fetching water from the well.
Embroidery teaches patience and how to be self-reliant.
Sanaa El Weheady

I studied in Haleama El Saadia Elementary School in Jabalia. From my house, the school was
one hour and a half away by foot. It was a very exhausting daily journey. Therefore, my father
asked me to stop my studies as soon as I reached my third preparatory school year (ninth
grade). So the real reason for my leaving the school was not because my parents do not like
girls to study. But I refused to stay home every day without an aim. I learned sewing and
embroidery in an UNRWA vocational school at the age of 14 and I started making dresses for
my relatives.
Amal Shokry Abu Ouda

seveen al jarrh wearing a cape and scarf


designed at the sulafa embroidery centre
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While I was studying during my first year at university, my fathers wifes health turned poor
and she required intensive care after delivering twins. At that time I had to look after the
twins until their mother recovered. It was very hard for me to look after the babies and study
English, which required hard concentration. Therefore, I changed my study to psychology; for
me, it was easier than studying English for it was taught in Arabic. I graduated and sought
a career, but I have not yet succeeded. Therefore I embroider. To tell you the truth, I feel
indebted to this art. When I embroider, I feel as if were in a magnificent realm. Embroidery
takes me from miserable reality to a magic world. Besides, it is my career now. I learned it
at school when I was young. Then I practiced it with my friends and relatives when possible.
Now I embroider at home and sometimes at UNRWA Womens Activities Centres in Deir Al
Ballah with my colleagues.
Samar Ibrahim El Laham

Now I suffer from cancer and this is the only thing that succeeded in making me stop
embroidering. The daughters of my husband, whom I consider as mine, learned embroidery
while watching me embroider and they are now involved in one of the most important
aspects of the Palestinian identity, embroidery.
Amna Mahmoud Ayash (Oum Omer)

I feel proud I am Bedouin, though our traditions as a Bedouin family have become history.
We live in an urban city in the Gaza Strip, however we still keep most of the embroidery
products that belonged to my parents. I wish such traditional products would be put in
a museum in Gaza. And I hope that the next generations of the Palestinians will keep
embroidering.
Sanaa El Weheady

Embroidery makes the embroiderer patient.


Awatef Younis El Najar

unique shoulder bags and cushion covers


from the sulafa embroidery centre
32

33

Many women embroiderers of the Sulafa Embroidery Centre contributed to the Voices and Hands project.
Those women whose personal stories are included in this book are:

front of a thoub from the yaffa area,


embroidered by jameala essayed, jabalia camp
34

Samar Ibrahim El Laham, born in 1980


in Al Qarara. She spent her childhood
in Deir Al Ballah camp and since her
marriage has lived in Khan Younis. She
has one son and four daughters.

Huryia Hussien Salem, born in 1934.


Since leaving her home in 1948 she has
lived in the UNRWA Beach Camp. She
has six sons and four daughters.

Sanaa El Weheady, born in 1966, in


Jabalia refugee camp to a family of
Bedouin refugees from Beir Shiva. She
has not married and lives in Jabalia with
her two sisters.

Amal Shokry Abu Ouda, born in 1970 in


Beit Lahya. She has two sons and four
daughters and lives in Beit Hanoun.

Awatef Younis El Najar, born in 1964 in


Deir Al Ballah camp. She has three sons
and a daughter and continues to live in
Deir Al Ballah.

Fatma Abdellrahman Salman, born in


1943 in Al Batany. When she was five
her family moved to the Deir Al Ballah
camp. She has five sons and three
daughters.

Amna Mahmoud Ayash (Oum Omer),


born in 1944 in Yasour. She has seven
step-daughters and one son. She left
Yasour at age 4 and now lives in Deir Al
Ballah camp.

Nadia Muhammad El Dheimey, born in


Nuseirat in 1971, in a Bedouin refugee
family from Beir Shiva. She now lives in
Nuseirat and has seven sons and two
daughters.

Khadra Abdel Kader El Heala, born in


1916 in a village called Qastina, not far
from the Jerusalem-Yaffa highway. Now
she lives in Al Maghazi. She has two
sons and seven daughters.

35

benayiq (side panel) of a hebron-style dress


embroidered by jameala esayed, jabalia camp

SULAFA

EMBROIDERY

C E N TRE

G A Z A

STRI P

P ALESTI N E