Culture, Israel

Introducing the Israeli Kaffiyeh! …again

Shemspeed, one of my favorite outlets for new Jewish music, has proudly announced that they are now selling the first every Israeli kaffiyeh! Except for this one:

Oh, and this one (though I suppose this one is more a Jewish kaffiyeh than an Israeli kaffiyeh):

But aside from prodding Shemspeed for their premature announcement of originality, I want to seriously question the usefulness and the morality of co-opting another group’s important symbol of identity and struggle. Though I’m never sure of what exactly I think of the struggle between Palestine and Israel, something about this entire endeavor just doesn’t sit right with me.
Especially when coupled with the phrase עם ישראל חי, which has come to be such a nationalist statement in its own right:

14 thoughts on “Introducing the Israeli Kaffiyeh! …again

  1. the keffiyeh, better known to us by its hebrew cognate “the kippah”, has its roots in the levant and is _the_ symbol of palestinian nationalism and resistance against the occupation. who’s to say that it wasn’t originally popularized by 1st century jews fighting roman occupation?

  2. Indeed Oren is correct in stating that it is a “symbol of Palestinian nationalism.” However, I do wish to point out that in some of Europe (Sweden for example) many people where it now as a trendy in clothing without any political implications.

  3. Meir Eynaim, I’m sure it is a fashion statement in Europe. Here in the New York City, it is also an ever-present hipster fashion item. So is this an attempt to co-opt a symbol or is it just Jewish hipsters wanting to wear a kaffiyeh without the guilt?

  4. thanks miri,
    the problem with balashon (who I am a big fan of) is that he/she is the hebrew detective… not the arabic detective. he/she states that “the Arabic headdress keffiyeh gets its name from the town of Kufa, Iraq, where it was originally manufactured”. “kufa” in arabic means a garment that is manufactured, hemmed or seamed. i’m willing to bet that this story of the keffiyeh coming from kufa iraq was manufactured. (pardon the pun!)
    p.s. so it it a he/she?

  5. Hi Oren –
    First of all, I am a “he” (in English, of course). I admit that I don’t have any expertise in Arabic – in fact I’m not a professional linguist in Hebrew either!
    Looking back at what I wrote about “keffiyeh” (over three years ago), I think there’s probably more to add, and certainly more to research. It looks like I got my information from Wikipedia (which I admit is always a little shaky), but I hope that I found it in more than one source. I don’t know if I had Stahl’s Arabic Etymological Dictionary at the time, but looking at it now, I see that he also mentions the theory about the origin from the town of Kufa, Iraq. On the other hand, at the end of his entry, he writes that perhaps there is a connection to “kipa” and כףף – “bent”. He doesn’t explain if he is trying to reconcile the two ideas, or if only one of them is right.
    If I come across anything else on the subject, I’ll try to let you know!

  6. wow, its Dave from Balashon! I really am a fan, and no I am not a professional linguist either… I did not mean to imply that you yourself had manufactured this story… quite the opposite… I found a few sources as well that also maintain this theory of the keffiyeh originating from kufa, iraq… indeed, I am sincerely skeptical about this theory. I am using the Hans Wehr dictonary and looking up the root “k-f-f” shows the first two forms having these associations: form I “to border, edge, hem (a garment)” … form II “to hem (a garment)… interestingly, form X “to hold out the hand with an imploring gesture, beg, practice begging; to shade one’s eyes with the hand”… and we know that kaf in hebrew and kaffa in arabic means the palm of the hand. now, the word kuffa (kufaf plural) means edge, seam, hem, border. kifafa means hemming. there is even a relation to blindness – kafif. in genesis 32:26, jacob was strained in the “hollow of his thigh”, as kaf yerecho is translated. my impression is that this root has to do with a bent object, something hollow, where a keffiyeh is a hollowed garment, (a kippah is hollow also, but much less so, which is very wierd because you never hear about arabfros!) the palm of your hand is hollow, the location of the sciatic nerve is in a hollow indentation between your thigh and groin…
    so what do I think is going on here? not to get too political, but I believe that this is the result of a retrograde attempt by arabs to re-appropriate words and concepts that were left over from the previous aramaic and even hebrew substratums that were native to the jews, samaritans, and other peoples who stayed in the land well after the roman destruction of jerusalem only to be dominated by islam and have their history, language, and traditions rewritten and dictated back to them. believe it or not, this “shame” exists even today. there are many palestinians who are acutely aware of their jewish origins and strive to keep them secret because of the taboo… sadly, it is probably these formerly jewish arabs that invent these stories themselves. So yeah, I think this israeli keffiyeh is absolutely hilarious when you consider the irony of history: here is a thing that could have been well used to distinguished jews from the occupying romans of 1st-3rd centuries AD, reborn as a symbol of palestinian nationalism (the word “palestine” replacing “judea” by order of the roman leader Titus of course) and now in 2010 you can buy a keffiyah that says “am yisrael chai” on the internet. just another casualty of a holy war. symbols, names, meanings being stolen, stolen back, its an endless cycle of semantic violence. anyways, sorry for the rant, not knowing your gender, and the ostensibly rude accusations! I look forward to future posts 😀

  7. OMG dude — the, like, totally chic irony of an Israeli kaffiyeh (dude — an ISRAELI K-A-F-F-I-Y-E-H!!!) is like totally overwhelming in a big tingly postmodern kinda way! DUDE!!!

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