Israeli “fashion designer” Dodo Bar Or recently launched a new women’s collection made up of flowing dresses, bouncy skirts, baggy tops, rompers, and even a kaftan. Good for her..except for one glaringly obviously, and downright despicable thing: They are all made in the universally recognizable checkered and tasseled design of the keffiyeh.
Dodo Bar Or’s collection not only includes designs in the familiar black and red patterns, but also in blue (nauseatingly reminiscent of the blue and white “keffiyehs” introduced as few years ago).
The keffiyeh, traditionally worn by Arabs in the Middle East as protection from the elements (i.e. sun, sand, cold), took on a more political role in the 1930’s as Palestinian Bedouins and peasants—followed later on by urban dwellers–wore it as a symbol of their national identity during the Arab revolts against the British.
In the 1960’s, Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), adopted the keffiyeh, donning it as part of his daily uniform and turning it into a symbol of Palestinian resistance. He often wore it wrapped around his head in the traditional manner, with the end hanging off of his shoulder in a triangle, symbolizing the outline of the Palestinian state.
During the First Intifada in 1987, Palestinian youth used the keffiyehs to mask their faces as they engaged in clashes with the Israeli occupation forces, a method that has persisted throughout the years and is still seen today.
The cooptation of the keffiyeh by the fashion world is not a new or unprecedented occurrence. In the 80’s, the keffiyeh made its way into the Western wardrobe by activists and students wanting to express their solidarity with the Palestinian cause; it was a political statement. Around the same time, hipsters—with their unyielding propensity for appropriation—began wearing the highly symbolic keffiyeh as an accessory, a fashionable scarf that added the perfect embellishment to their counter-culture style.
Later on, Urban Outfitters, aka hipster paradise, began selling “anti-war scarves,” a cheap, made-in-China keffiyeh rip-off. They were later forced to pull the scarves from stores after a firestorm of complaints and accusations from both sides of the spectrum.
With Dodo Bar Or’s new collection, a new type of Israeli appropriation has come to fruition.
Dodo Bar Or’s collection isn’t some shining example of fashion transcending politics, or a brave ode to coexistence, or a show of solidarity with Palestine. It’s the exact opposite. It’s an emblem of the vicious and cancerous reaches of the occupation, not only colonizing the land, but also attempting to mutate and transform symbols of Palestinian resistance into trendy boho-chic dresses and hippie skirts.
The keffiyeh is not a fashion statement. It’s not a “geometric black and white print,” as one website described the design. It’s certainly not just a piece of cloth to be donned by the politically ignorant and callously indifferent alike.
Dodo Bar’s boutique in Israel is a stomach-turning sight, with keffiyeh-patterned pieces lining every corner of the store. Photographer Tanya Habjouq posted the following on her Facebook page:
“Cultural appropriation to an extreme….in a chic Tel Aviv mall, I stopped in my tracks when I saw the Palestinian and Jordanian Keffiyeh fabric filling an entire boutique. Chic sexy dresses, funky flouncy skirts, long hippie draping gowns….minimum cost 150 USD. No sign or explanation of where this material came from. Even my husband stood frozen in alarm, peering in window. It really was too much. Even by the standards here.”
Interestingly enough, Dodo’s first label was called “Pas Pour Toi,” which is French for “Not for you.” Guess what, Dodo? The keffiyeh is not for you.
There’s absolutely nothing creative, original, or fashionable about appropriation.
In the immortal words of the fiery Shadia Mansour, “You can take my falafel and hummus, but don’t fucking touch my keffiyeh.”
World Keffiyeh Day in Solidarity With Palestine (use the hashtag #keffiyehday), hosted by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights Concordia is coming up on May 11th. Be sure to rock your keffiyehs!