Collectible dolls commemorate lost Palestinian towns

The Fabric of Our Lives

The distinct embroidery of “lost” Palestinian villages is being preserved through a doll-making initiative of the East Jerusalem Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA).

Roughly 500 Palestinian villages were depopulated during the establishment of the new nation of Israel in 1948. Some people were violently displaced; others abandoned their homes fearing the spread of violence. Most assumed they would return home when calm was restored.

Some towns were razed to make way for Israeli communities and and what is left of the ruined stone houses sit overgrown with weeds. Others were assimilated into new towns established by the new nation, such as Dayr Yasin, still visible along the mountain outside modern-day Jerusalem.New Da

The YWCA initiative now commemorates five communities.

Refugee Women sew dolls at the YWCA to remember the lost villagesRefugee women – many still living in camps nearly 67 years later – are embroidering clothes that retain the indigenous patterns distinct to each village and the outfits are worn by a series of collectible olivewood dolls in festive clothing.
Many among the estimated 50-70,000 displaced people still have the keys to these homes, whatever the fate of the structures themselves. Palestinians refer to this displacement as the Nakba, or, the castastrophe.

Embroidery was an important focus in the life of rural women. Each region had its own colors and patterns. Designs included feathers, birds, plants, fruits or the eight-point Caananite star. Such embroidered dresses – the Palestinian word is thob — are how women communicated their identities. Some thobs were worn as work clothes, while others were reserved for celebrations, such as weddings.

Here are a few of the women’s stories provided by the YWCA about the dolls wearing their native thob in the collection of dolls representing the “Lost Palestinian Villages”:

Fatima is a refugee living in Aqbet Jaber Refugee Camp, near the Dead Sea. She was only six years old when she was carried on her father’s shoulders as the family fled the village of Dayr Al-Dubban with their animals. She remembers that they fled to nearby fields eating only dates and then went onto Ajjur where they lived for four years in a tent. The villagers were expelled on Oct. 23, 1948, during an Israeli military operation. Dayr Al-Dubban sat on the slope of a hill in the western foothills of the Hebron mountains, an area rich with archeological sites dating back to the Caananite period. The town’s population of 730 lived mainly by rain-fed agriculture and raising farm animals. The Israeli settlement of Luzit now occupies the site. The dresses Fatima has made is typical of the Hebron area, with its colorful patches and elaborate headwear.

Heigar is a refugee living in the Jalazoune Refugee Camp, north of Ramallah. When she was six years old, she left her village with her mother, brother and sister. Because her sister was too little to walk, Heigar carried her on her shoulders. After her father’s death, her mother farmed over 500 donums of land by herself. She grew figs, corn, grapes and wheat. She remembers how her mother made her own oil with an olive press. She remembers Oct. 29, 1948, a day when more than 90 villagers were killed – the old people while praying at the mosque and older boys shot while protecting the smaller boys.  The settlements of Amatzya were built on the ruins of the town in 1955. Heigar’s dress is typical of the southern part of the Hebron region with red thread and wheat designs.

Refugee women sewing dolls in memory of the lost villagesZuhdiyah lives in the Old City of Jerusalem. She was 16-years-old when her family evacuated her village in the wee hours of the morning on April 10, 1948. Her family lived on the west side of the town when they heard that Israeli soldiers were coming from the east and were killing everyone, including women and children. More than 90 people died that day in Dayr Yasin and the massacre is part of the historical record. Today, some of the homes in Dayr Yasin have been incorporated into an Israeli hospital for the mentally ill. Other homes are now warehouses. Zuhdiyah’s dress is typical of the Jerusalem area .with its bright orange couch stitching on gold threaded Syrian silk.

These dolls may be ordered through Pal Craftaid.

Pal Craftaid hopes to soon be introducing a line of bracelets and belts commemorating the “Lost Villages of Palestine.”