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Palestine

Katarzyna Górak-Sosnowska

 
Basic information

People and their culture

National holidays and customs

Everyday life

Cuisine

Associations with Poland

Integration in Poland – successes and difficulties

 

Basic information

Palestine is a both a historical-geographical region as well as a political construct which some consider a country but others deny its statehood. In general, Palestine may be: a) an ancient land inhabited subsequently by the Caananites, the Hebrews and the Philistines to whom it owes its name; b) a territory with the British Mandate which was established after the end of World War I in the areas where Israel, Jordan and the Sandra Sych m Dzieci wracajce ze szkoly Sateh al-Bahr 30-04-2014Palestine territories are located today; c) the Palestinian National Authority covering the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  The political status of Palestine and its complex history make it difficult to clearly define its status. The United Nations call Palestine OPT - Occupied Palestinian Territories, the World Bank uses a more neutral identification the West Bank and Gaza. By virtue of the Oslo Peace Accords, the Palestine territories were politically transformed into the Palestinian National Authority in 1994, while in 2012 Palestine obtained the status of a non-member observer State in the United Nations. A year later, Mahmud Abbas the president of Palestine, proclaimed the establishment of the state of Palestine which was recognized by several countries.  Palestine is composed of two separate territorial parts:  the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The West Bank stretches to the Galilee upland in the north, then to Samaria in the middle and Judea in the south. It is a mountainous area, seven times smaller than the Mazowieckie voivodship. It borders Jordan and Israel. The Gaza Strip is located on the Philistine Lowland and has the area of Kraków. It is located on the Meditrranean Sea. It borders Israel and Egypt. Palestine does not have natural raw materials within its area apart from small deposits of calcium in the north and south of the West Bank. The greatest natural resource are farmlands on the West Bank, the largest deficit - resources of drinking water. The Palestine territories are located far from rivers or lakes. Inhabitants of the West Bank use the same source of water as the Israelis and access to water was the object of political negotiations (and even a tool in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the Intifada). Drinking water used by the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip is of poor quality, it is salty from the sea and contaminated by an inefficient sewage system.

 

People and their culture

In general, the Palestinians are Arabic descendants of the inhabitants of the British Mandate for Palestine. The name Palestinians comes from the Philistines - an ancient people who came to Canaan and gave the name to the geographic land of Palestine. It is worth adding that the Philistines were a non-Semitic people, and thus they have nothing in common with the Palestinians apart from the name. Currently, there are approx. 7-10 million Palestinians in the world. Approx. 4.5 million in the Palestinian National Authority (including 2.7 million in the West Bank, approx. 0.5 million in East Jerusalem and 1.7 million in the Gaza Strip), approx. 1.3 million in Israel (although they are defined as Israeli Arabs), approx. 3 million in Jordan (these are Jordanians of Palestinian origin). Every second Palestinian in the world has a refugee status (5.3 million people in total). Most of them live in Jordan as well as Lebanon and in Syria. Every third Palestinian refugee lives in a refugee camp which are also located in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, apart from the countries listed above. Many Palestinians live beyond Levant countries - these are economic emigrants in the countries of the Persian Gulf (especially in Saudi Arabia) as well as in the West (the United States, Western Europe). It is worth adding that the Palestinian diaspora is one of the best formed diaspores of Arabic origin. Various peoples and culture inhabited the areas of Palestine throughout the centuries. This is reflected in its rich cultural legacy. Due to the political situation, the Palestinians do not fully use the potential of their lands. The most important and most often visited places include: Jerusalem (only its eastern part belongs to the Palestinian National Authority, but the Temple Mount with the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome on the Rocks, the holy place of Islam, is within the city); Bethlehem - the place of Jesus Christ's birth and the Church of the Nativity, Hebron - with the Cave of the Patriarchs with the tombs of, e.g. Abraham, where the following of all three monotheistic religions make pilgrimages; Jericho - because of the archaeological excavations on the Tell al-Sultan hill. The political fate resulted in the fact that many Palestine gave birth to many artists and writers (although the Palestinian folk culture is also known, e.g. the dabke dance). The Palestinians deal with art both in the country and abroad with Palestine as the main point of reference. For this reason, these work of art are strongly politically involved. One of the writers whose works were published in Polish is Ghassan Kanafani and the most recognized poet - Mahmoud Darwish (some of his poems were published in Polish). When it comes to popular culture, Naji al-Ali, the author of political cartoons, is a well-known figure. He is recognized thanks to Handala, a ten-year old boy turning his back to the viewer with his hands clasped behind his back. His attitude is supposed to indicate the rejection of any political solutions and the fact that he turns his back to the viewer - the need to leave his country. Palestine is also the cradle of Arabic hip-hop and bands such as DAM or Ramallah Underground are also known abroad.


National holidays and customs

The majority of the Palestinian population are Sunni Arabs (more than 90%) belonging to the Shafi'i school of law. The most important place of Muslim worship is the al-Aqsa Mosque located in Jerusalem on Temple Mount from where Muhammad was supposed to ascend to heaven. The Dome on the Rocks - one of the most characteristic locations of Jerusalem, is located nearby. According to the Muslims, the rock on which Abraham wanted to offer his son Ishmael as sacrifice is located underneath. An important role is also played by Abraham's mosque in Hebron where the grave of the prophet Abraham is located. The Cherkess people, descendants of Caucasian highlanders who came to Palestine after the conquest of the Caucasus by Russians in the 19th century, are also Sunni. There are approx. 3,000 of them in Palestine (in two villages in Galilee). Some Cherkess identify themselves more with Israel but others with Palestine.  The Druze people are a Muslim religious minority. This is a religious group which was established from a fraction of Shia Islam - Isma'ilism at the turn of the 10th and the 11th century. Christianity is the second most numerous religion after Islam and Palestinian Christians are approx. 6% of the population. The vast majority of them are Arabs and the inhabitants of Jerusalem or the West Bank. Palestinian Christians live, first of all, in municipal areas - eastern Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem. Palestinian Christians in Israel live in the Galilee region. Half of the Palestinian Christians are followers of the Greek Orthodox Church, and thus they identify themselves with the Greek liturgical tradition. They are subject to the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem based in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The second largest fraction of Christianity is Roman Catholicism (approx. 30% of Christians).Palestine is also inhabited by small communities by the Melkites (Greek Catholics), Maronites, Syrian Catholics, Armenian Catholics and Protestants (various fractions).  Muslim religious holidays are celebrated in Palestine - the two most important ones, namely Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr as well as the birthday of prophet Muhammad (Mawlid an-Nabi), the Night of Ascension (Mi'raj) and the Muslim New Year's Day. These holidays are celebrated according to the Muslim calendar (moon calendar) and thus they have moving dates in the western calendar (solar). They are celebrated on the same days in the entire world of Islam. The Christian minority celebrates Christmas (December 25). National holidays include: New Year's Day (January 1), Labor Day (May 1) and Independence Day (November 15).


Everyday life


Everyday life in Palestine is similar in many aspects to life in other parts of Levant. Therefore, young people in municipal centers spend their free time in clubs in Internet or cafes as do the young in the West, older persons have meeting with coffee. Life in rural areas proceeds in a traditional way. The most important value in the everyday life of the Palestinians are their families. Life is thus centered around family matters and joint meals which play an important integrating role. Families in cities are smaller - parents with children (nuclear families), bigger families are much more common in rural areas. Some live in brick houses, others have to make do in makeshift houses within refugee centers. The long-term conflict with Israel had an effect on everyday life. Many people lost their close relatives, witnessed dramatic events, others have members of their families in Israeli prisons. The conflict with Israel is also reflected in difficulties related to mobility (the need to pass through checkpoints) as well as dramatic living conditions in the Gaza Strip cut off from the world.  The most recognizable piece of a Palestinian's clothing is the keffiyeh. It owes its colloquial name to the president of the Palestinian National Authority, Yasser Arafat. He wore it on his head in a characteristic way and made it popular in public awareness as Palestine's national symbol. It became a political symbol as early as in the 1930s  because it was worn during the Arab revolt in Palestine (1936-1939). The Palestinian keffiyeh is white and black (as opposed to white and red ones popular in Jordan or white - worn in countries of the Persian Gulf). The Palestinians wear both traditional and western clothes. The streets are full of men dressed in T-shirts and jeans as well as women in jeans or dresses, with hijabs on their heads or with uncovered hair. Rural communities wear more traditional clothes - men wear jellabiyas (ankle-length garments) and keffiyeh on their heads, while women are dressed in abayas (long robe-like dresses) and hijabs.


Cuisine


The Palestinian cuisine reflects the complex history of the region. On the one hand, it resembles the Mediterranean cuisine, on the other hand it is influenced by other cultures. The latter is indicated by the fact that the main component of everyday meals is rice which is not grown in Palestine. At the same time, a strong influence of the Arab-Muslim tradition may also be seen in the Palestinian cuisine - lamb is meat which is eaten on holidays. This applies not only to one of the two most important Muslim holidays, Eid al-Adha (as well as the Christian Easter) but also to other significant events with symbolic importance: rites of passage such as weddings, the birth of a son or a sacrifice offered for example in connection with coming back to health or buying a car. Mansaf is one of the meals served at that time. The Palestinians eat four meals a day and the largest of them is eaten in the early afternoon. Meals are eaten in company because it is perceived as an important ritual integrating the family. Meals were traditionally consumed with hands (always the right hand which results from the rules of purity in Islam - the right hand is used for pure things and the left hand for impure ones); today cutlery is used. Bread is sometimes used instead of cutlery (the Palestinian bread is flat which makes it possible to form it in the shape of the letter V and scoop food with it). The Palestinian cuisine is diverse in terms of regions and the influences of other cultures - both the neighboring ones and those which dominated Palestine's territory, result in the fact that there are few meals known only to the Palestinians. One of them may be samne baladije namely clarified butter which is made from sheep milk with the addition of wheat, curcuma and nutmeg.

 

Associations with Poland


Palestinians began to appear in Poland in the 1940s . These were mainly students who came to Poland as part of the cooperation of socialist countries (other Arab countries - Egypt, Syria, Yemen) to gain an education. They usually spent their first year in Łódź learning Polish intensively. Then they studied, mostly at technical or medical majors. Some of them came back to Palestine having gained an education but many decided to stay in Poland; some established families here marrying Polish women.


Integration in Poland – successes and difficulties


Good command of Polish, higher education and work - all this resulted in the fact that the Palestinians were able to easily integrate with the Polish society.  The intifada took place in the middle of the 1980s. Refugees started arriving in Poland since then, though not very many of them. The beginning of the 1990s brought another small wave of immigration - economic immigrants who wanted to try their luck in the new capitalistic economy started arriving in Poland. Currently there are approx. 800 Palestinians in Poland, mostly in large municipal centers. Most of them are immigrants from the 1950s-1980s These are mainly doctors and dentists as well as entrepreneurs. The Palestinian community in Poland is relatively well-organized. Społeczno-Kulturalne Stowarzyszenie Palestyńczyków Polskich (Social-Cultural Society of Polish Palestinians), which popularizes knowledge about Palestine, has been registered in Kraków from 2009. On the other hand, Towarzystwo Przyjaźni Polsko-Palestyńskiej (Association of Polish-Palestinian Friendship) operates in Warsaw, assembling Palestinians and Poles sympathizing with the Palestinian nation. Regardless of these, the Palestinians meet in their own groups to celebrate holidays together - both Muslim and Christian ones.  Events of a cultural and social-political nature regarding Palestinian matters are organized in Poland. Some of them arise from the embassy's initiative, some are arranged by the Palestinians themselves, others - by their supporters in Poland. Cultural events include Palestinian evenings, days of Palestinian culture (a periodical event in Bydgoszcz), performances of Palestinian folk groups, musicians, film shows and exhibitions. Events of a political nature include, e.g. celebrations of the Earth Day, panel discussions and lectures on political topics as well as campaigns and social movements, e.g. the Campaign for Solidarity with Palestine.