Colonialism, Olive Groves, the Land, and other Visual Curios
There is no need to mine for Palestinian culture. Currently, Palestine employs an assortment of rich visual references. Of significant relevance is the Palestinian flag. With minor changes, the flag was designed by Sharif Hussein and was designated as the flag of the Arab Revolt on June 1916.
In 1917, the people of Palestine raised the flag as a symbol of solidarity and identity with its fellow Arabs. Variations of the flag have been employed in the design of other Arab flags. Moreover, the Palestinian flag continues to resonate amidst Arab nations today as a rallying symbol for solidarity, but also a reminder of Palestine’s right to exist as a sovereign nation.
Palestinian monuments such as The Dome of The Rock in Jerusalem, or the Jerusalem skyline are another important Palestinian symbol, especially with the Muslims among them. Other important visual cues in the Palestinian visual identity also include the map of the territory prior to the establishment of Israel. Lest they are visually communicating colonization, oppression, and occupation of land, Palestinians never represent the West Bank and Gaza strip in isolation. Keys are another prevalent symbol that designate Palestinian identity. This particularly rings true with the Palestinians of the Nakba, the catastrophe of 1948, who fled their homes with the hopes of returning and have now, for generations resided in refugee camps. Thus, the key as a literal object, visually or symbolically, has become emblematic of dispossession and more appropriately a visual reference to what is known as the Palestinian Right of Return.
It is impossible to describe the brand that is Palestine without considering the land. Through the lens of the past and the present, the land speaks to the many who romantically pine for the lost orchards of historic Palestine. Additionally, the land is also symbolic of Palestine’s lush climate, fertile soil, and the farming heritage that’s prevalent in the identity of the fellaheen. In contrast to the city dwellers of Palestine, fellaheen trace their lineage to the villages of the territories, destroyed or still in existence. Olive culture is exceptionally germane to Palestinians. Despite the ongoing occupation and expansion of Zionist settlements in the territory, Palestinians in the West Bank still pickle, cure, and press olives from groves of high caliber and integrity. Nasser Abufarha, a Palestinian from a village named Al-Jalama near Hebron, was the first to establish an internationally recognized standard for Fair Trade olive oil.
In addition to olives, Palestine’s famed citrus, which perfumed old Jaffa’s beaches and alleys, emphasize another agricultural dimension to Palestine’s visual representation. There exists two main varieties: Shamouti, which has a thick skin is seedless and produces a lot of juice, and Baladi with a thinner skin and seeds but also very high in juice content. Both varieties are now exported as Israeli.
Another distinguishable Palestinian visual element is the kufiya. Irrefutably Arab, and used as anti-colonial garb in the 1930’s, the kufiya became widely prevalent when the Palestinian leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Yasser Arafat, embraced it as a symbol for resistance and the Palestinian struggle for nationalism in the 1960’s. This did more than underscoring the Arab heritage of Palestine, it attempted to blur the lines between the rich and poor of the Palestinian social class and unite them visually. Palestinians of the diaspora, protestors, and activists around the world today employ the kufiya as a means to communicate oppression and human rights violations. The Palestinian flag is used in a similar manner.
One cannot assess Palestinian visual identity without considering the Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al-Ali. Handala, his popular defiant hero, is always depicted as a child, approximately 10 years of age. Debuting in 1969 in a Kuwaiti newspaper, Handala’s head for the most part, is turned away from the reader. His clothes and hair are suggestive of a bitter youth spent in refugee camps, amidst poverty and occupation. Of main importance are Handala’s hands. They are always tied behind his back. This is to visually represent Handala’s rejection of U.S. intervention, and its biased role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Despite the aforementioned, that summon the facets of Palestinian identity, Palestine remains a collapsed brand. This can be mostly attributed to the manner in which interventions like Oslo have been implemented and the internal skirmishes that subsist between Palestinian political factions. To date, the facilitation of resolution has only been through might and power, as opposed to the securing of rights and interests. A quick appraisal of Palestinian history will conclude that while Palestinians have always had a strong sense of national distinctiveness, they have perpetually failed to bring about their highly coveted independence.
Irrefutably, this is a consequence of Palestine’s uninterrupted, subjugation to war, colonialism, and occupation. The mechanisms set in place which affect and disrupt the Palestine brand, as we know it, have thus been heavily shaped by war and colonialism, more recently perpetuated through the systematic brand that is Israel. Thus, one cannot discuss the brand that is Palestine without considering the ramifications and systems Israel has set in motion for the Palestinians. These systems, cultural or otherwise, have been designed to refute and appropriate Palestinian land, heritage, and culture.
In the consumer and marketing space, where branding is customary practice for solving business problems, branding has had to transcend the standard tactics of practice. Traditionally, this includes building equity and strategy in order to sustain the value of a brand or product. This extension now advocates that brands be also fashioned through a cultural. Thus, by considering the historical context, ethical concerns, and representational conventions, we can contribute, more effectively, to a more successful design or execution of a visual identity.
This commands for an evaluation of the existing Palestinian visual identity. These discoveries may deliver added insight about the brand that is Palestine and enrich the developments or assessments made to the design of a visual identity or the nature in which a Palestinian product or service is delivered or exhibited. There needs to be a platform or summit that can facilitate this research. A strong brand has the muscle to influence consumer behavior and induce change. Products, services, and even symbols which do that successfully set trends, inspire, and delight simultaneously.
Branding is a tool of soft power that the Palestinians should look at more closely. The visual identity of Palestine, as it exists today although filled with context, is malnourished, especially when faced against the dynamics that work systematically to disaffirm it. We need to evaluate the existing visual identity of Palestine and identify opportunities that can fortify and unify the brand and the people.
© 2014 Words and Art by Faris Habayeb