Unlocking Brand Palestine


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 Faris Habayeb

4 thoughts on “Unlocking Brand Palestine

  1. I hope I can offer some constructive criticism. The graphics are mediocre and they are not fully representative in my view.

    The flag – According to Dr Mahdi Abdul Hadi of PASSIA, the colours of the Palestinian flag are rooted in Islam; red is linked to Khawarij and the conquest of North Africa and Andalusia, black to Mecca, white to the Umayyad Dynasty, and green to the Fatimid’s. Apparently the red colour also came to symbolize the Ashrafs of Hijaz and the Hashemites. It might of been useful at unifying people in fighting the Ottomans, but it doesn’t express anything unique about Palestinian heritage, or show any other layers of their history – it just draws them into the wider Arab/Muslim masses, despite the fact there are other religions in the region, as well as atheists and agnostics, and people who don’t identify with the ‘Arab’ label, or pan-Arabism.
    Furthermore, while the idea of solidarity is nice in theory, and sometimes in practise, experience has shown us that Palestinians have actually been abused by fellow Arabs/Muslims, and used as pawns, regardless of how much they might fly each others flags. It is stupid to go from throwing off the yoke of Ottoman rule to then being slaves to Arabs.

    Monuments – The Dome in Jerusalem is iconic, but its not inclusive of other people. It further perpetuates the idea in peoples mind that Palestinian equals Arab/Muslim.
    Its not hard to find a variety of different monuments that could be used and would speak to many people, not just one section of society.

    Keys – The ‘Nakba’ is a historical fact and its hard to ignore. The keys are a symbol associated with it. Building a collective memory, with the ‘Nakba’ as a dominate part of it doesn’t feel very progressive or empowering. Its also not part of everyone’s history. In regards to the right of return, this would be the apex of justice being served in the eyes of many Palestinians. On the one hand there is a deep attachment to the land (as in Israel-Palestine), hence the reluctance to just settle in any country. On the other hand, holding onto the dream of returning could be acting as a hindrance.

    Land and agriculture – This made more sense.

    Kufiya – In the opening line of the paragraph on the kufiya, you say “Another distinguishable Palestinian visual element is the kufiya.” and then refer to it as “irrefutably Arab.” In that case, I would argue that the kufiya, like the flag, says more about pan-Arabism than highlighting anything distinct or unique about Palestinians. It is true that through Arafat wearing it, it came to be a unifying symbol, but in the same paragraph you further reinforce the idea of Palestine as Arab by stating “this did more than underscoring the Arab heritage of Palestine.” Through reading history, one can see that Palestine has history stretching back way before the Islamic Arab conquests, so is therefore not just Arab in its heritage. It is ironic that the very things Palestinians are appropriating in national struggles against colonialism like the kufiya and the flag, are themselves items linked to colonization (Arab/Muslim imperialism).

    The designs shown reinforce the idea/narrative of suffering oppression and being victim, which isn’t very empowering. While there is some historical reality to them, they create a shakey sense of identity, which lacks agency.
    Using things that only resonate with the ideology of Arabism/Islamism, excludes the many other layers of heritage so creates an imbalanced national consciousness.

    1. Thanks for your feedback. I was on the road and wasn’t able to see your comments till now. You have raised some great points. The premise behind this blog post served as my Master’s Capstone at Columbia University. The research explored the ways in which branding can be used as a strategy to challenge the status quo for Palestine. The piece wasn’t intended to prescribe the artifacts (Muslim in their meaning or otherwise) as the visual answer to Brand Palestine. Rather, it was a survey of existing visuals that create an emotional pull for the Palestinians, concluding with a rhetorical call to action.

      Indeed, the Palestinian flag and Dome of the Rock are explicit with their ties to Islam. But the solution shouldn’t dictate a flag redesign. This was attempted in Iraq in 2004, and failed to win the hearts of the Iraqi masses. And while, yes, the kufiya is pan Arab as much as it is Palestinian, it’s meaning today, especially in the diaspora is also representative of Palestinian defiance, a strong theme for Palestinians, and not one that we should disregard completely.

      We can both agree that an Arab, Muslim brand, defiant to colonization, oppression, and one that leverages a victimized narrative to create equity for the Palestinians, is most likely going to flounder or contribute to the status quo. Having said that, we need to keep in mind that branding nations isn’t like branding corporations. Facing the structures that work against it, Palestine is Arab, Muslim and Christian, as opposed to Jewish or Israeli. Agriculture is a profane solution and we have seen this succeed as Palestinian olive oil has appeared around the world. But what other opportunities do the Palestinians have?

      What my research led me to believe is that the answer lies in the diaspora. In an ideal scenario, Palestinians of the diaspora would get together and explore the solutions as a new community dedicated to Brand Palestine. It’s my way of saying you need to go outside in order to bring change or transform the situation from within.

      1. I apologise if I came across as overly critical. It wasn’t my intention to outright ignore the Arab/Muslim aspect of Palestinian heritage, but more that there is a real need to start including and highlighting other layers of history.

        You are right to point out the significance of the kufiya as a symbol of resistance amongst Palestinians. What I find problematic however, is that it a) harks back to days gone by and the pan-Arab era, b) is worn all over the ‘Arab world’, the peninsular in particular, and c) it doesn’t feel very progressive to build an identity based purely on resistance, defiance, suffering. Especially as Palestinians suffer so much at the hands of other Arabs, not just Israel and/or the west.

        “Facing the structures that work against it, Palestine is Arab, Muslim and Christian, as opposed to Jewish or Israeli.”

        The above isn’t an untrue statement; indeed, what many see in mainstream media regarding Palestine is that it is Arab Muslim and Christian. In my opinion, part of the problem, is that there is a lack of acceptance of one another on both sides, so to speak; some Israeli’s don;t want to acknowledge Palestinians, and some Palestinians don’t want to acknowledge Israel.
        Furthermore, some Palestinians seem to fail to accept that the land, was at one point in history Jewish, and that they may well have Jewish ancestors, as well as Christian ones. Likewise, some Israeli’s don’t want to accept that the land was populated prior to the modern nation state of Israel coming into existence, or acknowledge that Palestinians are not the same as all other Arabs. This narrative seems to be dictated by a religious psyche, on both sides. Atheists and agnostics might have different views, but sadly they don;t have much of a say (as is the case with the atheist Palestinian blogger who jailed and now lives in France).
        The fact that many Palestinians have appropriated items that are found all over the Arab world (the flag and kufiya) as part of the identity for their national struggle sadly just reinforces the idea they are no different from other Arabs.

        The olive is a very powerful Palestinian symbol, and it highlights something much more unique. It also shows us about the feeling of attachment to the land Palestinians have.

        To summarise, there is no need to completely ignore the Arab/Muslim aspect of Palestinian heritage; it is a fact of history. However, currently it seems over represented, which means many other Palestinians are being excluded. It is a narrow and limiting way to identify and leaves out so many other aspects of history.
        The Palestinian diaspora could do with very critically examining their national struggle and consciousness and work to make it more inclusive so it is fully representative of all people, not just those who identify with one or two political strands and religions. That would mean having to re-evaluate the very items they currently use as they themselves are linked to other forms of imperialism (Arab/Muslim supremacy).
        Likewise, the ‘Nakba’ did actually happen, and there is continued suffering, but it isn’t everyone’s history, and building a national history based on suffering and oppression just seems to create a victim mentality, which isn’t actually helping Palestinians move forward – even some of their political leaders play the victim (like Saeb Erekat). Those in the diaspora who really want change need to reject the victim narrative their leaders feed them.
        Scrambling for an Arabian origin and hanging on to pan-Arabism isn’t the way forward. The sooner Palestinians start to view themselves as active agents, with a history tied in with Egypt and the ancient Mediterranean the better.

  2. The graphics themselves are easy on the eye. However, I do feel the contents of them is not fully or properly representative of Palestine.

    For example, the flag is linked to various past Muslim dynasties in the MENA. It doesn’t really tell me anything unique about Palestine.
    Although it’s currently the Palestinian flag, it feels more representative of Islam and pan-Arabism than it is of Palestine.

    The Jerusalem sky line is iconic, and the author rightly notes the strong symbolism regarding the dome of the rock. A possible problem of only using the dome in images of Palestine, is that it has the potential to make people think that Palestine equals Muslim, which means all the other diverse groups of people (like the Copts, Assyrians/Aramaeans, Armenians, Greeks, Bahai’s etc) are left out and unrepresented.
    There are plenty of other images that could be used that would speak to a whole cross section of Palestinian and Israeli society, and be much more inclusive.

    The kaffiya, like the flag, isn’t really unique to Palestine – it’s worn all the MENA, the Arabian Peninsular in particular. It tells me about the Arab/Islamic aspect of Palestinian heritage, but nothing about previous layers.

    Keys, in the Palestinian context, are a powerful symbol – it reminds them about the ‘Nakba’, and about the right to return. The flip side is that using an image that is connected to Palestinian suffering, feeds into the victim narrative that many Palestinians have come to believe in and base their identity on. It is not that this suffering didn’t happen, it’s just that it can be dangerous to build a national identity with things like suffering and oppression at its core. Rendering people as victims can also take away agency and leave people feeling down on themselves and powerless.

    Hope that helps (and hope that this post gets published as my original one didn’t).

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