The art and culture of Palestine and its people is little known in the West. Such poverty of awareness is used to ignore or deny the humanity and agency of an entire people which serves to rationalize or overlook the oppression and violence against Palestine. The simple act of learning, enjoying and sharing Palestinian culture and art can begin to reverse the negative cycle and to enrich and empowering both the giver and the receiver, the observed and the observer. If political means being cultural and interested in the life of another, then what choice is there? It is possible to get a sense of Palestinian culture but it requires enormous time and effort as elements are scattered across the internet, hard to find and even harder to gain a unifying perspective. This page is a limited attempt to assemble a starting point.
Literature & Poetry
Ghassan Kanafani is the great modern Palestinian writer. Born in Akka in 1936, his family was part of the Nakba exile and fled to Lebanon and then to Syria. He lived and worked in Damascus, then Kuwait and later in Beirut from 1960 onwards. He was assassinated by a car bomb planted by Mossad in 1972 in Beirut. In his short life Kanafani had published eighteen books and written hundreds of articles on culture, politics, and the Palestinian people’s struggle. He left an indelible stamp on Palestinian life and identity. He infused his passion with intense expression of Palestinian experience deeply rooted in Arab Palestinian culture, inspired a whole generation during and after his lifetime, both in word and deed.. Am artist, a novelist, a short story writer, a journalist and a political thinker with Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) he was the centre of Palestinian resistance in the sixties until his murder. His most popular writings are: Men in the Sun (1962) which has been made into a classic of Arab cinema The Dupes which can be viewed here; All that’s Left For You (1966) and Return to Haifa (1970) which later became part of collection entitled Palestine’s Children. The great critic and writer John Berger reads Kanafani’s early work Letter from Gaza (1955) at inauguration of the Palestine Festival of Literature in 2008.
Kanafani’s clear thinking and incisive words are evident in this just recently found footage of a 1970 interview in Beirut with Richard Carleton, an Australian journalist.
Mahmoud Darwish, Palestine’s most renown poet was born in al-Birwa, Galilee in 1941 and died in 2008. A poet and author, he won numerous awards worldwide. In his work, Palestine became a metaphor for the loss of Eden, birth and resurrection, and the anguish of dispossession and exile. He has been described as incarnating and reflecting the man of action whose action is poetry.
There are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of his poems, recitations, poems set to music, etc. scattered all over the internet. Wikipedia provides an excellent overview of his life. Almost 100 of his poems can be found on PoemHunter site. See a worthwhile essay about Darwish’s life and work.
Wall and Poster Art
In classic blowback, Israel’s Apartheid Wall, while criminal (ruling of International Court of Justice 2004) and horrific in its impact on life, economy and society, also handed Palestinians the greatest continuous graffiti wall on which to express and share their situation, struggles, dreams and hopes with each other and the world. It brought international artists including Banksy, the biggest name in graffiti and even ordinary tourists to make contributions. A modest study of the phenomena is available in The West Bank Wall as Canvas: Art and Graffiti in Palestine/Israel. There are a number of books which portray the wall art but the best and most dynamic way to view the greatest number of art pieces is using a search engine under the “images” tab – search term: “Palestine Israel wall art” among other more specific ones.
A true treasure trove of history and of resistance art, the Palestine Poster Project Archives / Liberation Graphics is unique in the world and has been nominated for UNESCO International Memory of the World Register. The strictly Palestine collection consists of 1.600 works on paper created by Palestinian and international artists in solidarity with the quest for Palestinian liberation and self-determination. These documents cover a critical period in Palestinian history — the second half of the twentieth century when Palestinians organized and asserted themselves under conditions of invasion, exile and occupation. There are over 10,000 other posters related in some way to Palestine including Zionist sources.
As the dominant medium today to reach and educate, films portraying the history or reality of present-day Palestine and the experience of its people are extremely important and effective. Both non-fiction and feature, long and short, produced by individuals or institutions, academic or activist, by Palestinians or Israelis or other, all have an immense value. Films about Palestine are latecomers and still relatively few. However, they are powerful and many can be found on the internet either free (sometimes chopped into parts) or as streamed content.
The best catalogue for Palestinian films or documentaries can be found at PalestineDocs which is a web resource on films chronicling the life of Palestinians in and outside the middle east. It organizes films by theme and gives a summary of each film and where it can be viewed or obtained. Another older listing is Arab Film Distribution. A basic list is available on Wikipedia. An interesting compendium of many things Palestinian film can be found here. Finally, Jewish Voices for Peace advertises a library of 70 films you can watch for free (this may vary over time as films are removed from YouTube etc.). An excellent book on Palestinian cinema is Dreams of a Nation by Hamid Dabashi, see here for a review.
Often fiction versus non-fiction elements in Palestinian films are difficult to separate or identify. These films are more story-based using fictional characters to illustrate life and society in modern Palestine under occupation or inside Israel. The well-known directors are Elia Suleiman, Michel Khleifi, Hany Abu-Assad, Annemarie Jacir and many others. Among the first films to be noticed internationally is Wedding in Galilee which won the Cannes Prize in 1987. In 2005, Paradise Now brought new recognition particularly in North America. Salt of This Sea from 2008 was another popular film. Chronicle of a Disappearance from 1996. The Time That Remains from 2009. More will be added. Many more are available by searching.
Art & Craft
fununarts.com Funun Arts is a beautiful website displaying the works of Palestinian visual artists – Ismail Shammout and Tamam El-Akhal. It has the best reproductions of The Exodus and The Odyssey – a series of monumental paintings depicting the story of Palestine through the 20th century.
masterspalestinianart.com Masters of Palestinian Art is another beautiful site that displays the works of seven contemprary Palestinian painters – Abed Abdi, Nabil Anani, Asad Azi, Tayseer Barakat, Ibrahim Hazimeh, Sliman Mansour, Samir Salameh. Each has a gallery and biography. Also available are a number of documentaries and curated exhibitions.
Made in Palestine, a breakthrough exhibition launched in 2003 at The Station Museum in Houston TX and toured other cities in the US. Preserved on the internet showing the art of a wide selection of Palestinian artists in differernt media as well as poems and essays.
A short list of notable Palestinian artists as listed in Wikipedia under “Palestinian Art” – a very useful entry.
Umayyah Juha, Tayseer Barakat, Abed Abdi, Abu Saymeh, Naji Al-Ali, Kamal Boullata, Nasr Abdel Aziz Eleyan, Ibrahim Ghannam, Mustafa Al-Hallaj, Hasan Hourani, Mona Hatoum, Emily Jacir, Sari Ibrahim Khoury, Bissan Rafe, Sliman Mansour, Abdul Hay Mosallam, Ismail Shammout, Sharif Waked, Hisham Zreiq, Samia Halaby, Jumana El Husseini, Sama Raena Alshaibi, Steve Sabella, Marwan Isa, Nabil Anani, Abdelrahman al Muzain, Khaled Hourani, Hani Zurob, Amer Shomali, Mirna Bamieh, Tamam al Akhal, Nicola al Saig, Laila al Shawa, Hazem Harb, Mohammed Joha. There are many other names which can be added. Please search online on these names.
Palestinian embroidery is the most visible of the traditional crafts outside Palestine. The Palestinian embroider website is a comprehensive site providing history and overview of the craft and its cultural role. It provides how-to tips and gives many patterns and designs with interpretation of symbols and meanings.
Another gem, having a mission to preserve Palestinian culture this website offers a rich and deep collection of many forms of Palestinian craft, the Palestine Costume Archive is a treasure worth visiting.
Search on the name Widad Kuwar who is the foremost authority on Palestinian embroidery and dresses. She has a museum in Amman, Jordan voted “best museum in Jordan” according to TripAdvisor. Visit for an overview of embroidery and dresses by region of Palestine.
Al-hakaya offers a survey of the many crafts practiced in “greater Syria” which is the larger area of present-day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel and occupied Palestine. Crafts include: Embroidery, Pottery, Weaving, Mosaic Art, Mother of pearl, Glassmaking, Basketry, Metalwork, Soapmaking, Sand Bottles, Jewelry and Woodwork.