The Palestinian History Tapestry

The Palestinian History Tapestry: A Unique Collaborative Project

20 - Aug - 2019


By Khamis Elessi & Rami Ruhmi , 2019

When words fail to describe the deep connection between the land of Palestine and its people, the tangible history remains the expressive voice of affiliation - the Olive, the Flag, the Key. Embroidery and poetry have a lot to tell us about the people, their heritage and history of the land.  When Palestine is mentioned, there are attempts to blur its existence, and to intimidate people’s courageous efforts to keep the recognition of their land alive.  Palestinians, wherever they are, will remain loyal to their beloved land and to relating its history. 


The origins of the Palestinian History Tapestry

Jan Chalmers, a British nurse, lived in Gaza in 1969 and 1970 and worked for the maternal and child health programme at the UNRWA clinic in Jabalia. While there, Jan witnessed and learned about the traditional embroidery skills of Palestinian women.  Some years after her time in Gaza, Jan was involved in the creation of a history tapestry of the Xhosa people stitched by poor South African women. The resulting 126-metre tapestry is now displayed permanently in the Parliament House in Cape Town. The experience acquired from her involvement in this Keiskamma Tapestry encouraged her to seek agreement from Palestinian embroiderers to record Palestinian history and heritage, using the beautiful cross stitch for which Palestinian women are known.

The development of the Palestinian History Tapestry Project

Jan worked with Palestinian and British friends to initiate a non-profit project team to invite Palestinian embroiderers to help create a Palestinian History Tapestry.  The first group of embroiderers were recruited from Gaza, with others recruited in the Naqab, West Bank, East Jerusalem, Lebanon and Jordan.  After 6 years work the first phase of the Palestinian History Tapestry was completed and launched at the P21 Gallery in London on the 70th anniversary of UN Resolution 194, which declared the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes or be compensated for their losses. 

Needles and threads have become the mouthpieces of Palestinian history, recalling the stories of Palestine’s villages and towns and proudly celebrating the lives and heritage of the indigenous people of Palestine. The Tapestry has also celebrated well-known icons of poetry and resistance literature, using language to identify with the land.

Producing the Palestinian History Tapestry

The Palestinian History Tapestry covers the story of Palestine, from the Neolithic period 4,000 BCE to the present. It refers to the Stone-Copper, Bronze and Iron Ages; the Babylonian/Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Early Islamic, Crusader, Ayyubid, Mamluk and Ottoman Periods; up to the disastrous British Military Administration and League of Nations/British Mandate.  From 1948, the theme of the panels is Palestinian steadfastness (sumud) despite repeated attempts – by military and non-military means, to destroy the Palestinian people’s love of their homeland.


The Palestinian embroiderers will continue to be commissioned by the Palestinian History Tapestry Project to create additional illustrative panels relevant to events and themes. The production of the tapestry passes through different steps: drawing, designing, making the embroidery then export it to the UK, where they are frequently on display to the public.  All embroiderers who took part in the making of the Tapestry have been paid for their work.



Stitched with passion; designed with nostalgia. Poetry is a heritage. Language is the identity of the Land. “We have on this land that which makes this life worth living”. Mahmoud Darwish, Palestinian National Poet.



The harvest has been one of the most prominent rituals of Palestinians. It is a kind of social and spiritual union among families and their friends. It is an all-time activity that Palestinians will never abandon, despite the number of autumns that passed on this land.



Decorated Philistine pottery is known for some of the most beautiful motifs on early Iron Age decorated pottery, often featuring birds. 


Besieged Gaza is captured in a panel. The blockade has undermined living conditions, fragmented the economy, and destroyed many other aspects. Although it has been a long-standing suffering for Palestinians, it doesn’t rob them of their dignity and internal liberty. They remain soaring eagles in the skies of liberty.


Despite the suffering endured by Palestinians since the occupation of their homeland, steadfastness and hope for justice survive. These qualities are symbolised in the determined stance of ‘Handala’, a creation of the Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali.



The olive trees take a long time to produce fruit and are the symbol of peace. The fruit Palestinians reap now or then, while a dove carrying an olive branch, will keep soaring to reach that peace.


This homeless Palestinian family is not a specific family, but rather represents countless homeless families. The family passes by their damaged house and take some parts their home with them. These carry memories and a spark of hope, and keep them going on their way.