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The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture
Jonathan M. BloomJonathan M. Bloom, Sheila S. BlairSheila S. Blair


[Arab. Filasṭīn].

Region between the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian desert, containing sites holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims. The exact borders have varied in different periods, but the term has come to be applied to the area now covered by Israel and Jordan as well as the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The first permanent agricultural settlements were established in 8000 bce at Jericho. After c.1200 bce the coastal zone of Palestine was settled by the Peleset, later known as the Philistines, from whom the name of the region is derived. By 1000 bce the area was dominated by Hebrew tribes, who made Jerusalem their capital. The Kingdom of Palestine became divided into the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah, but these were destroyed, the former by Assyria in 721 bce and the latter by Babylonia in 587 bce. After a succession of various rulers, including Alexander the Great, the Romans occupied Jerusalem in 70 ce. As the place of Christ's life and passion, the region became a focus of Christian piety, and such sites as Bethlehem and the Holy Sepulcher were marked by monumental constructions from the 4th century, when the region came under Byzantine rule. After the Persians briefly occupied Jerusalem in the early 7th century, Muslims conquered the entire region by 641. Like others before them, they venerated sites associated with biblical patriarchs, and Jerusalem enjoyed special status, because it had been the first focus of prayer. By the 8th century, Muslims generally accepted Jerusalem as the third sanctuary of Islam after Mecca and Medina, and Islam began to replace Christianity as the dominant religion. The Crusaders held Jerusalem from 1099 to 1187 and maintained a presence in Palestine until they were expelled by the Mamluk rulers of Egypt, under whose rule such cities as Jerusalem and Gaza were embellished with fine buildings (see Architecture, §VI, C, 1).

Jerusalem continued to be a focus of patronage under the Ottomans, who controlled Palestine from 1516 to 1918, when the British invaded the area during World War I. The British Mandate over Palestine, covering the areas on both sides of the Jordan River, was approved by the League of Nations in July 1922. Direct British administration was established in the region west of the Jordan; the emirate of Transjordan (later Jordan) was established to the east. Despite conflicting Arab and Jewish claims, Britain's support for Zionism in the Balfour Declaration and a huge rise in the Jewish population in the 1930s finally resulted in the foundation of the independent state of Israel in 1948. Territorial gains from Jordan, Egypt and Syria in 1963 and 1973 greatly increased the Palestinian population under Israeli control. The region of Sinai was returned to Egypt in 1978. It was not until 1993, however, that the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed a preliminary agreement for the eventual withdrawal of Israeli forces and the transfer of administrative responsiblities within the occupied areas.

Palestinian art can be understood historically to encompass not only the traditional Islamic “high” art of the region, such as the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, but also the folk arts and crafts traditionally practiced by Palestinians, such as pottery, jewelry and textiles. Ramallah ware is a thin-walled earthenware painted in red with simple geometric and plant designs. Palestinian folk jewelry includes bridal headdresses covered with coins, chokers, chains, bracelets and amulets, most of it made of silver, sometimes studded with coral, amber or agate. Textiles and embroidery have long played a major role in all walks of Palestinian life, from townsfolk and villagers to Bedouin. Dresses and wraps were traditionally embroidered, often in red and orange, with a variety of fine geometric patterns.

Modern Palestinian art can be understood to encompass not only the work of Palestinian artists practicing in Israel and the Palestinian territories, but also that of Palestinian refugees and émigrés working in the Arab world, Europe and America. In the early 20th century some Palestinian artists in Jerusalem painted religious works to sell to pilgrims as souvenirs. During the Mandate period the British had little interest in training artists. Some, such as Daoud Zalatino (b. 1906), who painted huge historical canvases, were largely self-taught, while others studied abroad. Jamal Badran (1909–99) was the first Palestinian to study at the School of the Arts and Decorations in Cairo, and after he returned to Jerusalem, he trained many young artists in his studio. After an Australian fanatic firebombed the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in 1962, he recreated some of its architectural decoration. Hanna Musmar (1898–1988) was sent to Germany to study ceramics; he returned to Nazareth, where he made not only hand-painted vases, but also murals and sculptures dealing with larger issues. Ismail Shammout (1930–2006) was encouraged by Zalatino before he was forced to flee to Gaza in 1948. He eventually made his way to Cairo, where he trained under Egyptian artists at the College of Fine Arts. He held the first one-man show in Palestine at Gaza in 1953 and in the following year held the first group show of Palestinian artists in Cairo, including the work of Tamam Akhal (b. 1935). Shammout became the official painter of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

After the establishment of the State of Israel, some Palestinian artists trained in Israeli art schools and others joined with Israeli artists in projects and group shows. For example, in 1978 Abed Abidi (b. 1942) worked with the Israeli artist Gershon Knespel on a bas-relief monument in the village of Sakhneen commemorating six protesters shot dead during a demonstration. A 1985 exhibition entitled “Place Scape” included four Palestinians and ten Israelis all dealing with the landscape of Jerusalem.

Much Palestinian art of the late 20th century and early 21st reflects artists’ reaction to the continued occupation. leila Shawa was born in Gaza but educated in Italy and Austria; her work addresses issues ranging from the role of women to the plight of Palestinian children. Vera Tamari (b. Jerusalem, 1945) studied ceramics in Beirut and Florence as well as the history of Islamic art at Oxford; she now teaches at Ramallah. kamal Boullata trained in Italy and the USA; his silkscreen compositions often use the angular kufic script and involve Christian and Muslim texts. In 1996 the Khalil Kakakini Cultural Center Foundation was established in Ramallah to promote the arts and culture in Palestine.


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