Poetry has a strong position throughout the Arabic-speaking world, and this also applies in the Palestinian context. In all forms of expression – literature, music, film, visual arts and graffiti – the longing for the lost land and suffering during occupation are prominent themes.
The two best-known authors, internationally, are Mahmoud Darwish (1941–2008) and Edward Said (1935–2013). Both have been translated into Swedish.
Darwish was primarily known as a poet, but also formulated the Palestinian Declaration of Independence in 1988. Darwish was born in the village of al-Birwah east of Akko, today northern Israel.
Said, a professor of literature in the United States but born in Jerusalem, wrote the well-known book Orientalism where he sharply questions the Western world’s view of the Orient.
Both were also politically active, but they left their missions in the early 1990s, as they were critical of the Oslo process’s negotiating results and the exercise of power in the Palestinian Authority that followed Yasir Arafat’s leadership (see Modern History).
Emile Habibi (1922–1996), who served in Israel and was elected to Parliament as a Communist, portrayed the experiences of Arabs who remained in the new state of Israel after the war of 1948–1949. His most famous works are in the Swedish translation Said Peptimisten.
Architecture and archeology can be heavily loaded topics especially in Jerusalem, where places that are important to different religions are enclosed and partly on top of each other in different layers of culture. There are several places where religions have competing claims. The Ibrahim Mosque in Hebron (al-Khalil) is erected in a place called the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
The Old City of Jerusalem houses the al-Aqsa Mosque, which is the third most important site in Islam after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Next to the mosque up on the Temple Mount also stands the Klippdomen with tile-decorated facade and a large golden dome. The buildings basically date back to the 600s. In Arabic, the area is called al-Haram al-Sharif.
The Western Wall next to the Temple Mount, sometimes called the Wailing Wall, is a gathering place for Jews in prayer. The wall is believed to be a remnant of an ancient Jewish temple. An open space next door is also used for national, Israeli celebrations. Shortly after the occupation of Jerusalem in 1967, Israel demolished the old Moroccan neighborhood near the wall to increase accessibility for Jews who wanted to visit the site.
The most famous buildings in Christianity are the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, which are erected in places associated with the tradition of Jesus’ birth and death.
The Palestinian film industry is small but internationally regarded. In 2017, documentary Istiyad Ashbah (Hunting for the Ghosts) was rewarded by Raed Andoni with the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. In 2016, the audience’s award for best feature film in Berlin went to an Arabic-language hip-hop film, Junction 48, with Israeli director and Palestinian actors. At the Cannes Festival in France 2018, Palestine had for the first time an official representation in place.
Rim Banna (1966–2018), singer and composer, was from Nazareth in Israel, but the songs she performed with often had patriotic Palestinian motives.
Dabka is a folk dance with alternating singing, where the participants form a chain and move during rhythmic stomping. The musical accompaniment is sparse. A dabka can last a long time.
The checkered garment known to us as the Palestinian shawl is called Arabic kufiyya (= kufisk: from the city of Kufa, Iraq). The two-color cotton shawl, often black and white, is also available in other colors and is used in many countries in the Middle East. Some manufacturing takes place in Palestine, in the city of Hebron, which is known for its small industry.
The women’s headscarf, hijab, is most common in the Gaza Strip, where it was also mandated in schools by the Islamist movement Hamas, which controls Gaza. However, wearing a hijab can also be seen as a political manifestation; it has received a special charge through incidents at roadblocks, where Israeli soldiers forced women to take off the shawl. Palestinian dresses traditionally have embroidery on a black or white background.