On July 20, 2014, our friend Samar Alhallaq, who was aged 29 years, her 6-year-old son Kenan, her 4-year-old son Saji, and her 8-month unborn child were killed in Gaza, together with five other members of their wider family. An Israeli shell demolished the residential building to which they had fled in trying to seek shelter from Israel’s attacks.
We came to know Samar and her little boys when they came to Oxford, UK, during the summer of 2013, to join Samar’s husband Hassan. Hassan was the third annual scholar awarded the Gaza Oxford Brookes University Scholarship, which was established after Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2008—2009. Hassan won the Technologies Prize awarded by Oxford Brookes University’s Department of Computing and Communication for outstanding achievement in the Masters Degree of Science in eBusiness.
We saw quite a lot of the Alhallaq family last summer, and, despite not having any language in common, Kenan and Saji seemed to get on well with Millie and Layla, our grandchildren who live with us. On one of the family’s visits to our home, we introduced Samar to the Palestinian History Tapestry Project, which has been set up to extend friendship and support to Palestinian women.
The Palestinian History Tapestry Project is a charity that was established to create a tapestry based on individually embroidered panels. Each panel is sewn with traditional Palestinian cross stitch and illustrates the life and times of the Palestinian people. The patterns used in Palestinian embroidery are traditionally based on geometrical shapes and stylised images, but they also sometimes include designs that reflect daily life and events. Samar, who had been taught to embroider as a child by the older women in her family, became interested in this project and thought she might like to contribute. She stitched a small panel entitled Samidoun, which means “We Are Steadfast” (figure 1). It is based on a symbol used to express solidarity with women hunger strikers in Israeli prisons.
Samar said that she liked the idea of spreading Palestinian history worldwide through stitches made by Palestinian women. On her return to Gaza, she met up with Jamila Alza’anin—the second Gaza Oxford Brookes University scholar—who was working voluntarily to commission panels for the Palestinian History Tapestry Project. Jamila was delighted when Samar offered to help her coordinate the contributions of the various embroidery groups in Gaza. The beautiful panels the groups produce depict various tableaux, ranging from historical events to scenes and activities of daily life, such as the roof tops and local produce of Gaza (figure 2) and women celebrating together at a Henna party (figures 3).