Is that your kaffiyeh or are you just happy to see me?How do you know when the latest sartorial tchotchke in the red-tinged, Che Guevara and Bu$hitler-emblazoned, ironically lucrative world of radical leftist fashion has finally arrived to the mainstream of clueless actors, disaffected hipsters and identity-hunting college freshman? When it gets heralded in Los Angeles and declared officially passé in San Francisco.

Of what do I speak? The kaffiyeh, of course – the Arab headdress that was transformed by Yassir Arafat and Leila Khaled from Bedouin sunblock to wearable identification with the Palestinian cause, and was further transformed by white left-wing Europeans and Americans who never met a gun-toting brown person they didn’t like into the perfect complement to a Che Guevara T-shirt and “Israel = APARTHEID” pin. Curiously, the same kind of people who cry “cultural appropriation!” when a white dude dares to sing reggae have no problem wearing traditional Arab head coverings as funky scarves, but I digress.

The aforelinked LA Times article delves into the usage, ancient and modern, of the kaffiyeh, and includes a soundbite from some random guy with a computer who likes to present himself as an expert when the media calls:

The donning of kaffiyehs is not exactly new. Left-leaning urbanites and activists all over, not to mention countless millions in the Arab world for whom these scarves are as commonplace as baseball caps, have been wearing them for decades.

But since last year, the kaffiyeh has begun showing up more and more on the streets, appearing suddenly in hip neighborhoods in New York, throughout Europe and here in Hollywood, Silver Lake and Echo Park. Even hipsters in Israel are wearing it. “Want to make your parents angry and want to be provocative?” said Jerusalem Web designer David Abitbol, co-founder of the blog “Wear a kaffiyeh.”

I think that I may have to respectfully disagree with this Mr. Abitbol, whoever he may be. I don’t think many Israeli Jews wear kaffiyehs around in public, at least in Jerusalem, probably at least in part because everyone from their parents to the guy in the falafel kiosk would scream at them for jetting about the town wearing a scarf that, thanks to Yassir Arafat and has cronies, has come to symbolize mutilations of innocent people, stabbings, shootings, bus bombings and the collapse of any remote hope for negotiated peace. Say what you want about Israeli Jews’ lack of consideration for other people, most of them are quite cognizant that for many Israeli people, a kaffiyeh does not scream “Free Palestine,” it screams “blood.” Which is not to say that I don’t see plenty of kaffiyehs around Jerusalem, but the ones I see are draped around two groups of people: Arabs and the ubiquitous foreign, non-Jewish, non-Arab, Palestinian solidarity activists.

Livin' la vida Palestina.I don’t begrudge Arabs of their right to wear kaffiyehs. For starters, of course, it’s their culture. And insofar as the kaffiyeh is a nationalist symbol, if I want to keep defining myself as a Zionist, i.e. someone who supports the Jews’ right to national determination, I can’t deny the national expression of another people (as long as their national expression doesn’t deny the right of mine to exist, which is of course the problem around these parts).

But that brings me to those Palestinian solidarity activists. For them the kaffiyeh is only partly an expression of identification with the Palestinian cause – the other part, perhaps the greater part, is sticking a thumb into the eye of the State of Israel, the Zionist enterprise, and every Jewish Israeli man, woman and child they pass on the street. It’s a cheap way of screaming, “Look at me, you Zionist apartheid pigs!” while they take advantage of the many amenities those selfsame Zionist apartheid pigs brought to the region.

Let’s paint a portrait of the typical Palestinian solidarity activist: they are American or Canadian. They are white. They are rarely either Jewish or Arab. They are upper-middle-class to upper class. They are in their 20s. They are well-educated, although their knowledge of the history of Jews, Zionism, Palestinians and Arabs are often sorely lacking or at least filtered through the bottleneck of standard far left-wing intellectual ideology. Their Western social mores, their use of alcohol and sometimes drugs, their uncovered hair and their foreign ideologies often clash very sharply with the conservative, traditional and highly religious Islamic areas in which they find themselves (which confuses them, because after all, they think they’re helping). They can be found kicking back in downtown Tel Aviv or Jerusalem after a long day at a Hevron checkpoint or a Rafah refugee camp, knocking back bottles of Taybeh, the Palestinian beer, because a shot of whiskey or a Goldstar would represent an inexcusable betrayal of the Cause and an inappropriate monetary endorsement of Zio-nazism. They don’t know any Israelis, except the pet Israelis their particular solidarity movement of choice keeps around to deflect any charges of anti-Israelism or anti-Semitism, who are about as representative of general Israeli society as a cold bottle of Taybeh is of general Palestinian society. They swap stories about protesting house demolitions, and sharing moments with their newfound Palestinian charges.

By day, they like to get into the action, the heavy stuff – the checkpoint monitoring, the picture-taking, the meetings with Palestinian activists, standing in front of bulldozers, throwing rocks at riot police at that day’s camera-ready anti-security barrier demonstration. Somehow they’ve gotten it into their heads, counter to all logic, that an effective way to help the Palestinians is to persistently scream at, physically harrass and in general hamper the efforts of a few 19-year-old kids in uniform who can’t legally do anything to stop them, 19-year-old kids already unduly stressed by the long hours and high risks of checkpoint duty, who just want to be at home with their family and friends and their bed and their mom’s cooking. Children of privilege, they are irrationally convinced that their Americanness and their whiteness ensures that nothing worse than being dragged away from a riot zone will ever happen to them, that they are somehow immune to the vagaries of the very real war in which they’ve embroiled themselves – and as such, react with utter shock and rage after the extremely rare occurences wherein one of their number stands in front of a moving bulldozer and gets run over, or walks into a live fire zone and gets shot.

So why do they come? Certainly they have a passion for justice, sometimes universal justice, sometimes only justice insofar as it extends to their favorite revolutionary group. But why do they come to Israel specifically, whose conflict with the Palestinians, when looked at objectively and in light of all current world conflict, is pretty low on the worldwide scale of violence, brutality and injustice (which is not to say that those things don’t exist here). Why do we see so many people willing to go to the Palestinian Territories and next to none willing to go to Tibet or Darfur, both current instances of real live genocide and ethnic cleansing? Why do they not march on Beijing? Why do they not rally at the DMZ in Korea? Why do they not distribute food and medicine and education to malnourished AIDS-infected children in sub-Saharan Africa?

Simple: those places are highly dangerous, often take a much dimmer view towards foreign interlopers than the Israeli government and army, don’t get hyperactive media attention and in general aren’t developed Western nations with clubs and comprehensive bus service and youth hostels and plentiful bars. Where else but Israel can you feel like a hero fighting against an army who will go out of its way to make sure you come to no serious harm? Where else can you go from fighting the Man in a refugee camp to a hamburger and a beer in a nice restaurant in a clean and modern city where everyone speaks English, all in the space of a couple hours at most? Where else can you mug for the international news cameras at an anti-security barrier protest in Bethlehem and send all your friends back home, who think you’re so brave, the link to the CNN Video that has you throwing a rock at a cop, or the Indymedia article about your fearless exploits? You think you can do that in Zimbabwe? Why would you risk a long stay in a cell in a Chinese jail if you can get easy glory, relative safety and cheap hashish all in one place?

Look, I know a lot of these guys and girls are perfectly nice, well-meaning people who just haven’t been exposed to, or have purposely avoided, any sort of nuance. And I know some of them are doing genuinely good work. I’m not a right-wing zealot. I support the creation of a Palestinian state. I want the Palestinian people to succeed economically and culturally, as long as the Jews can have a safe and secure state beside them. But I’m honestly really sick of seeing the Palestinian people’s self-proclaimed advocates walking around in those damn scarves ignorant of what they might mean to anybody here, interested only in making a callow “statement,” wearing their uber-chic radicalism around their neck in the Holy City.

Take your kaffiyehs and go home.

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  • As a white male who apparently now belongs to the upper classes according to another Jewlicious blogger, I totally and completely approve of this media image of a female.

  • that was upper MIDDLE class, middle, with the word middle in the middle.

    And nice post michael.

  • Excellent post. In the small NoCal town where I live, kaffiyehs are the latest accessory of the hippies-with-conscience clique; they go real nice with Tibetan prayer beads. And although I was able to dance at a drum circle yesterday with one of my neighbors, who was wearing her “Free Palestine” t-shirt for like the tenth time in three weeks, at some point I’m going to grab one of those f*ing stripey fringed scarves off some trustfunding do-gooder and blow my nose in it.

    There. I feel much better now.

  • The Middle and Laya: while I like you both, if your little squabble takes over my post, I swear to God, I will send ninjas. Don’t think I won’t.

    Jessica Leigh: that made me laugh. Keep the anger (and snot) flowing in the belly of the hippie radical chic beast that is California.

  • michael – we’ll try to end it here with my telling the middle that I think he’s hit a record for a 24 hour period of the most instances of telling me what I’m really saying, dispite, you know, what I’m saying. I’m duly impressed.

    But maybe we’ll call a hudna. Just think of the children Michael.

  • didn’t you guys already blog about this?
    i was a little sad to see the lovely Devendra Banhart wearing a keffiyeh (completing the look with Che-like facial hair and a nice long mane)in a photo and thereby perpetuating this absurd trend, but at least he has the good fashion sense to wear it as a scarf rather than headwear. The woman photographed up there just looks silly.

  • By Hudna, Laya really means to say that in about 10 years, when she’s had a chance to regroup, she will attack again.

  • or you could declare a sulha and make it for real real. i believe a hudna is by definition a chilly peace, themiddle, and i don’t think dar-al-harb makes any secret of it, either.

  • Technically, a hudna isn’t a peace at all, but a temporary cease-fire to allow the warring sides to regroup. According to at least some interpretations of Islamic law, the maximum amount of time permissible for a hudna with kuffar is ten years, which I imagine makes a lot of people nervous around year nine. Which is I guess what the Middle was getting at.

  • Correcto, Michaelicious, plus I was getting to explain what Laya was trying to say. Again. These, alas, are the small pleasures God grants us in life.

  • I don’t know all the different colors and what they mean, but if someone is going to wear one, it would be nice to have one with little pictures of Mohammed on it.

  • I hate Hippies in all their forms!! Tell those Tree huggin hippies to go work a 40 hour work week, and go major in something worthwhile not Philosophy (no offense Mufti), English Lit, poetry, and other crap (sorry for pissing off 33% of Jewlicious) but seriously what are u going to do with it OY@!

  • amishav, apparently Ricky Martin doesn’t either. supposedly the keffiyeh he was wearing had written upon it “al-quds lana” – “Jerusalem is ours.” He issued an apology a few days later and, though it seemed impossible, came out an even bigger jackass than he was before.
    DiGiTaL, last time I checked there is no poetry major. Literature encompasses poetry as well as the questionable Dan Brown novels gracing America’s nightstands. And I’ll thank you to let English majors and liberal arts students in general decide for ourselves what is worthwhile.

  • I’m going into the Rabbinate… But maybe I’m not the hippy your describing. I balance my full time Poli-Sci/Legal Study course load with 3 jobs. (Admitadly all part time, but adding up to more then 40 hours a week some weeks, and at least 35 on the other weeks) At least I did until a week ago when I quit my 25 hr a week job to get ready for smicha…

  • your very good at being ignorant
    and trying to portray the israeli occupation in palestine
    as a “war”-
    as if it is fair to compare of the two nations as equal entities in war

    or compare numbers
    the numbers speak for themselves.

  • all I can say is that that was a very funny article… a decade ago i was very active as a student for palestine, and actually lived in the west bank, i had a jewish background withpart of my family orthodox and mizrachi…
    i think i want to write a book about how inappropriate these internationals are, when I look back, i know that i was mainly a domestic violence victim hiding across the checkpoint, my family had, over racism and issues of who i would marry, done terrible scarring and frightening things… i ran first thinking to make al;iyah but was raped for three weeks by an x-isreali soldier who someone thought he was having a love affair not kidnapping and raping a terrified young woman… the muslims had to save me and the christians gave me shelter as i tried to piece back together some dignity with my relatives only 20 minutes away by car and my cousin waiting for betrothal!!!!sick sad but hilarioyus…
    after that i fell in love with a christian guy who befriended me and wanted baptism and marriage (after my father and brother and the whacko stalker rapist soldier i was PETRIFIED of the israeli side and the pal araes were more like home to me) and he dissed me so i ran further past the checkpoints.. i cannot explain in this post how nuts my life became but i will say that i realize that i just recently died becuz i did get married, my husband and i got in a fight, i planned to run to another country and stopped back in america to see if i could get any money from my family cuz i was getting sick, old scred and broke– i went back to the home of some pal solidarity affinity people( piece of shit anti-semiotic and islamaphobic americans) and they chased me off thru their fucking racism ( although to them i should be like queen of the intifada or some shit) i went to my mom’s, to try to maintain some sort of continuum of eastern female dignity ( away from the street and chilling) and then a family fight ensued, big domestic violence blowout and i lost ALL MONEY LEFT AND ALMOST DIED IN THE STREET WITH NO HELP–just from making the mistake of going near them for help nearly cost me my life
    they cannot discern what heppens for those of us, pal or israeli or jewish or refugee or whatnot who are just tied to the situation without any choice, nor the consequences for us at all, and if we have jewish blood they WILL NOT EVER HELP– so a word to the wise— if you have jewish blood and ever help the palestinians the american white keffiyah wearing shitheads just might dig you a grave and bury you, while they kick their feet up on their parents coffee tables and smoke pot
    these are the great intifada activists, they ahve no touch with reality and i feel sorry for having had known even a one of them a scarf is for prayer–
    jewish or muslim or even christians when they go intyo the church– the keffiyah is nationalist and is often given as a gift from palestinian friends
    most people given these don’t wear them out so much
    anyhow, my pal freinds are helpless to help me, though they would like to
    and these fucking white acxtivists make my stomache turn ( as well as a few others of asian decent i have met )
    in truth, i should ahve made aliyah– then converted if i felt like it, then i would have been near my freinds always, and safe, and not having to spend like two years getting first emergency then long term health care after my brain being poisoned from hanging out with the white piecves of shit who had me believing that my own situation of domestic violence from a jewish family wasnt as fatal or as much as a result of right wing zionists and their crimes washing over the truth—
    of palestinians being killed, and also jewish women and children being hurt– good people from jewish or israeli backgrounds and palestinians ahave in common is being squashed under a male ashkenzi jewish male eleite that demands that world say that their can be no criticism of israel or its actions or policies and even tries to say that their are no male jewish rapaists/child abusers/war criminals when of course there is… jews are like any one else good bad and ugly
    the problem is that victims of jewish male distortion of power are some how criminalized and kicked in the face or killed in a sort of dcownward spiral pecking order….
    jews/israelis and palestinians could have one state–and make it a paradise or strive for it we just have to get the whitey out…. how did americans get a black president finally?
    on the backs of dead jews and arabs!!!!!
    so not just whitey, the west should get outta of israe/palestine and the jews and arabs should work together to have somethging good between them…after ten years of dealing with the internationals… i would even hug an israeli now anyhow thats it