- The Washington Times - Friday, January 19, 2007

TEL AVIV — It’s been four decades since Yasser Arafat made the back and white kafiyeh scarf the indelible symbol of Palestinian nationalism when it became part of his daily wardrobe.

Now, two Israeli entrepreneurs have repackaged the scarf with a distinctly Zionist motif, in the hope that their countrymen will adopt it as a patriotic fashion accessory.

“It’s going to be like the falafel,” said Ben Haim, a sculptor who dreamed up the idea with Moshe Harel, an industrial designer.

“Generations afterward will walk around in the kafiyeh,” Mr. Haim said.

Unlike the black and white scarf favored by the late Mr. Arafat, or the red and white version common in Jordan, the Israeli kafiyeh features sky-blue coloring.

A closer inspection reveals the scarf pattern is actually miniature Stars of David, while border stripes mimic the stripes on the Israeli flag.

Despite their Zionized take on the Arab head scarf, Mr. Harel acknowledges that his kafiyeh will encounter a reflex-like resistance before Israelis can overcome the political baggage from decades of violence to make the kafiyeh their own.

Across the divide, a parallel reflex is also likely among Palestinians, who are prone to see the Israeli kafiyeh as another Israeli appropriation of a piece of their culture.

Other examples include hummus, water pipes and belly dancing.

“If it was not already locally felt that the Israelis were overtaking all aspects of Palestinian life in order to erase it, chances are that this offensive version of the kafiyeh would not raise more than an eyebrow. Instead, a great deal of offense is being taken,” wrote the Palestinian National News service in a recent article on the Israeli kafiyeh.

Mr. Haim, a resident of Haifa who runs a shop near a mosque, said he’d been toying with the concept for years before deciding with Mr. Harel to work on developing the product.

“I see kafiyehs in every place, but an Israeli kafiyeh I still have never seen. The Palestinians have one, the Jordanians have one and the Saudis have one, why shouldn’t we?”

Mr. Harel said the kafiyeh helps fill a need of Israeli Jews to better integrate into the Middle East. Once Israelis adopt the accessory, it will create “a common denominator” with their neighbors.

“Until today, the kafiyeh has been identified with Palestinians or with the Palestinian struggle. The fact that we’re manufacturing a kafiyeh suddenly softens the effect that it has. That was the goal. To give the feeling that we’re integrating into the region, and that everyone has their own kafiyeh.”