From the Palestinian Bearers of Heritage to the UNESCO’s Representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

The UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003 Convention) was adopted in 2003, entered into force in 2006, and at present( December 2021) 180 States ratified it. The main goals of this Convention are to find new ways to speak about (“safeguard”), to valorize, to facilitate transmission and to deal with “traditional culture”, to celebrate cultural diversity and to involve more actors like communities and groups. In 2011, Palestine was admitted to the UNESCO as a Member State, since that time, Palestine has become a party to several UNESCO treaties and cultural conventions.

The Palestinian community and institutions have realized the role played by intangible cultural heritage in the social, cultural and economic aspects of life, but also the dangers threatening its viability and continuity, identity and belonging, which made Palestinians aware of the need to fill the gap that exists between the threats they are facing and the possibilities offered by UNESCO treaties and international cooperation instruments in this respect.

On 15 December 2021, and during the 16th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage held virtually from UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, the art of embroidery in Palestine, practices, skills, knowledge and rituals has been added to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Prior to 1948, embroidery was an important focus in the lives of rural and Bedouins women. Its main canvas was the “thoub’, which was worn both daily and on special occasions. However, Palestinian embroidery is more than just a practical decoration of work of clothes or pieces. It is a connection between stiches and public sphere. The people of Palestine and in diaspora highly welcomed the inclusion of the art of embroidery, as it is considered as a symbol of Palestinian history evolution and identity alike.

During the same meeting, on Tuesday 14 December, a shared nomination was put forward by a coalition of 16 Arabic-speaking countries, and upon a positive recommendation from the Evaluation Body, the Arabic Calligraphy: knowledge, Skills and practices has been also inscribed on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage for Humanity. “Arabic calligraphy is the artistic practice of handwriting Arabic script in a fluid manner to convey harmony, grace and beauty”’. ’States parties should develop together networks of communities, experts, centres of expertise and research institutes to develop joint approaches, particularly concerning the elements of intangible cultural heritage they have in common, as well as interdisciplinary approaches’ (ODs, p.86). For Palestine this inscription is considered as a major step towards collaboration and cooperation with other Arab States and respective culture for the calligraphy to be a driver for peace and cultural diplomacy.

Intangible cultural heritage (ICH), made up of all manifestations of culture, represents the variety of living heritage of humanity as well as the most important vehicle of cultural diversity. The ICH is represented by the bearers of heritage within the communities, and is considered crucial for the connection of cultural identity. Its viability is a response to the historical and evolution of the communities and groups concerned. Therefore, it is important to safeguard and preserve ICH by constant practicing as a living heritage and using modern technological tools. In this context, it is mandatory to preserve the endangered traditions such as traditional know-how, indigenous knowledge, popular rituals carried out to bring prosperity and socio-economic sustainable development for Palestine.