Between 17 and 23 February 2020 the Lansdown Hall and Gallery in the textile town of Stroud in Gloucestershire, UK, hosted an exhibition of 40 panels from the Palestinian History Tapestry (PHT) grouped by themes – history, women, life, home, food, art and religion. The exhibition was visited by over 500 people, some from as far afield as France, London, Totnes, Derby, Edinburgh and Manchester.
The conceptualisation, promotion and realisation of the exhibition was the brainchild of Robin Layfield, webmaster of the PHT Project’s website.
Another Stroud resident, Mark Epton designed the printed promotional material for the Project.
Robin Layfield introduced the speakers at the opening event on 17 February. Stroud’s deputy mayor, Margaret Poulton, welcomed and formally opened the exhibition. Jan Chalmers, co-chair of the PHT Project, went on to give an account of the PHT Project’s development since its initiation in 2012, inspired initially by other examples of histories illustrated with stitch, such as the Bayeux and Keiskamma tapestries.
The Tapestry is currently composed of nearly 100 panels, which, together, measure nearly 80 metres. Jan drew attention to Stroud’s longstanding production of red and blue fabric for the British army and navy with Gaza’s production of fabric for Palestinian dresses (thobes) and carpets. Jan showed contemporary examples of embroidered cushion covers made in Stroud and Gaza and the dramatic contrast between the rural panorama of Stroud and the devastation of Gaza resulting from repeated military assaults and the siege implemented by Israel and Egypt since 2006.
The family of the second speaker, Haya Awad Abdalhadi, has been in Gaza since the 1948 Nakba (catastrophe). Her grandmother was forced to leave her village (Al Khisas) in Northern Palestine, and eventually ended up in Gaza where she met and married Haya’s grandfather.
Haya is a 26-year-old English Language and Literature graduate who has been working in the humanitarian field, initially as a volunteer with Première Urgence Internationale, then, after graduation, with Médecins du Monde–France, International Medical Corps, and Aisha Association for Woman and Child Protection. She has experienced at first hand the drastic effects on daily life caused by the siege of Gaza, and she witnessed the results of the devastating assaults on the Gaza Strip in 2008/9, 2012, and 2014. She is currently studying for a Master’s degree in Development and Emergency Practice at Oxford Brookes University.
Gill Yudkin, one of the Patrons of the PHT Project, was the last speaker at the Stroud Exhibition’s opening event. She is a retired general practitioner, who worked in inner London before retirement. Her work in the charitable sector began in Tanzania in the 1960s and continued after she retired from general practice. A visit to Israel/Palestine in 2008 under the aegis of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions confirmed Gill’s determination to support Palestinian people “living under the yoke of the Israeli occupation”. She joined a small, secular Jewish grant-giving charity – the British Shalom-Salaam Trust (BSST – www.bsst.org.uk), which she has chaired since 2009.
BSST makes small grants to grassroots projects that that challenge oppression and disadvantage within Israel and Palestine – for example, the Palestine Trauma Centre in Gaza , and the Arteam Garden Library, South Tel Aviv’s only community centre for asylum-seeking and migrant workers’ children and their parents (see illustration).
The opening event of the Stroud exhibition concluded with a session for questions and a stream of appreciative comments. This augured well for the six following days of the exhibition, which made clear that the hard, preparatory work had achieved more than anyone had dared hope for.