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Spring Valley woman preserves Palestinian heritage through dress collection

Amani al Bahri's mission to save Palestinian thobes
Spring Valley woman preserves Palestinian history through dress collection
Posted at 9:42 PM, Jun 09, 2024

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Amani al Bahri refers to century-old Palestinian dresses as her sisters.

“I store them at my mom’s house. I always tell my mom, if there’s a fire, you need to go to the thobes and throw them out the window,” al Bahri said.

These dresses, known as thobes, feature bright colors made from shells, saffron, or grape leaves.

The chest and back panels took years to weave and often reflect a woman’s religion or relationship status. Each seamstress’s story is woven into the stitches.

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“You can see where she’s trying to fix and preserve the dress. She did a lot of labor for her family and took care of her kids,” al Bahri explained.

Al Bahri began her collection 10 years ago to connect with her family in the West Bank. She rescues thobes from eBay and Etsy, where they are often sold for $30 and mislabeled as “bohemian” or “hipster.”

"Those dresses are indigenous ... Palestinian-made and woman-made. They should be respected and returned back to their communities," she said.

Al Bahri said this feeling of lost history is furthered by the Israel-Hamas war.

“What has that been like seeing the destruction of Gaza and some of the historical artifacts as well?”

“It feels like I'm being erased. My children and my grandchildren, what is left for them?” Al Bahri said.

There are only a handful of Palestinian weavers who can still make these dresses. Most lived near Gaza and were displaced after October 7.

“Now that they’re in Egypt, who knows what the future holds for those weavers and artisans,” al Bahri said.

The uncertainty strengthens al Bahri’s resolve to grow her collection so these dresses can share the Palestinians’ story when the people themselves cannot.