Settled throughout Israel’s Negev desert and after years of war, occupation, and development, the Palestinian Bedouins have transitioned from nomadic to sedentary lifestyles. They have adjusted to the ever-changing political borders and boundaries as they live along the buffer zone amidst the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Lakiya Negev Weaving Center, based in the Bedouin town located in the Southern District of Israel, is one of many organizations that have endured the ongoing political, cultural, and historical drama of the region. Working with 100 women, the cooperative has pioneered efforts in preserving the traditional weaving style of the Bedouin.
Arab Bedouins are recognized as semi-nomadic tribes that have migrated all over the Arabian plains for thousands of years. They are symbols of life in a desolate terrain, and are known for their humble resilience and warm hospitality. Their weavings boast a simplistic beauty that were once used to decorate the interior of their tents and made for practical purposes as they traveled across the desert and dunes.
Typically the women would weave with wool in the winter and camel hair in the summer months. The looms were extremely light and portable, and were transported on the backs of camels as they ventured back and forth between Lakiya and Gaza. The women would spin the wool, using their drop spindles, while socializing and passing the time. The tents themselves were made of black goat’s hair, and the interiors would often be stacked high with these weavings. These textiles were used for everything from seating, tables, decorative dressing for camel saddles, wedding presents, harnesses, belts, and bridles, to insulation as they covered the interior tent walls.
Because of their religious beliefs, figurative imagery—considered idolatry and a sin against God—is entirely avoided in creating their designs. The various textiles suggests a sense of practicality and sturdiness that are made by the co-op’s members who wish to preserve their traditional style that is based on a repertoire of stripes, solid colors, single and double weaves and a limited color palette. Each Bedouin tribe has its own traditional weaving style, and characteristic to the Lakiya weavings are narrow and broad stripes, as well as laddered and checkerboard designs.
Colors such as red, black, olive green, and bright blues are common, although new shades of orange, yellows, turquoise, and pinks are appearing in their palette. The women of Lakiya continue to use simple ground looms that are made from found materials such as wood and heavy metal beams, which are staked into the sand. The rugs and wall hangings are first woven into narrow sections, and then sewn together depending on the required width. The finishing technique is quite distinctive as the ends are bound with unique stitching decorated with tassels and cords that are braided by hand and sometimes by foot!
Over the years, the Lakiya Negev Weaving Center has made incredible progress. They are helping women come out from behind the curtains, gaining confidence and respect as they are given access to educational and practical skills and are receiving sustainable incomes through their own artistic traditions.