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About the Kufiya

The keffiyeh or kufiya (Arabic: كوفية kūfiyyah, meaning "from the city of Kufa" (الكوفه); plural كوفيات kūfiyyāt), also known as a ghutrah (غترة), shemagh (شمشاغ), mashadah (شدة), mashadah (شد) chafiye (Persian: چفیه) or cemedanî (Kurdish: جه مه داني), is a traditional Middle Eastern headscarf formed from a square scarf, usually made of cotton. It is mostly worn by Arabs and some Kurds as well. It is commonly found in arid regions and is protected from sunburn, dust, and sand. Its distinctive standard woven checkered pattern may have originated in an ancient Mesopotamian representation of fish nets or ears of grain, but the pattern's true origin remains unknown.

The keffiyeh has been worn for over a century by the Arabs living in the regions of Arabia, Jordan and Iraq. During the 1960s, its use grew in other regions as Palestinian nationalism increased and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat adopted it as a symbol. Towards the end of the 80s, the keffiyeh became a fashion accessory in the United States and, around the millennium, became very popular among young people in Tokyo, where it was often worn with camouflage-style clothing.

Traditionally worn by Palestinian farmers, the keffiyeh was worn by Palestinian men of all rank and became a symbol of Palestinian nationalism during the Arab uprising of the 1930s. Its fame rose in the 1960s with the onset of the Palestinian resistance movement and adoption of it by Palestinian politician Yasser Arafat.

The black and white checkered keffiyeh would later have become Arafat's iconic symbol and would rarely have been seen without it; only occasionally did he wear a military cap, or, in colder climates, a Russian ushanka hat. Arafat wore his keffiyeh in a semi-traditional way, around his head via an agal. He also wore a keffiyeh in the neck of his military covering. Early on, he made it his personal trademark to drape the scarf over his right shoulder only, in the shape of a triangle, resembling the outline of Palestinian territory. This way of wearing the keffiyeh became a symbol of Arafat as a person and political leader, and has not been imitated by other Palestinian leaders. The scarf is known informally as "Arafat scarf", "PLO scarf" or "Palestinian scarf" through these associations.

Another Palestinian figure associated with the keffiyeh is Leila Khaled, a female member of the armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. There are several photos of Khaled circulated in the Western newspapers after the TWA Flight 840 hijack and the Dawson's Field hijackings. In these photos, she often wears a hijab-style keffiyeh like a Muslim woman, wrapped around the head and shoulders. This was unusual, as the keffiyeh is associated with Arab masculinity, and many believe this must be something of a fashion statement by Khaled, signaling her equality with men in the Palestinian armed struggle.

The colors of the stitching in a keffiyeh are also associated with political sympathies with the Palestinians. Traditional black and white keffiyehs have been associated with Fatah. Later, red and white keffiyehs were adopted by Palestinian Marxists, such as the PFLP.

The color symbolism of the scarves is not universally accepted by all Palestinians and Arabs. Their importance should not be exaggerated, as the scarves are used by Palestinians and Arabs of all political affiliation, as well as by people with no particular political sympathies.