Gaza solidarity ups street vending, changes fashion trends

Street vendors and shop owners in both Europe and the Arab world are making big gains as people rush to buy Palestinian Keffiyeh scarves, flags, and other symbolic items that demonstrate their support for the people of Gaza. In Beirut's Hamra district, the assault on Gaza has changed a previous popular fashion trend, vendors tell MENASSAT.
A display of kiffiyeh's on a vendor's car in the west Beirut district of Hamra. © Alexandra Sandels

BEIRUT, January 16, 2008 (MENASSAT) - Ali has been selling various items from his car in Hamra for the past twenty-five years, including socks, umbrellas, and the traditional Palestinian scarves - known as the kiffiyeh. 

But this year marks the first time Ali is ordering the white and black and the white and red in large quantities – the colors that are closely associated with Palestinian resistance. Obviously he says these particular scarves have been in high demand since the start of the Gaza crisis on December 27.

“It’s really the first year that I’m selling these two colors exclusively. And ninety percent of the customers want these exact colors. You wouldn’t imagine the demand,” Ali told MENASSAT.

“Look at this,” says Ali, pulling out a plastic bag stacked with black and white, and red and white keffiyehs. "They’re all going to Canada. All sixteen of them. A man came by yesterday and bought them.”

On the side of Ali’s car keffiyehs hang in all different colors – yellow and black, pink and black, purple – among other colors, which means they are not popular at the moment, he says.

“These are for artists and fashion for girls and boys. But those who care and who want to show a statement wear these," he says and holds up a black and white colored keffiyeh.

On a nearby street, Ali’s statement is echoed by numerous shop owners.

Majed works at Bronzini, a small store in the west Beirut district of Hamra selling keffiyehs and various kinds of plastic kitsch jewelry. He told MENASSAT that the fashion trend that swept through Hamra around six months ago has come to an end, since the start of the attacks on Gaza.

“The first six months, everyone was wearing keffiyehs in different colors. Now’s it’s mainly black and white and red and white because of Gaza. And the black on black because of Ashoura,” Majed explained.

Across the street from Majed, another vendor who goes by Hassan stands outside Bennetti Shoes where he works, also in Hamra. He says that the increase in demand in keffiyehs, especially the black and white ones, has resulted in fierce competition that has forced vendors to knock down prices.

The cheapest, he says, is the Chinese made keffiyeh scarf which costs around 5,000 Lebanese Pounds ($3.50 US). The Indian-made goes for a bit more, around LB 10,000 ($7.00). Several shops sell their keffiyehs for LB 8,000 ($5.50).

Even the popular retail clothing chain Jack and Jones in Hamra that caters to a European-style clientelle, is now selling keffiyehs at high prices, says Hassan.

Two school students walk by, both wearing the black and white colored keffiyehs. ‘You see what I’m talking about,’ he says.

Coins, bracelets, and flags

Symbolic items such as bracelets with the Palestinian flag and a map of Palestine carved out in metal also appear to be high in demand.

At a small store towards the end of Hamra Street, the owner says that all his bracelets with Palestinian flags are sold out. Another popular item in his shop at the moment are also necklaces with gold metal coins with Palestine engraved on them.

Outside Dany Wool and Toys Store in west Beirut hang large Palestinian flags and keffiyeh style scarves written on them "El-Quds lina - Our Jerusalem." An employee at the store says that those scarves were taken in especially for Gaza and that more flags are on their way – "large enough to drape your car with."

Not far from the store stand two students who have just come back from a protest in solidarity with Gaza held nearby.

The two Palestinian flags they are holding and the keffiyehs they are wearing were recently purchased, they told MENASSAT.

Meanwhile, the Gaza war has also helped to establish a market in other markets throughout Europe and in the Middle-East.

Black and white keffiyehs were seen on display in vendor huts in the squares from Paris to Stockholm’s Sergels Torg square.

In neighboring Cairo, street vendors are peddling keffiyehs to pedestrians and drivers, “selling whatever is popular or on demand at the time,” in the Egyptian capital, the Daily News in Egypt reported.

Music revival

Music sales, at least in Hamra, also appear to have gone through a bit of a transformation since the start of Israel’s war on Gaza.

Shadi, who works at Samer Music Shop in west Beirut, says he is now selling a lot of “Arab and Palestinian artists” such as Marcel Khalife, Fairuz, and Julia Boutros.

“Before I used to sell perhaps one Marcel Khalife album and one Fairuz CD per week. Now I’m selling four instead. So there has been a definite shift in demand,” he told MENASSAT.

At C and C Music, employee Khaled says he’s been selling significantly more music from Lebanon, Syria, the Gulf, and Palestine since the start of the war on Gaza.

Marcel Khalife is again a favorite along with Lebanese Julia Boutrous, whose album Khaled cannot find. “I’ve run out of stock of that one,” he says.