This article traces the shifting meanings of the tarbush (or fez) among Oriental Jewish men in late-Ottoman and British Mandate Palestine. It demonstrates how the seemingly superficial issue of what men wore on their heads in fact reveals much about the broader historical changes in Oriental Jewish social identities and political loyalties during a period of rising Jewish and Arab tension in Palestine. Under late-Ottoman rule, many urban Jewish, Christian, and Muslim men alike donned this red, felted headgear as a unifying symbol of local and Ottoman identity. Over time, however, as the Jewish-Arab national boundary grew more rigidly defined under British rule, the tarbush increasingly became a marker of difference: It came to signify predominantly Arab, non-Jewish identity. While some Oriental Jewish men in Palestine continued to wear the tarbush for decades, thereby preserving a visible sartorial link with Palestinian Arabs, most eventually abandoned this headgear. Some did so in favor of more "modern" clothing endorsed by the British rulers and European-dominated Zionist leadership, while others were forced to abandon the tarbush during outbreaks of ethnic and national violence, when they were occasionally targeted by both Palestinian Arab and Jewish militants. Building on recent scholarship exploring the role of Oriental Jews in the Zionist movement and Arab-Jewish social relations in Palestine, this article demonstrates that removing the tarbush was not simply a matter of changing fashions; it was socially and politically imposed through symbolic and real violence that sought to eliminate any Arab-Jewish middle ground.


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pp. 1212-1249
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