BEIRUT, Lebanon — Yasser Arafat made it famous. Hipsters everywhere turned it into a fashion statement. Now, the Lebanese have helped set a record with the Palestinian keffiyeh — or rather with 6,500 of them.
The keffiyeh — a woven check headdress traditionally worn by Arab men, and a symbol for Palestinians everywhere — recently helped its "rightful" wearers take home a Guinness World Record: for the largest chain of scarves.
On a weekend in mid-May, a handful of Palestinians refugees living in Lebanon gathered at Beirut’s Camille Chamoun Stadium to beat the previous record, set in Spain at a length of 2,932 meters and 5 centimeters
As with practically everything in Lebanon, the record attempt carried with it a political message.
The scarves were not actually scarves but keffiyehs, and the aim of the group was to arrange the string of keffiyehs into the figures “194,” representing United Nations Resolution 194, passed in 1948 and calling for the right of return to Israel and Palestine for all Palestinian refugees.
According to the U.N., about 422,000 Palestinians live in Lebanon, accounting for almost 10 percent of the population. They live mostly in 12 refugee camps, which are scattered throughout the country.
Dozens of Palestinians and Lebanese stopped by the stadium to help connect the thousands of keffiyehs together. Using thread or staples was not allowed under Guinness rules, so the volunteers cut loose ends on each keffiyeh and tied them together.
The event was organized by Palestinian Walid Taha, head of the Campaign for the Protection of the Right of Return.
“Our objective is to record this record in Guinness, and it will be a good opportunity for people to read about 194,” said Taha. “There are real threats to 194, and there is no attempt to deal with 194 and find a solution. We don’t want this to happen, and we are insisting on Resolution 194.”
Several of the organizers and volunteers also argued that the event was designed to send a message to the Lebanese government about Palestinian rights domestically. Palestinians, many of whose families have been in Lebanon since the founding of Israel, do not enjoy many of the rights afforded to Lebanese citizens.
Furthermore, relations between the Palestinians and their Lebanese hosts have a history of tension, including Yasser Arafat’s role in the start of Lebanon’s civil war in 1975. The relationship again reached a boiling point in 2007, when the Lebanese military destroyed most of Nahr al-Bared camp, just north of Tripoli, after a band of heavily armed foreign militants robbed a bank in Tripoli and then holed themselves up in the camp.
“It is an internal message,” said Omar Jambieh, a Lebanese student who volunteered to tie keffiyehs together, "to the Lebanese government that [the Palestinians] demand their civil rights.”
On the day of unveiling, hundreds of Palestinians turned up at the stadium. Sure enough, on the soccer pitch the thousands of connected keffiyehs had been arranged in rows, spelling out “194.”
Guinness Book of World Records judge Jack Brockbank, making a quick turnaround after judging a new world record set here recently for the biggest hummus bowl, rolled a measuring wheel over the keffiyeh formation. The process took almost three hours.
Behind the stadium, a band kicked into gear, providing entertainment for the crowd while it awaited Brockbank’s ruling. The band, standing in front of a painting of the Jerusalem cityscape, plowed through classic tunes; men joined arms in a sort of Palestinian conga line; women danced, waving keffiyehs with the words “we will return” embroidered on them; young children waved wooden machine guns above their heads.
When Brockbank finished his measurement, he took to the stage.
“Setting Guinness world records achievements is never an easy task and should never be taken lightly,” he said. “The arrangement you have seen today used 6,500 scarves, although this record is based on length rather than the number of scarves.”
“The total length of this chain of scarves today,” he added, “is 6,552 meters and 59 centimeters.”
A new record set, the crowd roared with delight, and Walid Taha beamed as he lifted the Guinness placard above his head, a keffiyeh — naturally — around his neck.