Textiles and fashion emerge as unexpected yet potent agents for positive change in the context of Israel and Palestine, where tensions have endured for generations. Clothing often extends beyond superficial aesthetics, evolving into influential instruments for storytelling and social transformation. They weave narratives that transcend borders and linguistic barriers, contributing to fostering a sense of peace.
In November 2023, garment and textile trade unions, along with anti-sweatshop activists, advocated for a ceasefire and an end to the Occupation in Palestine. The organisation Anti-Sweatshop Activists Against Apartheid reported then that Gaza, once a vibrant city with a bustling textile industry, used to provide garment workers for Israel. However, many skilled Gazan workers were compensated substantially less than their Israeli counterparts, exploiting the high unemployment rate. This example of how a close examination of the fashion industry reveals the hidden realities of unequal power dynamics and exploitation ingrained within the industry. Fashion has become a visible manifestation of the interconnectedness of race, capitalism, and colonialism, with the challenges faced by the Palestinian textile sector underscoring the tangible impact of political conflicts on local industries.
On the other hand, fashion can become a tool for wellbeing and transformation. In ongoing efforts to thrive amidst military Occupation and promote community empowerment, Handmade Palestine collaborates with artists nationwide. This not only strengthens the local economy, but also nurtures artists along their creative paths, according to Handmade Palestine. Headquartered in Ramallah, the initiative is pioneered by volunteers dedicated to enhancing the wellbeing of partner artisans and Palestine as a whole. Given that women frequently serve as primary breadwinners for their households, supporting initiatives such as Handmade Palestine sustains the livelihoods of countless women. This aligns with fashion’s transformative capacity to amplify the voices of those also globally impacted by geopolitical conflicts. Essentially, textiles and fashion transform into more than symbols of resistance; they emerge as instrumental vehicles for championing justice amidst persisting colonial practices and cultivating heightened awareness.
Benjamin Huseby and Serhat Işık of GmbH, who closed out the Paris men’s shows in 2023 with a powerful plea for peace
In a piece written on Substack, fashion writer Alec Leach explores how the fashion brand GmbH recently used its platform to advocate for peace in the Middle East, specifically addressing Palestine and Israel. During men’s fashion week in Paris, founders of GmbH highlighted the dangers of rising Islamophobia and Antisemitism, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and a free Palestine. Despite the fashion industry’s general silence on political matters, GmbH’s stance signifies a changing mentality within the sector. The brand’s move contributes to a broader trend where fashion and textiles become platforms for social issues, promoting peace and freedom in regions often marred by conflict.
In an industry where the medium can also be the message, crafting designs with the intention of paying homage to local cultures using handmade textile techniques becomes a powerful way of preserving heritage and fostering a deeper connection between fashion and tradition. Through a shared commitment to craftsmanship, numerous organizations and brands embark on a journey where every stitch becomes a symbol of unity. Such examples include ADISH, Piece for Peace, and Two Neighbors.
ADISH, founded by an Israeli duo, exemplifies alternative mediums conveying narratives of those impacted by geopolitical disruptions while urging a wider audience to recognize and engage with the intricacies of these challenges, according to Forbes. mutually dependent creative and economic partnership connects Israelis and Palestinians across the divide between the West Bank in Palestine and Tel Aviv in Israel. ADISH, a Hebrew term meaning ‘apathetic,’ is paradoxically repurposed, as the brand’s primary objectives include offering fair employment opportunities for Palestinian women, contributing to global well-being, and cultivating an empathetic perspective on the complexities within the context of both Israel and Palestine. ADISH sprouted from a meaningful collaboration with the Parents Circle Families Forum, which brings together families impacted by the persistent regional violence. Co-founder Amit Luzon states, “To us, ADISH is about trying to make a real, meaningful change in the Middle East, and not giving attention to the empty promises of politicians and those in power who don’t care about peace.” This initiative strongly underscores the themes of reconciliation and peace, as ADISH delved into the exploration of local embroidery techniques, embarking on a journey that spanned a year and a half, culminating in a visit to the Dheisheh Refugee Camp. Garments produced within the initiative are crafted locally in Occupied Palestine and Israel, highlighting traditional handmade techniques like Tatreez, an embroidery craft.
Feryal Abbasi-Ghnaim ©Jen Doherty / Tatreez and Tea
Tatreez originally began as a way for women to convey their marital status or regional origin (Haidari, 2023). It later evolved into a symbol of resistance and displacement after the Nakba, the mass displacement and dispossession of Palestinians during the Arab-Israeli war in 1948 (ibid). Today, Tatreez is recognized by UNESCO as an art form of Palestinian embroidery. Sign up to the ADISH here.
Piece for Peace
Women Wage Peach with Piece for Peace quilt in Nablus
Piece for Peace is a global initiative where Israeli and Palestinian women come together to create a huge patchwork quilt, symbolising their collective desire for peace. This initiative emerges as a key element of the Women Wage Peace movement, symbolising unity and hope in the intricate landscape of the Middle East. Piece for Peace encourages participants across the globe to contribute fabric squares adorned with messages of peace and hope. The quilt squares are crafted from 35 x 35 cm cotton and adorned using diverse techniques like beading, embroidery, appliqué, and markers. The quilts are filled with personalised messages, becoming decorative backgrounds for WWP events, fostering both a sense of unity and motivation for a shared purpose. Anyone is invited to join this movement by creating their piece for peace and signing their names and country in permanent marker on the front of the square. Piece for Peace’s inclusivity mirrors the rich diversity inherent in the Middle East, as WWP brings together women from diverse political, religious, and regional backgrounds, nurturing a collective approach to harmony, according to its website. In the complex fabric of Middle Eastern conflicts, Piece for Peace materialises as a concrete expression of the shared desire for amity. The movement operates with a non-hierarchical structure, allowing women, regardless of political or cultural affiliations, to collaboratively engage in the creative process of quilt-making. This role of grassroots diplomacy seamlessly aligns with the overarching mission of empowering women to actively shape the future of the region through artistic means. The quilted narratives stand as visual testimonies to the shared humanity which pushes past political divides and enables a holistic approach to peace-building. Read more about Women Wage Peace here.
Two Neighbors: Peace through the eye of the needle
A purse for sale on the Two Neighbors Instagram account
In an article written by Forbes, Two Neighbors, a socially conscious fashion brand, is highlighted after emerging as a collaborative effort between Israeli seamstresses, designers, and Palestinian embroidery (Martin, 2018). The vision for the fashion brand is driven by a retired American couple, Dr. Whit and Paula Jones, both founders of The Center for Emerging Futures, a brand aiming to achieve peace through unlikely partnerships. Two Neighbors provides job opportunities for women in Israel and Palestine, showcasing talents from both sides. Although the Joneses originally founded Two Neighbors, they currently only act as advisors, holding space for the women who oversee every facet of the business, from manufacturing to marketing. Heading the production is Judy, a Tel Aviv resident with over two decades’ worth of experience in the fashion sector (ibid). “Two Neighbors is an opportunity for women from both sides to be part of the peace process and to strengthen the social and economic development of their communities”, says Palestinian Coordinator, Adeem. Two Neighbors empowers women economically, granting them the financial resources to wield influence in their communities.
This empowerment allows them to secure access to healthcare for their children and affords them the opportunity to send their children to school. Kefah, one of the Palestinian embroidery designers, states, “We stopped asking our fathers and brothers for money,” adding that as long as she works with Two Neighbors, she will have her own money, helping her get a driver’s license and achieve her dream of being the first female driver in the town (Martin, 2018). The dedication to bringing opposing cultures together is reflected in the brand’s slogan, ‘peace through the eye of the needle,’ as the organisation creates a pathway to productive collaborative efforts and a sense of peace in a divided society.
In conclusion, fashion, though not a direct panacea for Middle Eastern conflicts, possesses the power to stimulate discourse, cultivate cultural understanding, and propagate shared narratives. Through initiatives like ADISH, Piece for Peace, and Two Neighbors, it becomes a transformative force, fostering connections and laying the foundation for peace amidst diverse and unlikely communities. Find Two Neighbors on Instagram here.
Note about images
- It was not easy to find images to illustrate this story. We have sourced images from the Creative Commons and from social media. The feature image is of an exhibition called “L’Orient des Femmes vu par Christian Lacroix” at the Musée du Quai Branly.
- About Us: Handmade palestine. Fairtrade Gifts from Palestine | Handmade Palestine. (n.d.). https://handmadepalestine.com/pages/about-us
- Andrä, C. (2022). Crafting stories, making peace? creative methods in peace research. Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 50(2), 494–523. https://doi.org/10.1177/03058298211063510
- Anti Sweatshop Activists Against Apartheid (2023, November 21). Palestine/ Israel: Garment & Textile Trade Unions, Activists & campaigners call for a ceasefire & end to the Occupation in Palestine. Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/latest-news/trade-unionists-activists-and-campaigners-call-for-a-ceasefire-and-end-to-the-occupation-in-palestine/
- Čemanová, N. (n.d.). ADISH Hand-sewing peace. Metal Magazine. https://metalmagazine.eu/post/adish-hand-sewing-peace
- Haidari, N. (2023, July 31). “Fashion is inherently political”: The woman mixing Palestinian design with Sustainable Clothing. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2023/jul/31/fashion-is-inherently-political-the-woman-mixing-palestinian-design-with-sustainable-clothing
- Leach, A. (2024, January 25). GmbH’s Fashion Week speech broke the industry’s silence on Gaza. GmbH’s fashion week speech broke the industry’s silence on Gaza. https://alecleach.substack.com/p/gmbhs-fashion-week-speech-broke-the?utm_source=post-email-title&publication_id=1044951&post_id=141029017&utm_campaign=email-post-title&isFreemail=true&r=3do1o&utm_medium=email
- Martin, M. (2018, September 10). How this fashion brand is bringing women from Israel and Palestine together. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/michellemartin/2018/08/31/how-fashion-is-bringing-women-from-israel-and-palestine-together/?sh=4b08da06515c
- Piece for Peace. Women Wage Peace. (2024, January 23). https://www.womenwagepeace.org.il/en/pieces-for-peace/
- Roberts-Islam, B. (2019, August 23). Can fashion reduce conflict in the Middle East? this Israeli-palestinian brand believes so. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/brookerobertsislam/2019/08/16/can-fashion-reduce-conflict-in-the-middle-east-this-israeli-palestinian-brand-believe-so/?sh=16365d9a2b01
- Tawfiq, M. (2017, September 11). Workers are weakest link in Gaza’s garment trade. The Electronic Intifada. https://electronicintifada.net/content/workers-are-weakest-link-gazas-garment-trade/21661