Bedouin women at Lakia, a women’s empowerment NGO in the Negev, have been using traditional Palestinian embroidery to raise funds and awareness within the community for 21 years. At the heels of New York Fashion Week, the NGO is making headlines, as their embroidery was featured on the catwalk of Israeli designer, Aviad Arik Herman, as part of a fundraiser co-sponsored by the OR Movement. The OR Movement settlement organization is best known for creating Jewish-only communities in the Negev and Galilee, often as a result of demolishing entire Bedouin communities.
The name of the fundraiser was the Desert Flower Runway Show, which used a cornerstone of traditional Zionist imagery “making the desert bloom” to invalidate and isolate Palestinian communities who have been living in the region for centuries. By rendering the Bedouin communities invisible, OR insists that “the pioneering spirit is alive and well in Israel” and that they’ve “got room for everybody.”
T’ruah, The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, issued a statement regarding the fashion show, stating, “While the OR Movement claims to develop the Negev and Galilee for Israeli citizens of all backgrounds, it has been involved in establishing exclusively Jewish communities throughout the Negev, pushing Bedouin off their lands into impoverished and overcrowded Bedouin townships.”
Tatreez, traditional Palestinian folk-art, is typically passed from mother to daughter. Patterns are historically unique to specific villages. It is living history that serves as a means of preserving a threatened culture.
Wafa Ghnaim, founder and authors of Tatreez & Tea, recalls how tatreez solidified her understanding of her identity within the Palestinian diaspora. In an interview for Palestine in America, Wafa recalls the cultural theft of tatreez by early Zionist soldiers who would later call the clothing, Israeli, as a means of staking claim to the land.
Asma al-Saneh, head of Lakia, explained that their dismay is not with the partnership with an Israeli designer, which was known from the initial negotiations, but rather with their contribution to the OR Movement.
Al-Saneh told al-Jazeera, “We regularly receive such requests from various designers and retailers in Israel – so this was not a one-time occurrence, and we had no problem assisting him [the designer].”
“But we would have never agreed to do this had we known from the start who he was and who had sent him,” she added. “We feel that our end product was misused.”
Dr. Amal Elsana Alhjooj, one of the founders Lakia’s Women’s Association and the Executive Director of the The International Community Action Network at McGill University does not hesitate to label the deception by the Israeli fashion designer as cultural appropriation. She challenges the OR Movement to donate all proceeds from the fundraiser to Lakia as compensation for the fraud, as the Movement falsely champions coexistence with the very communities it pushes away.
The appropriation of Palestinian history and articles of resistance is not new. Last year, Israeli designer Dodo Bar Or created a women’s line featuring the Palestinian keffiyeh, which historically represents Palestinian resistance to Israeli Zionist occupation and colonization. H&M and Urban Outfitters, have also previously utilized the keffiyeh pattern in similar ways, alongside countless other designers. The appropriation of Palestinian tatreez by an Israeli designer was not the only instance of cultural theft on the runway, with famously self-identified colorblind Marc Jacobs following suit by placing his models in a headscarf/hijab exactly a year after debuting his models in dreadlocks (facepalm).
To donate to or learn more about Lakia Desert Embroidery, click here.