Posted by: sharemore1 | July 22, 2014

Two Neighbors: Peace through the Eye of a Needle


Working TogetherIsraelis and Palestinians are two wary neighbors with a wall between them.  For more than a decade these neighbors have grown farther apart until today residents of Gaza are shooting rockets deep into Israel, and Israel is responding with air strikes and an invasion. Children have been kidnapped and murdered on both sides.

At risk to their safety and standing in their communities, a small group of Israeli and Palestinian women are working together on a joint project:  to create beautiful fashions that combine traditional Palestinian embroidery with modern Israeli fabric and design.

The concept seems simple: employ Palestinian women to embroider fabric and Israeli women to sew it into dresses and fashion accessories.  But to make this happen, within the political and economic realities of the two countries, is anything but simple.  Yet nothing seems to deter these women from reaching their goal.

“Two Neighbors:  Peace through the Eye of a Needle” <twoneighbors.com> was started four years ago by a retired American couple from Idaho, Whit and Paula Jones, and their partner, Andy McCluskey. Despite the escalating conflict between leaders of Israel and the West Bank, they believed that people within the region could work toward common goals.  They set up a self-sustaining business that would also address social problems: the lack of cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians and limited employment opportunities for Palestinian women.

The Americans sought out women on both sides of the border who could think creatively about how to address these problems.  Segal Kirsch, an energetic Israeli math teacher, and Maram Issa, a Palestinian international development specialist, agreed to coordinate the project.

Maram worked with Rehan Abu Sabha, skilled in traditional embroidery, who could design patterns and train women to stitch them on the fabric.  Segal discovered Miriam Givon, a young Israeli designer who had studied in Paris, and found Israeli seamstresses who could work with her. Yet even after the participants were identified, developing a business partnership was a challenge.

Where could they meet?   Some areas of the West Bank are closed to Israelis and others are closed to Palestinians.  Even working with Israelis could be dangerous for the Palestinian women, who might be accused of collaborating with the enemy.  The women chose to meet in Beit Jala, a small community near Bethlehem, one of the few places where people from both sides can be together.

How could they communicate?  The Israelis spoke Hebrew and the Palestinians spoke Arabic.  They settled on English, which a few of the women could speak, with translation and gestures filling in the gaps.

The original project started small, with the women embroidering cup sleeves to hold steaming cups of coffee or tea.  When they found they could not sell them at a price that would cover their costs, they considered table cloths or bedspreads.  Finally they decided to create women’s fashion, beginning with dresses and tote bags.

Miriam designed long and short dresses and black bags that would be embroidered in different colors.  She made patterns, obtained the fabric and cut out the dresses, which were then delivered to the Palestinian women to be embroidered.  Finally the fabric was taken back to Israel to be sewn into the final product and marketed internationally.

“These dresses represent two worlds that are very far part, but they come together on the dresses in perfect harmony,” says Segal.  “Each dress has a lot of soul,”  says Miriam.  They are handmade, with no two just alike.

The Palestinian seamstresses are paid for each piece they embroider.   For some it’s the first money they have ever earned.  One woman used her money for a dress to attend her sister’s wedding and another planned a trip to Jerusalem  to pray at the Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan.  The Israeli seamstresses, also paid by the piece, use the money to supplement their income.

More than 18 months after the current team came together, and four years after the Americans conceived of the project, they reached a major milestone.  Through a Kickstarter campaign, they attracted 137 backers, including the Israeli singer, Achinoam Nini, who will wear one of the dresses onstage.  The campaign ended in May, bringing in $10,598, enabling Two Neighbors to begin to produce, market and sell their hand-embroidered products.

Embroidered Dresses

Embroidered Dresses

To celebrate their success and preview the dresses, the women traveled to Jaffa on the Mediterranean Sea.  That simple journey demonstrates how far apart their worlds are.  The Israeli army had to approve travel for each of the Palestinian women, a process that took two weeks.  At the last minute, one woman was denied entry because of a mistake on her application.  The other women were fingerprinted as they filed through the Israeli checkpoint.

Once on the bus, the women were as excited as school children on a field trip, many seeing the sea for the first time despite living only 30 miles away.  Fifty-one-year-old Neema shrieked with delight when she first saw the deep blue water fade to a light green and spill on the sand in a frothy white foam.  “I don’t want just to see the sea, I want to hold it,” she said.  The other Palestinian women shared her joy as they all jumped into the water fully clothed, their colorful headscarves floating on the waves. They scoured the beach for shells to take home as souvenirs.

Seamstress in the Sea

Seamstress in the Sea

Dinner was held at a kosher restaurant to accommodate the Israeli seamstresses who follow Jewish dietary laws.  There the Palestinian and Israeli seamstresses, project coordinators and American backers came together to see, touch and admire the collection they had created.  Speaking in three languages, but one voice, they were proud of what they had accomplished.   “God willing,” said Kefah Al-Adara, “this project between us and the Israeli women will create friendship and affection between the two nations.”

Their joy was short lived. Less than two weeks after their Kickstarter campaign ended, three young Israelis were kidnapped and murdered after they hitched a ride home from a Jewish religious school in the West Bank.  During the 18 days it took to discover their bodies, movement in and out of the village of al-Atwani, where the Palestinian seamstresses live, was restricted.  It was impossible to get fabric to the women or get their embroidery out.

They surmounted this obstacle by using taxis to transfer the fabric to the Palestinian women and obtain their finished work.  “We are not able to meet with them,” Segal said.  “These are very difficult days for everyone. For the first time I couldn’t overcome my fear of driving to Beit Jala.  I tried very hard not letting the fear take over, but eventually called Maram and told her that I didn’t feel safe ”  They immediately agreed on an alternate meeting place.

Marketing efforts have been overshadowed by the horrific events of the current conflict.  An interview about the project on a local television station occurred the same day a young Palestinian boy was abducted on his way to morning prayers, then beaten and burned alive.

Despite the fear and animosity surrounding them, the women are not giving up.  “I think the best thing for Two Neighbors at these times is to concentrate on our work and our amazing personal relationships,” said Segal.  They are determined to show the world that Israeli and Palestinian women can create beauty through the eye of the needle, even if peace currently eludes them.

 

The Two Neighbors Team

The Two Neighbors Team

 

++++

Disclosure:  I am proud to say that Segal Kirsch is my stepdaughter.  Follow their progress and buy a dress through at <www.facebook.com/twoneighbors>.


Responses

  1. Well done, Sharon, well done. Thank you!

  2. What a story! What pride you must have in Segal! Thanks for spreading this beautiful and painful story.

  3. Great story, Sharon. It reminds me of The Lemon Tree that I read years ago but which left a strong impression. — Claudine

    >________________________________ > From: Sharemore Adventures >To: claudinestil@yahoo.com >Sent: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 1:48 PM >Subject: [New post] Two Neighbors: Peace through the Eye of a Needle > > > > WordPress.com >sharemore1 posted: ” Israelis and Palestinians are two wary neighbors with a wall between them.  For more than a decade these neighbors have grown farther apart until today residents of Gaza are shooting rockets deep into Israel, and Israel is responding with air strike” >


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: