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How Bedouin women were exploited to 'Judaize' the Negev at NY Fashion Week

An organization that settles Jews in the Negev, and with a central role in the story of displacement at Umm al-Hiran, enlists a famous Israeli designer to team up with Bedouin women for a NY Fashion Week fundraiser. The problem — nobody told the Bedouin women what they were up to.

Illustrative photo of Palestinian embroidery. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Illustrative photo of Palestinian embroidery. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Israeli designer Aviad Arik Herman, who made headlines earlier this year for designing Culture Minister Miri Regev’s famous “united Jerusalem” dress, entered into a blossoming “partnership” with Bedouin women culminating with a dress on display at New York Fashion Week this week, according to an article in Hebrew-language news site Ynet. The story, it turns out, is not as heartwarming as one might believe.

According to the article, the Or Movement enlisted Arik Herman to present an embroidered dress, designed by him and produced by the women of Laqiya. The Or Movement’s purpose is to settle the Negev and Galilee with Jews, and is behind the core “seed” community of Hiran, a Jewish-only town slated to be built on the ruins of an unrecognized Bedouin village called Umm al-Hiran.

So how did a group of women from unrecognized Bedouin villages, who are fighting to stop the demolition of their homes, come to cooperate with an initiative working to displace Beduoin just like them?

Asma al-Saneh, head of the The Association for the Improvement of Women’s Status, Lakia, the organization that runs “Desert Embroidery,” told me the Bedouin women had no idea in what they were taking part. “We never thought we would fall into such a deceitful trap. We never made headlines for our good work, and now this ruins our reputation.”

How was the contact made between you and the designer?

“A guy called and said he was a major designer and needed help. He came to us, at first alone, and introduced himself as a world-renowned designer who wants to present a dress in New York. He asked for help and brought the materials with him. He was a client like any other. He didn’t say he was making Miri Regev’s scandalous dress, and we had no idea who he was.

“Before he came to pick up the dress he asked if he could film. I thought it was good for publicity. I didn’t understanding who the people he brought with him were or why they were so silent. The next morning I woke up to that article on Ynet. If we had known, we would never have cooperated with him.”

Al-Saneh says that following the publication of the article and the reactions she received, she looked up the Or Movement and was horrified at what she found. Along with the organization’s founder, Na’ama al-Saneh, Asma consulted with a lawyer to find out what could be done. “We demonstrate in support of Umm al-Hiran. If they had told us they were going to raise money for this movement we would have refused.”

The article presents you as his partners, that you receive a percentage of his profits, and that at least one of you traveled to New York. Did you speak with him or ask for an explanation?

“I called and sent him messages asking how he could say such things in the media, and why he didn’t make clear who he was and what they were fundraising for. I wrote to him that if he was fundraising for Or then the Bedouin women deserve some of the money as well. That was before I even knew what Or does.”

“The director said to us that this was no problem, and that they would give us half of the donations. But I don’t want that partnership. A partnership should be transparent from the outset, not retroactively after a misleading article was published and only now they show all their cards.”

Na’ama says she is being attacked from all sides. Activists are accusing her and her organization of conspiring against the Bedouin. “Really harsh words were written about us, as if we are traitors. We were portrayed as if we sold our values for crumbs from the settlers.”

“I admit I did not look deeply into what that movement does and I didn’t ask too many questions. This was really all in good faith. I take responsibility,” she added.

So why did this happen? The original Hebrew-language article quoted the head of the Or Movement, Roni Palmer, and deputy Ofir Fischer, explaining: “We thought it would be appropriate, especially for New York Fashion Week, to show that there is a different kind of activity that connects the different populations, and together to embroider fabrics and dreams that create love and hope.”

Hope for whom exactly? Not for the women of Laqiya.

These women, who sought only to support themselves and their families with dignity, found themselves in the middle of a raging dispute over land, are exploited by an organization working in the service of an ideology that wishes to erase their culture and physical existence from the landscape.

Their embroidery will be featured on the body of a model walking a New York runway. Wealthy New Yorkers will spend serious money to promote the Judaization of the Negev and to be inspired by the novel idea of a “multicultural Israeli dress,” while bestowing the daring designer with glory he does not deserve. Meanwhile, the Laqiya women’s association and its members will stay in their unrecognized villages, and the price for the innocent mistake they made will continue to haunt them.

Asked for comment, the “Or” movement wrote: “The “Or” movement does not fight the darkness but as its name says, adds light. The movement works with all populations and sectors, including the Bedouin. The purchase of the dress from a designer from the Negev and the Bedouin women was meant to demonstrate that there is hope for shared living and coexistence between Arabs and Jews in the Negev and everywhere. We are sorry that there are extremist elements from the outside who are trying to present false facts, to sabotage, instigate and intimidate those who are working with these intentions. We who live in the Negev will continue despite the complexity to work together for a joint vision and action.”

Aviad Arik Herman declined to comment for this story.

A longer version of this article first appeared in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here. Translated from the original Hebrew by Shoshana London Sappir.

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    1. JitKunDo

      I don’t believe a word of this article. There is a pattern here. Arabs and Jews work together. Then it gets publicized. Then the Arabs declare that they didn’t know who they were working with. This is about as believable as the parents of the teenagers that go to stab Jews who declare that their innocent children were on their way to the store to buy candy. It is all nonsense produced by a society with a somewhat warped relationship with telling the truth.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @JiKunDo: Here’s the Or movements website, “Our Mission”


        “In 1999, four childhood friends set out on a hike across Israel, with a mission: to determine what Zionism meant for the next generation….”

        Can’t find a mention of Palestinians here.

        Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @JitKunDo: “This is about as believable as the parents of the teenagers that go to stab Jews who declare that their innocent children were on their way to the store to buy candy.”

        Know any parents of teenagers who were shocked – shocked, I tell you! – to find out what their kids were up to?

        Reply to Comment
      • john

        usually the pattern is, arabs and jews work together, then the building they work in is burned by arsonists.

        Reply to Comment
        • carmen


          Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      Nothing could better illustrate the depths of Israeli deceit and duplicity that this article. The perversity! The brazenness!

      And JitKunDo’s response is classic too: When caught red handed, even on videotape, or by its own soldier’s (Breaking the Silence), claim its “pallywood…liars…they’re traitors doing it for money….”

      “A society with a somewhat warped relationship with telling the truth.”

      If a phrase ever described Israel and its hasbara agents, this is it. And that’s putting it politely.

      Reply to Comment
      • JitKunDo

        The existence of Pallywood is easy to demonstrate. Go to youtube and search for it. There you will find videos of the dead rising and other amazing things.

        Breaking the silence are traitors doing it for money. On this you are correct. They make up stories and then present them as fact because that is how they get paid.

        In Palestinian society it is acceptable to lie to protect your family honor because it determines your social status. There are few things worse than collaborating with Jews. Having a promiscuous daughter or a gay son are roughly on the same level and those transgressions are often punished by death to cleanse the family honor. Lying makes a lot of sense in such a society when accused of collaboration.

        Palestinian society also encourages its people to lie to further national goals. If it is acceptable to murder Jewish children in pursuit of national goals then surely a white lie or two to a reporter is reasonable. Almost everything that is reported on the basis of Palestinian testimony is a lie because of the shame culture and the stifling conformism of that society.

        Reply to Comment
        • john

          the existence of white genocide is easy to corroborate with the same lazy methods. exercise a bit of critical thinking, and you wouldn’t believe the dead can rise. how you talk about ‘palestinian society’ is the same way polite company used to talk about ‘the jews’ or ‘the negro problem’: stereotyping based on ignorance.

          Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          John’s good response here is really all that needs to be said in response to this dreck.

          It’s quite amazing though—you call out someone on their committing classic, slanderous fabrications and what do they do to defend their slander? Do they mount a coherent argument? Do they provide evidence? Do they even make sense? No, they double down and expose their hollowness entirely.

          And note that any accusation JitKunDo flings at Palestinian society is actually just as easily flung at Israeli society or parts of Israeli society or any society or any human beings, really. Just change a few details. And note what JitKunDo is actually implying: Palestinians do it for honor, Jews do it for the money. Wow.

          As for the cheesiest and most insulting slanders among the slanders, the “pallywood” drivel, a vicious ethnic slur that JitKun Do is engaging in because he feels like it and because he can:

          ‘Pallywood’: A particularly ugly ethnic slur

          Reply to Comment