An Interview with Qussay
In part two of our re-introduction blog entries, we asked our friend Perah Shazar to speak with Adish’s Ramallah-based partner, Qussay, who has been involved in the development of the brand since its establishment, both formally as well as spiritually and conceptually...
In part two of our re-introduction blog entries, we asked our friend Perah Shazar to speak with Adish’s Ramallah-based partner, Qussay, who has been involved in the development of the brand since its establishment, both formally as well as spiritually and conceptually.
Qussay had so much to say and so much wisdom to share, and unfortunately, also so much first-hand experience of life under military occupation and apartheid; behind the separation wall, there is a painful reality that so many in the Israeli society and the West choose to ignore.
Adish tries to provide a platform for opinions, voices, and life experiences of the people that are standing behind the brand, the Palestinian heritage that is the story as well as the mediums used to let these traditions be seen and heard; and whilst knowing we are of different sides of that damned wall, we are not “in the same boat”. But we try to work together to deliver a unique voice in a struggle for justice, freedom, and equality.
Due to the sensitive nature of the tangled enterprise that is our Palestinian/Israeli partnership, and in light of past circumstances, we have decided to help maintain Qussay’s anonymity by avoiding publishing his full name at the moment.
Below is a condensed version of an hour-long conversation held with Qussay.
Perah: Can you share a little bit about yourself; who you are, where you’re from, etc?
Qussay: Well, first of all, I’m a Palestinian refugee from the Dheisheh refugee camp. For most of my life, I lived in Dheisheh and I have been living in Ramallah in the past few years. In the past, I worked in Palestinian nonprofit organizations that provide services and generate projects within Palestinian refugee camps.
Perah: What is your role in Adish and what does your day-to-day involvement with the brand look like?
Qussay: Well basically, my role in the brand has to do with the side that is under occupation. This includes the day-to-day involvement in working alongside the teams of women who work with us and who are investing their abilities and creativity in embroidery. Part of my role is to convey to the craftswomen exactly what it is that we (Adish) are doing. It’s important they know who they are working with in detail and that they are given all of the information so they know about the nature of the brand, and to always make sure it does NOT come across as a charity project, or a normalization project. That information is important because working with Israelis is always a risky move. It’s mostly not acceptable. I’ve said this several times before, it’s like working with the enemy. And I’m trying to balance that as much as possible. It’s difficult, but that’s what I’m doing.
Perah: The brand’s name is the Hebrew word for ‘apathy’ and it alludes to the apathy that is very commonplace in Israel. What are your thoughts on the brand name and the meaning behind it?
Qussay: I’ve always thought of the word “apathy” and the meaning of it and what it’s like to be considered, in like, try to see it from a Palestinian’s perspective — the way that Adish has presented itself and the way that you’re bringing, let’s say, Israeli partners, to speak about Palestinians, for that matter. Because every collection we make has a story behind it, and that story is narrated and refined in a creative process, through discussions between myself, Eyal, Amit & Jordan.
But it was always a question. How come they’re telling us that there’s a civil society living in the country that is occupying us, and they are humane, and they are letting this happen? Most Israelis are aware of and concerned about several issues that are going on in the world. But how is it that they don’t know what’s going on next door, or across the road, when they exit their city? How is this still going on, while they’re explaining to us that there’s a democratic community that is living in this state that is occupying us and that we need to understand the needs of that society? I don’t know, I guess it’s a mixture that is impossible to understand.
I see how it’s difficult for Israelis to understand the “Palestinian-Israeli conflict” because they just don’t think there is a conflict. But it’s like, how can you not believe you’re occupying another community when your country exists on the lands of the original villages of the very same people who were transferred to where they are still, to this day, occupied by martial law? There are people still living in refugee camps in order for another society to prosper.
That understanding is not there, in the Israeli mindset. And maybe our work in the brand is like growing a plant, or the seeds of it, but it still needs to grow. Sometimes I don’t care about the Israeli narrative of the Nakba. They exist in the place of other people. It doesn’t matter how nice you want to make it sound. It doesn’t clear from the fact that this is a project that has created refugees for the past 73 years.
So this is really something that needs to be developed and improved and needs to evolve if we want to believe that there’s a chance for something better in the future. I don’t know what that chance is, but if you don’t recognize the problem, how can you come up with a solution? But as for Israelis, the problem is that there is no problem.
Perah: I agree. Do you believe that there is any way that Adish as a fashion brand can be a catalyzation for Israelis to open their eyes and recognize that there is a problem that needs to be addressed? And do you think that Adish can help change people’s narrative about the place they live in, and the ethical questions surrounding their presence in a place once inhabited by Palestinians?
Qussay: Well, if Adish has a role in affecting this existing apathy it is by provoking, by pushing, gently. That’s a statement you can make in fashion, in something you wear. It’s not aggressive but it does address the issue. It’s a way of confronting and talking about facts and reality. So Adish is something you wear daily, you see the Palestinian embroidery and the idea is to make people wonder about it. It’s another attempt, it’s another tool, another way through which you can grab someone’s attention.
So it’s a slower way, but in a sense, these are things that you feel in your every day. Adish started out as an Israeli brand involving traditional Palestinian embroidery. This is the conflict playing out on a clothing item. Each part and role in this is recognized and is appreciated and it’s there. No one is trying to erase the other in this item.
So, in a sense, I would say that this is the role of Adish, and the growth of Adish as a business is a reflection of the changing-apathy trend.
Perah: You’ve faced criticism from outside and from within your community for working and cooperating with Israelis. Can you speak about your initial motivation to form this collaboration with Adish?
Qussay: The first motivation was that I used to work with projects of embroidery and hand-made materials for several Palestinian NGOs and I always was told to explain and to clarify that it’s for the empowerment of women and improving the economic situation and providing an income and so on and so forth. And when the idea of Adish appeared before me, it was different. It was the same tool but it was different. It’s not charity. It’s not something that you would wait for a sponsor to pay for and then you can proceed, or wait for a donation.
I don’t like the idea of charity. I’ve worked with NGOs and I’ve seen what it means to have a donor or an international organization supporting the project to help Palestinians but strictly in the way that these organizations think is helping. But with Adish, people are actually working, They are making an honorable living. While embroidering, They are investing their time and ability, and creativity. They are working, with dignity.
Tatreez embroidery for Palestinians is meant for very elegant events. For weddings, celebrations, conferences, for representing heritage. When you put it on normal clothing, with some modifications like different coloring and making it work for the world of fashion, for me, that is an added value.
Perah: Many people are against normalizing any commercial relationships between Palestinians and Israelis. Can you share your thoughts on the matter?
Qussay: Let’s try to deconstruct beginning from the word “normal.” In fact, we are working with the enemy, and we are working through “the conflict”. We are reflecting issues of the conflict within fashion branded items, with the Palestinian heritage to represent the story and to work through it. So for me, it reflects “the conflict” itself. It doesn’t ignore the truth. So that’s normal. But normalization would be to say that everything is OK, but really it’s not! We are simply working together. That’s it. Normalization would not mention the conflict within your daily relationships. But in Adish, we face reality in every aspect of our work.
So now the only thing that remains is an Israeli-Palestinian identity, and this, upon first impression, is always dragged into the framing of normalization. Usually, when people hear about Palestinians and Israelis working together, they don’t want to listen to the details because they already got the first impression, and the first impression was enough. So that makes it harder and more complicated.
One of the articles that were published about Adish was in Forbes magazine and the news about it spread all over the camp I grew up in, and all over the city. People knew it was me and they recognized the photos of the women doing the handcrafts, and they started to receive threats directed at me. And in some of the discussions, someone asked me, “Why are you arranging meetings between Palestinian women embroiderers and Israelis buying their work?” and I was like, “There are no such meetings.” And he was like “Oh, come on. There must be. It can’t work without meetings.” But they actually never met. We don’t hold such meetings. The way I see it, we’re not normalizing.
As to working with my partners, as I said, it's an issue. I’ve always seen Israelis as the soldiers, either at checkpoints or when they stormed the refugee camp to raid houses or shoot people. That’s the only image I had. But I had the ability to say, “OK, let’s give it a try.” And day by day, case by case, issue by issue, story by story, I think we are at a different level of motivation as to why we keep investing in Adish. Yup.
Perah: I wish we could wrap up this conversation on an optimistic note, but it’s almost impossible, to be honest. I know it sounds like a cliche, but do you have hope for a better future?
Qussay: Well, you know this question of hope is way beyond thinking about what is going on in reality. The region is torn apart and it's bleeding, and it has been for a very long time and it doesn't look hopeful in the near future. Nope. I can't find anything. Sorry. It's...
I would say, the typical answer has been like, “prosperity”. But actually, we are in a worse position now. Because if we want hope, we need to do something to get to a certain level from which we can start hoping. But there isn’t anything positive that we can base our hopes on in order to launch off of. It's only illusions that we tie up to hopes. So there is a lot of work to be done before we can start being hopeful.
Maybe 30 years ago there was like, “let's talk about peace” and it was the first impression. The first time you talk about peace, Palestinians and Israelis talking to each other, Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres talking. Say what? Are Palestinians talking to Israelis? Nowadays, there are way more meetings. Over the table, under the table, on camera, off-camera, on the record, off-record — but not a single thing has changed for the better. So, hope? well…