An Interview with Amit & Eyal
In the third and last part of our re-introduction blog entries, our friend Perah Shazar had sat for another conversation, this time with Adish’s Tel aviv based partners Amit Luzon & Eyal Eliyahu. As most Israelis grow up with very little or no balanced information about the so called “conflict”, the path which the two walk, bringing to light the wrongs in their society, is....
In the third and last part of our re-introduction blog entries, and following the previous interviews with the Palestinian partners, Jordan Nassar and Qussay, our friend Perah Shazar sat for another conversation, this time with Adish’s Tel aviv-based partners Amit Luzon & Eyal Eliyahu. As most Israelis grow up with very little or no balanced information about the so-called “conflict”, the path which the two walks, bringing to light the wrongs in their society, is, unfortunately, a rare site among Israelis. The creative initiation that brought them to explore Palestinian crafts, had inevitably led the two to learn about the nature of the military occupation which is systematically hidden behind the “Barrier”, behind the ‘Apartheid walls’, as well as un-learning myths that are so commonplace in the Israeli narrative. As the name Adish stands for ‘Apathy’ in Hebrew, one can say the brand’s Israeli partners have come a long way in breaking this state of mind while gaining a passion to be promoting a more proactive approach to change the common discourse, with a belief that education, acknowledgment, and responsibility are vital keys for equality and justice for everyone living in this region.
Here are the highlights of the conversation, we hope you find inspiration in their words.
- Tell us about yourselves, your background, where you’re from, and what your roles in ADISH are.
Amit: My name is Amit Luzon, I’m 28 years old. For most of my life I grew up in Petah Tikva and I currently live in Tel Aviv. I used to play tennis professionally, so I moved to a high school in Ramat Hasharon, that’s where I met Eyal. I’m the CEO of ADISH which basically means that I manage the brand on a day-to-day basis, everything that is not at the product level, meaning marketing, finance, business development, collaborations, and so forth.
Eyal: My name is Eyal Eliyahu, I’m 29 years old. I was born, raised, and studied in Ramat Hasharon, and I too live in Tel Aviv now. As a kid, I used to skate and dabbled in the world of art. I liked drawing and majored in art in high school. Today, at Adish, I’m the Product Manager, which means I’m responsible for the quality of our materials and the techniques we use.
- Tell us more about your experiences growing up in Israel in all-Jewish towns. What did you know about the occupation before you established the brand?
Amit: As I mentioned, I grew up in Petah Tikva and most of the years I was involved in sports so I was quite shielded from what was happening beyond the fence. My family was then a completely A-political family and we were hardly told about issues like the occupation. We would only talk about Palestinians during the last intifada in 2000. At school, there was no mention of occupation whatsoever, and I have no recollection of a deep and honest discussion about the Palestinian issue. The first time it really hit me was when we went with Jordan to meet the embroiderers in January 2017, we drove to Beit Jala (in the West Bank) and passed something like three checkpoints, with crazy traffic jams for each military checkpoint, a passage for Israeli cars going in and out of the (illegal) settlements, and a different one for the Palestinians; only then did I begin to understand what it means that Israel is an occupying power. People can pass their entire lives as an Israeli without witnessing the occupation firsthand.
Eyal: As a kid growing up in the outskirts of Tel Aviv, I felt that the occupation was far from me, and I had little knowledge about what was happening. At school, we didn’t get too much information and when we did, the information was one-sided and biased. I think it’s very difficult for a child at those early ages to gain knowledge about what is happening, in an objective and direct way.
- Working with Palestinian heritage and crafts whilst being a part of the Israeli society — which, by its mere presence, takes a toll on Palestinian life — can naturally be viewed as very problematic. In past interviews, you have both expressed some sort of detachment from taking political stances on the conflict; have your stances changed?
Amit: This is a question that has come up a lot and we’ll be honest, we have always been interested in crafts and art, but not only Palestinian crafts. When we first met the embroiderers through the Parents Circle Families Forum in January 2017 and saw their Tatreez embroidery works, we immediately fell in love. Not only in the craft itself, but also in the women who wanted to work together with us, with Israelis, despite everything they went through (some lost sons and husbands).
When we started working with the embroiderers, we were not aware of how important Tatreez is in Palestinian culture, and only while working did we realize, that if we want to work with this technique and these women, we must tell their story as it is. We started an ongoing process of learning more and more about the occupation, the segregation, and the Nakba, We soon realized that we are Unlearning and Relearning major events and issues that have been manipulated in order to maintain the painful reality we live in. Soon we made a decision, as we felt that we must talk about the occupation, without beautifying it with phrases about Coexistence. We need to present to the world and to the fashion/art scene we’re a part of, what the Palestinian go through every single day.
When we started working on the project in 2017, we met with some key figures in the Israeli fashion world who advised us not to go in the direction of a political brand, and not tie politics to the fashion we create. But like I said, we knew we couldn’t hide the impact of the occupation on these women that we work with on a daily basis, and that are an integral part of the brand, and simply use their craft without telling their story.
- In the about section on the ADISH website you emphasized your ethnic background as Iraqi and Libyan Jews. Can you explain why it was important for you to emphasize this part of your identity? Do you see it related in any way to the use of Palestinian crafts in your brand? Why is it important for you to share your ancestral heritage with your audience?
Amit: I think it’s important because, at the end of the day, the culture that our parents and grandparents grew up with at home is essentially Arab culture too. It’s not Palestinian culture, but there are connecting dots. My grandmother for example, who immigrated to Israel from Libya in the 1970s, spoke almost no Hebrew at all and spoke to my father only in Arabic.
Eyal: As Amit said, the culture our families grew up with is the culture of the Arab world. Our families spoke more Arabic than Hebrew, so this world was not foreign to me as a child. I think that even if our origin was European and we had established ADISH, I think the brand still would have found its place, but the information about our origins is for me more about shedding light on how we entered this world and why we were attracted to handcrafts from the Arab world. These images and crafts are reminiscent of our childhood.
- Let's talk about cultural appropriation. ADISH has been criticized for its appropriation of Palestinian crafts. This is somewhat of a sensitive topic, but one that I would like you two to address.
Amit: I think there is a fine line between appreciation of culture and robbing others of their culture, and I guess a lot of people want to see things in a black and white manner. It’s hard for some people to see the nuances and that’s why they criticize us. We always told the whole story of the crafts, and their origins, and credited the craftspeople for it. I think that in our early years when we had just started out, we didn’t do such a good job in telling the background stories of each craft and why the situation got to where it is today, which is largely impacted by the occupation. I don’t think we were afraid to talk about the occupation, but we definitely should have learned more about the issue before diving into such a charged topic.
Eyal: At a quick glance, one might think that the fact that we use Palestinian/Bedouin handicrafts is cultural appropriation, but if you take a slightly deeper look, you can easily see why that’s not at all where we’re coming from. Our main objective has been to place Palestinian crafts and culture at the forefront. We honor and stage the embroiderers, from the level of the clothing tag to the level of the content we upload. We never said that Tatreez is an Israeli craft. As the brand grows, so does the exposure that the issues we deal with getting, as well as the voices we are trying to make heard. There is more and more space for people to work with us. I don’t think we’re perfect, and I am sure we can improve, but I’d rather work on improvement than sit on the sidelines.
- You mentioned, “using your privileges” for the benefit of Palestinian livelihood. I would love to hear more of your perspective on this.
Amit: I think privilege may be a word we should have used less, or in a more reasoned manner, but I do think Israelis should do more to step out of their comfort zone and support the Palestinian struggle for equality and freedom. When we spoke about using our privileges, I didn’t mean for anyone to come and thank me for what we do at ADISH, but rather, I think it is my obligation as a citizen of an occupying state to do the right thing and support the occupied people in the way I can. It's more of a commitment for me, and the tools I have are the brand. This is a very important issue for us at ADISH: not to present the Palestinian people as if they are weak and helpless — despite the difficulties and the ongoing injustices — but rather the contrary; to show how resilient they are. But we are also in touch with the reality on the ground and we know that it’s much more difficult for Palestinians living in the West Bank and certainly in Gaza today to go abroad, for example, to establish an international brand. We at ADISH would like to use the connections and power we have created in the industry to promote such causes there too. That for me is using my privilege. We each can do something to promote the cause.
Can you tell me more about your relationship with Qussay, your Palestinian business partner? He mentioned that working with Israelis such as yourselves is like working with the enemy, how do you feel about this?
Amit: We met Qussai through his wife, who had been working with the Pand and was in charge of a Parents Circle Family Forum project of empowering Palestinian women through embroidery. We started working with her and then she went on maternity leave, and connected us with her husband Qussai. We work together on a daily basis and he is responsible for all the work with the embroiderers, which we have little to do with both due to the language barrier and also due to the sensitivity of the matter (they of course prefer not to work directly with Israelis).
Qussay and his wife feel really like family to me. We talk during good and during difficult times and we’re very open about everything. We consult with the two of them about sensitive political issues in the brand as well as ideas for collections and designs, and they are owners of the brand we are, together with Jordan. Oftentimes ideas for collections or projects fell through because they were of the opinion that they were inappropriate. I think that in that statement of Qussai, he was referring to working with Israelis on projects that normalize the occupation, which is an issue that is very important and sensitive to him personally. Adish is not such a project, even if there are some people who see it as such. It's not like we're sitting over a cup of coffee in Tel Aviv talking about how to do business together, under the Israeli Apartheid we can't be doing so. ADISH is a project that speaks out against the occupation consistently, that talks about the restrictions on freedom of movement and how the lives of Palestinians are affected by the occupation at large.
Eyal: I believe that like Qussai, we were also taught that the other side is the enemy and that all Arabs and Palestinians hate us. It’s very difficult for a child growing up to consume objective and reliable information that shows both sides of the coin. Today Qussay is closer to me than 90 percent of the people around me, we talk every day about things that are not related to work at all. He is a close friend with whom I have a lot in common. He’s much more than a friend from work.
- Can you try to pinpoint the climate that breeds the apathy in young Israelis, the apathy that you refer to in the brand’s name? What makes society in Israel so ill-informed about Palestinian lives?
Amit: As I mentioned earlier, I personally was not taught anything at school about the occupation or the Nakba, and at home, there was no awareness of all these issues, and our families didn’t share with us and there were no discussions about it. We were basically an A-political family as I mentioned, so when I was really exposed to it a few years ago, the gap was so big that I felt like my whole world was changing. It didn’t happen in one moment, but it was a gradual process, and as I read more and deepened my knowledge, more and more walls of ignorance came crumbling down. Things that I believed to be true, suddenly shattered before my eyes. I think I was no different than most Israelis, and when we established the brand, it was with this feeling that there is an entire people living here under occupation, in our name, and we are just indifferent to it. I think the main cause of this indifference is the education system in Israel that doesn’t touch these issues at any point. I know that “Breaking the Silence” and “the Parents Circle Families Forum” sometimes come to lecture to some high schools before teens are recruited to the military, but it’s certainly not engrained and there’s not enough of that work being done. The system doesn’t give you all the information and then the option to choose which truth you believe in. There is a systematic bias and concealment of the truth, to put it mildly, and this is something we are trying to promote at ADISH. Not to say “look, there are these Palestinians and we can live and work together”, but to say, there is a people here living under military occupation by our own military and we must A. do what we can to raise awareness of the injustices they’re inflicted with that are being committed in our name, us Israelis, and B. to support their struggle.
Eyal: Indifference is a characteristic of our society. It doesn’t make sense that we’re a people that is occupying another and that people aren’t raising questions on the matter. The Israeli discourse has marginalized being left and it’s used as a derogatory term. When people that you live among throwing it at you as an accusation, “you leftist”, as a way to insult you, then you understand that there is a problem with the information people are receiving and freedom of expression. I’m sure that if the issue of occupation was presented in schools and educational institutions in a more objective manner, it would be easier for Israelis growing up here to choose a side according to their own discretion and not according to what the environment dictates for them.
- Are there things you wish to improve or change in how you communicate your agendas?
Amit: In an ideal world, I wish that all our Palestinian partners in the brand, including Qussay and the embroiderers who work with us, would be free to affiliate with the brand. I’ve already heard all sorts of rumors that Qussai isn’t real, and I think it’s important that he would be interviewed in his voice and with his photograph with us in joint interviews, as well as hearing more from the embroiderers about their experience working in the project. But of course, that’s not currently possible for a number of reasons that we already mentioned in previous posts. Besides, we learn a lot on the go, about how to improve and be better at communicating outwardly, because this is such a painful and charged topic, and so any word can be understood in double meaning. There were some of our interviews after which we realized that people think we said one thing when really we meant something completely different. I think it’s natural when it comes to such a topic, and there is often nothing much to do but to learn from your mistakes.
Eyal: I would like the brand to continue to grow. I think as we grow, so do our exposure and joint Israeli-Palestinian partnerships, which give legitimacy to different non-corporate companies and projects to do similar things, that will eventually tighten ties between the peoples and hopefully, we will have no other choice but to end the occupation and injustice together.
- What would you wish for your brand to be that it isn’t yet?
Amit: I think the brand has grown organically and authentically. As I said, we learn day by day on all fronts, both with regards to messaging and communications, but also in practically every aspect of managing the company, and that is part of our fun. I would like to say one more thing, I hope the brand gains legitimacy in the Palestinian community as well, and that our intentions are more understood, but it could also be that this project is ahead of its time.