Ladies First highlights women and girls who are making the world better for the rest of us.
The recent violence in Gaza has brought one of the world’s most contentious political conflicts to new intensities, leading the world to wonder if the Middle East is further from peace than ever . In the face of tragedy and devastation, however, is a small spark of hope: In a small border town between Israel and Palestine, a small group of Israeli and Palestinian women has decided to set their conflicts aside to work together on creating a business that symbolizes unity. In 2009, the brand Two Neighbors was born, combining Palestinian embroidery with Israeli sewing craftsmanship to create a pathway towards peace through meaningful modern fashion.
The idea for Two Neighbors was conceived during a Global Village Square event held by Center for Emerging Futures organization, which invites Palestinians and Israelis to meet on common ground to discuss collaborative projects. There, a retired American couple named Dr. Whit Jones and Paula Jones agreed to start Two Neighbors alongside Israeli and Palestinian team members. According to the company mission statement, the brand seeks to “wage our own peace process, by creating together an against-the-odds partnership that defies politics in favor of beauty, common sense, an shared economic benefit.”
Given this context, a Two Neighbors dress or bag is more than a piece of clothing or accessory. Rather, it is a symbol of solidarity. Each item showcases fine craftsmanship from both sides, and the final product embodies the harmony between both. The Palestinian embroidery is informed by centuries of tradition, containing tiny cross-stitches that produce special motifs. The sewing is done on the Israeli side; many of the women involved learned the craft in the Soviet Union, from which they immigrated to Israel in the ’90s. And the company’s head designer is from Tel Aviv, bringing the fresh perspective of a young, vibrant city through her minimalist approach.
“To me, peace — or co-existence, at the very least — is Israel’s society number one priority,” says Segal Kirsch, the company’s Israeli Coordinator. “After years of protesting for peace that led to a lot of frustration and despair, I realized that for me personally, it feels more right to make connections on a daily basis and work from a grassroots level building trust and friendship between people. Although many see it as naive, I believe that drops of this kind will eventually create an ocean that leaders on both sides will not be able to ignore.”
In addition to the symbolic strength of the project, Two Neighbors also creates tangible opportunities for women in the region to work. Kefa, one of the Palestinian team members, is also the Director of the Women’s Cooperative in her village of Hebron Hills. Through this role, she is able to leverage the embroidery talents of the women in her village, giving them a sense of purpose as well as a source of income, improving their living conditions in the process. The brand employs between 20 to 60 artisan women in the West Bank, with the numbers fluctuating in correlation with the demand for production.
“We’ve stopped asking our fathers and brothers for money,” says Sana’a, one of the embroiderers from Palestine. “I used to dream of having a camera and thankfully, Two Neighbors helped me to have one. I have another dream to have a driving license, and to be the first female driver in town. As long as I work with Two Neighbors, I will have my own money, which will help me get the license.”
Another embroiderer, Kefah, shares, “I am really feeling happy to be part of the Two Neighbors team and project. They bring this air that gives hope to all of us. Two Neighbors proves that we are truly neighbors, and we must cooperate with each other regardless of the circumstances we suffer and deal with daily,”
Though the partnership is positive for many of the women involved, not everyone agrees with their approach. Adeem Amro, the company’s Palestinian Coordinator, shared that she is not open about her work to many people because such a joint Palestinian-Israeli business venture is so politically loaded; Palestinians do not hold much trust in Israelis.
“People from both sides should be more open to each other,” says Amro. “Small things affect the peace process. To me, Two Neighbors is one of those small movements that will help us get there.”
Given the recent events, it is a tough and crucial time for the women at Two Neighbors, but they remain committed to hope. Kirsch shares, “Unfortunately, the brutal truth is that with everything going on in the world, peace might not be possible soon. Many times I respond to the cynics by saying that I am not in the ‘Peace Business;’ rather, I am in the ‘Business of Hope.’ We as individuals must not lose hope. I am optimistic that persistence will bring results, and persistence is what keeps me optimistic.”
(Photos via Two Neighbors)