Apart at the Seams by Sonya Carassik Ratty
Where things come from matters. Where that shirt you’re wearing comes from matters: each piece, every seam, every stitch. Consider each measurement and each cut of the fabric. Every printed letter. Now imagine all of those processes being managed across the most heavily contested border in the world.
The pieces of your shirt were passed from hands to hands, from car to car, through countless military checkpoints before it made the final journey to the store where you bought it. Production anywhere is a series of decisions and the overcoming of obstacles. Producing your ADISH shirt in this particular context – in villages and camps and cities across the West Bank – means that the decisions made at each turn define what ADISH are about, and the obstacles are many. This responsibility is not taken lightly. The process brings together countless long journeys across short distances, and the determination to defy the fragmentation that exists at every level of this intractable situation.
That delicate embroidery on the piece you’re wearing, and the other pieces of the ADISH SS19 collection, was made by one of three groups of women across the West Bank. This is tatreez, a cornerstone of Palestinian culture. It is often described as a kind of language, incorporating elements of the environment and events, and recording it in stitches. Tatreez has always been linked to geography, with distinct styles from individual regions and villages across historical Palestine. In Amman, Jordan, home to many of the Palestinian diaspora, there was once a shop where a woman could walk in, say the name of her Palestinian village, and be handed the specific colour threads from that village. Tatreez, history and geography are tightly spun together. We can think of the ADISH production in the same way. We can read the story – of checkpoints, internal borders, fragile relationships, and of innovation and new dialogues – in your shirt.
If you ask someone from Palestine about tatreez, they will tell you that their mother or grandmother would sit and embroider, taught by their mother and grandmother, and how each area has its distinct style. With displacement and dispersion these styles have shifted. The war of 1948 –referred to as al-Nakba or the catastrophe in Palestine, and as the War of Independence in Israel – and the war of 1967 affected the styles and motifs. Sometimes, surely, they were lost. But the craft also endures, and these women are the treasurers of it.
Today in Beitunia, Amal and her group of embroiderers use their skills to bring the ADISH embroidery to life. These designs are modern interpretations of traditional patterns or new motifs with innovative colourways. The embroiderers say that at first they were unsure, but they now they appreciate the evolution.
They are proud that their tatreez is taken out into the world, though cautious because of historical appropriation of the style by Israeli designers. They are emphatic – this is a Palestinian tradition. It says as much on the label, sewn into the very seam of every item. Tatreez is a craft, a message from Palestine to be taken around the world. ‘Our tradition is our identity,’ says Sabah, one of the embroiderers and a grandmother of fifteen.
Perhaps the embroidery that you’re wearing was stitched by one of the women from Nada’s embroidery group in Dheisheh refugee camp. The camp was established in 1948. As you approach Dhesisheh at the southern edge of the city of Bethlehem you will notice that it doesn’t look like what we think of as a refugee camp. These are concrete buildings, often several stories high.
The women in Nada’s group live around a central compound where a persimmon tree grows. They are from ‘Ajjur in Hebron, though they were born and raised in the camp. In Palestine refugeehood is an ongoing trauma; third and fourth generation refugees still describe themselves as being ‘from’ a different place than where they were born.
Tatreez from Hebron district was famed for being colourful and rich in motifs. For ADISH, the designs that the women work on are conceived of by the Palestinian-American artist Jordan Nassar. The embroiderers are integral to the evolution process, feeding back to ADISH what works and what doesn’t – what threads work against which fabrics? What is possible, and what isn’t?
There are certain facts of life in the West Bank that are inescapable. Often these events lay bare how exposed the ADISH production process is. The frequent dawn raids of homes in Dheisheh inevitably affect the processes of manufacture. Such is the reality of living and doing business here.
The three ADISH embroidery groups form a network; they are
linked by the lines of the ADISH operation that run between them. If production falls behind in one group, this affects the work of the others. Their work overlaps and relies on each other, but they are distinct. Like any artisan, the women are particular about their materials. They have preferred needles and fabrics that are delivered to them several times a month. Each woman has her own method.
The forty women in Nada, Amal and Najla’s groups who create the tatreez practice their craft at home. No checkpoints, no traffic jams. The ability to fit work around family life and to earn from the home means greater stability for their family. Sometimes it is the difference between being able to afford tuition for children or not.
Are you wondering who embroidered the tatreez on your shirt? Take a look at the label. It will tell you the name of the leader of the group, and where they are from.
Normal logistics do not apply here. The factory where the pieces of items in the SS19 collection are sewn together is next to the Palestinian village of Al Jeeb in Area C, meaning it is under Palestinian control. Getting goods to and from the Al Jeeb factory is not easy. Since 2005 Al Jeeb and its neighbouring villages have been cut off from their surroundings by a huge wall. This wall was built to separate Al Jeeb from the settlements that surround it: Giv’at Ze’ev, Giv’on HaHadashah and Ramot. The chain building of settlements and roads surrounds Palestinian towns and villages, cutting them off from their neighbouring communities and farmland, and slowly choking them. Over a fifth of land in the West Bank is now taken up by settlements.
The wall around Al Jeeb and accompanying checkpoints makes travelling in and out of the area difficult, isolates the community, and separates families from their land. To get into the area both Palestinians and Israelis need a very specific kind of permit which ADISH do not have, and so deliveries are made by taxi.
Taxis are essential to the ADISH production process. The story of the taxi drivers of the West Bank is the story of the changing landscape and the associated restrictions on movement, from when they could drive right into Israel, to when the wall came up during the second Intifada, to stories of curfews and checkpoints. This is why ADISH hailed these men as the inspiration of their SS19 collection.
When ADISH were making the decision to work with a factory in Area C, they had to be sure: Sonya Carassik Ratty was the factory in an Israeli settlement? This would go directly against the brand’s core principles. The issue of settlements is one of the most challenging obstacles to peace in the region. ADISH’s approach is to innovate, to circumvent obstacles: supporting a factory in a settlement would be counterproductive to this approach. When the partners were satisfied that this wasn’t the case, they went ahead, meaning that for the first time the entire collection was to be made in Palestine. ADISH committed to labelling all of the ADISH SS19 items, ‘Made in the Palestinian Territories.’
When there’s a meeting between the ADISH operations team, one side travelling from near Tel Aviv and one side from elsewhere in the West Bank, they will often meet in a spot near Al Jeeb amid checkpoints, settlements and enclaved Palestinian villages. This is not a comfortable experience for either party.
Often the items need to be taken through Qalandiya checkpoint. To drive the stone’s throw between Area A, under Israeli administrative and military control, and Area C is far from simple. This usually involves a wait in a traffic jam for an hour, often longer. This bottleneck affects all journeys in the area; even those who aren’t travelling through the checkpoint will still be caught in the grinding traffic. Vehicles slowly file through Kofr Aqab, a sprawling, built up suburb of Ramallah in the shadow of the wall.
Around you are delivery drivers and cars full of families, people making their way home from college or work. Once you are in this queue there is nothing to do but wait. You can’t move forward or back. You can’t turn around. You can only wait until the people in the line of cars in front have had their papers inspected and a quick interrogation. Is the traffic particularly bad? Perhaps some of the gates at the checkpoint are suddenly closed. Perhaps somebody is having a bad day. Perhaps it takes three hours instead of two.
Your car will need to have a specific type of plate. A green Palestinian plate will not permit you to travel on the roads through Qalandiya, past the Israeli settlements and beyond. You will need a yellow Israeli plate which is only permitted to Israeli citizens or Palestinians with an Israeli ID. Expert knowledge of which roads are accessible for which type of person is essential; in some places, cars with Palestinian plates are permitted to drive around only a section of a roundabout.
Often ADISH items have to be carried through the checkpoint on foot, through turnstiles and cages. Even on foot it is not a simple thing to pass through. When it’s your turn to be questioned by the soldiers – young Israeli men and women, conscripted into the army at the age of eighteen who are ordered to carry automatic weapons – you will need to meet several criteria to be allowed to pass. You must show your ID, and you must have the correct papers with you at all times. First, you must not be a civilian Israeli citizen – if you are, for you, just being in Area A is against Israeli law. At the beginning of any zone designated Area A are large red signs installed by the Israeli government that say:
This Road leads To Area “A”
Under the Palestinian Authority
The Entrance for Israeli
Citizens Is Forbidden,
Dangerous To Your Lives
And Is Against The Israeli Law
If there is a single stitch out of place on any ADISH item it will need to be taken back to the factory or embroidery group, and then collected again. This can amount to hours and hours of added time for a brand in an industry with a notoriously fast turnaround. As with everyday life, the checkpoints and unpredictable traffic aggravate at every turn.
Each detail of the SS19 season represents a story. Alongside each item of the collection you can find a memento of woven olive-wood beads. Each bead is smooth and polished. When you touch them, know that for Palestinians olive trees are a symbol of resistance, of connection with the land, of endurance and of peace.
Olive groves are a frequent site of violence from settlers towards the trees themselves and the families that attempt to tend to and harvest them. Those beads you are holding come from Palestinian olive trees around Bethlehem and Hebron. They were cut and smoothed and polished by Muslim Palestinian craftsmen then collected and driven down the road where they were engraved at a Christian Palestinian workshop. These are beads, but they are not just beads.
Sometimes it’s tempting to think, why bother? The clothes could be sewn and embroidered by machine. Why not do it all in Israel and avoid the traffic jams, the checkpoints, the border? If another intifada was to break, the tentative but definite progress that has been made would stall. Perhaps it would break apart.
The answer is that the series of small, protracted processes that it took to make your shirt is a faint reflection of the reality of the place that it comes from. It is made – literally, made whole – because of an idea that transcends the border; by people doing business together and showing respect toward each other; people who the world is told should hate each other, between who cooperation is thought to be impossible. It is cut and sewn and stitched as a testament to openness. Not just open mindedness, but the right to live an open life – free of walls. It is about imagination and dedication, about steadfastness in the face of criticism from opposing sides. It is a story of making something delicate and beautiful amid immense complexity and hostility. It is about respecting the stories and experiences of your neighbours and saying their names. Above all, it is testament to the belief that another way is possible.