Amit Luzon on Why Adish is Centered Around Traditional Palestinian Crafts
Adish is an Israeli Palestinian brand that makes contemporary garments centered around Palestinian living crafts like Tatreez embroidery, olive wood beadwork, and Bedouin weaving techniques. We interviewed one of the founders Amit Luzon who grew up in Israel. Here are excerpts from a longer conversation about his understanding of the relationship between Israel and Palestine when he was younger, how his perspective changed, and why the brand is so committed to supporting local traditional craft in Palestine.
Can you describe your understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict growing up?
I was born in 1993 around the beginning of the Oslo Accords, when Israel and Palestine signed an agreement that should create a Palestinian state eventually. So, there was a feeling like euphoria in Palestine and Israel. But there were also concerns from the right wing in Israel about giving Palestine a state. Then, the Prime Minister of Israel, who led the whole process, got assassinated by a Jewish person who was against the Accords. Since then, there have been a lot of military activations, and small wars between Israel and Palestine. I can’t even say it’s a “war” because it’s not an army against an army. It’s an army against people.
And for me, we never studied this in school. We never studied the occupation or anything like that. Nobody's telling you about that. When you hear about Palestinians, everything about it is related to terror - suicide bombs and things like that.
Maybe some other families were more open to this kind of thing, but I believe that my family was really normal, mainstream. They didn’t have any political association - not right or left. They just wanted to live their lives. It didn’t seem like something that should be extremely important to them. So, my family didn't teach me anything about it either. In school, they didn’t teach me anything about it.
In the news, you just hear things are black and white like, “There’s a war there,” or, “A suicide bomber killed this number of Israelis,” or, “An Israeli killed this many Palistineans.” It’s all numbers.
Until I was like 22, 23, I really didn't know much about the occupation.
On the website, you talk about growing up with the presence of fences at the border. Could you talk about what you understood that border to mean?
For me, the craziest thing is that Palestine is like 40 minutes from my hometown - 40 minutes from my driveway. And I never went there. I didn't know anyone from Palestine. Which is crazy. I knew people from all over the world, and I didn't know anyone from Palestine. And most of my friends and family didn't know anyone from Palestine. It's only when Palestinians come to Israel to work - that's how Israeli people meet Palestinians. Most Israelis don’t have Arab Palestinian friends who live in Palestine. Some have Palestinian friends who live in Israel. But we didn’t have anything like that. Which seemed really weird to me.
When I was 18, after high school, I became more interested, and I started to read more and to understand more. But when I was 22, I read deeply about it, watched a lot of interviews, movies, everything to really try to understand.
What did it feel like coming to understand the border really differently?
It just felt weird that everybody's been hiding this kind of issue from most of us. In high school, in your family, with friends, nobody talked about that. For me, that's the weirdest thing because it's so essential to what we are doing and what's happening in our daily lives in Israel. And nobody's telling you the truth - nobody’s telling you what happened in ‘48, what happened before ‘48, what happened in ‘67. I think that's the main thing that's going on right now because a lot of us really don't know the actual truth, the history of what happened there. When you don't know and recognize what you did in the past, you can't really look to the future.
Can you talk about the name, “Adish”? My understanding is it means “apathy” in Hebrew.
It sounds like, unless you go out and seek this information yourself, you're not likely to confront it. So, can you talk about why you’d describe that attitude as apathetic versus being in the dark?
In the name, I’m not referencing the younger generation who are like 14, 15. That's when you're in the dark. But when you're a grown up, you've been through some things in your life - when you're 22, 23, 24, 30, even - and you really don't care what's happening on the other side, then you're apathetic. After you're 18, you can vote for the government, and you can actually change things in your country. If you don't care what's going on there on the other side of the fence, then you're really apathetic towards these people, towards these people’s lives.
Can you describe what you perceive to be the solution to that apathy?
It’s not really the solution, but for us, it’s about waking people up, making them a little bit more aware of what's going on - Israelis, or even the West, in general. The understanding of what’s going on in Israel-Palestine in the West is really flat - it's black and white. Sometimes Israelis are good, Palestinians are bad, depending on where you are in the world. Sometimes Palestinians are good, and Israelis are bad. There's no gray area. People are only aware of the major things that happened in the region, but people don't know what daily life looks like for a Palestinian during occupation.
People don’t know that for a Palestinian man born in Area A, in the West Bank, it's really, really, really difficult for him to travel in the West Bank, in Palestine. Traveling between cities can take hours.
Could you talk about the challenges in manufacturing everything in Israel-Palestine?
There are three main factors. The first is that there is no textile industry in Israel-Palestine, so you need to import everything from Japan or Italy or Turkey. All the threads, buttons, and zippers and stuff - you need to import everything. It's not like in Italy where you can just go and buy everything you need. So, that's one challenge.
The second challenge is that, because of the lack of freedom of movement in Palestine, you need to work with special drivers that can drive back and forth from Israel to Palestine. Not all Palestinians can come to Israel. We can’t really work with a factory unless the owner has a permit or they work with a driver who has a permit that lets them go back and forth to Israel. In the beginning, in the first two years, most of the time we drove to Palestine - sometimes to areas where Israelis can go and sometimes to areas where we can't go, but we went there anyway just to make sure that things are happening.
The third factor is the embroidery. We didn't have any fashion background, and we knew that we wanted to work with craftsmen, but we really didn't know how to approach that. Eventually, I met with a friend of my family who worked with an NGO called the Parents Circle Family Forum. She was volunteering there working on a project about supporting Palestinian embroiderers. She said, “Maybe you should meet the embroideries that I work with.” So, we went there. For the first time, I went to Palestine. And when you talk with these embroiderers, each one of them was an amazing woman, each one of them has lost someone close to them. One of them lost her son, one of them lost her husband, one of them lost her brother, and they still want to work together with Israelis and to make sure that no more people are going into this death circle - that’s why it’s called the “Parents Circle.” And they want to work with Israelis in order not to have more people going to the Circle.
Since then, we knew that we needed to change the ethos of the brand. It needed to be about what's going on in Palestine, and we needed to focus on embroidery. This meeting changed everything for us. After this meeting, we really felt like we can't work with Palestinians and not tell their stories and what's going on.
What does the Tatreez embroidery mean culturally?
Palestinian embroidery is one of the ancient crafts in Palestine. It's running for like hundreds of years, and every village in Palestine - historical Palestine, also - has their own patterns and their own meanings. So, the South is more dark colors like blue, black, purple. The East has more reds and stuff. It's not just the colors; it’s also the patterns and the motifs that each pattern has. And it's deep inside the Palestinian culture. Every Palestinian woman started to learn how to embroider at the age of six in order to embroider their wedding dress. You even see the Palestinian Congresswoman in the US wearing a Palestinian dress with the Tatreez. So, it's really really deep in the culture.
The embroiderers we work with didn’t really have work before. Most of the embroiderers were housewives before. And they're still housewives. All the embroidery they do for Adish, they do from home. So, we distribute everything to their homes. They usually need to take care of the kids, you know, pick up the house and everything. They can't go to a factory in the morning and come back at five. We provide them all the trims, the fabrics, the threads, the needles, everything they need. Of course, they don't pay for anything - they don't have any expenses, just their time. Our standard is that we pay triple what they would get for this embroidery in the local market. This is one of our standards with our partner Qussay from Palestine. That's how much we pay. We never negotiate. It’s always three times. The main thing for us was to give them work and not charity. Charity is one of the most noble things a person can do. But when you work with a craft, the most important thing is continuity. You don’t do just a one-time project. The most important thing for us is that these embroiderers can wake up and do work for Adish if they want to. Every morning. Every month. Every season. Every time we establish a relationship with a workshop, we continue to work with them for the next season. Tatreez is always a big part of the collection because we have more than 100 embroiderers we work with right now. So, we need to provide work for all of them.
So, it seems like Adish is turning something that’s been done in the home into something of an industry. Is that the case?
In the fashion industry, there was no representation of the Palestinian culture and what's happening in Palestine, in general. So, I feel like what we do is still on a small scale. It's not that we are changing the world right now with what we do. But we are definitely trying to change, at least on a small scale, the lives of the people that we work with and work with us. And if we manage to help some people to learn more about the occupation, what's going on in Palestine, and they can go to their families or to their friends and talk about it, then we did our job. And if one of the embroiderers can have the money to send their daughter to the university with the money that she gets from Adish, then for us, that's the goal.
Interview by Storr Erickson