The occupation wears Prada: Meet the new face of ‘economic peace’

When Israeli shoe designer Gal Shukroon decided to start a project bringing together Palestinian and Jewish women to make shoes, the Israeli army couldn’t resist and used it for its own PR purposes.

By Meron Rapoport

The Israeli military published a video earlier this week featuring Tel Aviv shoe designer Gal Shukroon, who recently launched a new line of shoes, made in a Hebron factory, and inspired by Palestinian embroidery. The goal of the project, according to Shukroon, is to bring love “instead of hate.” Once Palestinian women can earn a respectable livelihood, she says “terrorism comes less into the home.”

In the video, produced by the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the branch of the Israeli defense ministry that administers the occupation, Shukroon says the idea came to her while leafing through a Time Out Tel Aviv issue dedicated to Ramallah, in which one of the articles was about Palestinian fashion designers and embroiderers.

Shukroon says that the path to designing the shoes was easier than expected. She got a phone number of a shoemaker in Hebron and soon thereafter visited him in his factory, without any army accompaniment. “The initial meeting in the Hebron factory was a riveting experience,” Shukroon tells me. “I had never visited any of Palestinian Authority areas, I met some incredible people there. I tell my friends that whenever I feel the need to go abroad, I hop over to Hebron. This crazy experience would never have taken place had I not met with those people.”

At the factory, Shukroon found only male employees. “It doesn’t make sense that men make my shoes, so I asked that they start employing women,” she says. That’s precisely what happened. She created her own collection, “Baraka” (Arabic for “blessing”), with the same motifs she first saw in the Palestinian embroideries. Shukroon is well aware she may be accused of “cultural theft,” but argues that she didn’t lift the embroideries themselves. “I only took inspiration from them. I was cautious.”

Her vision goes beyond a single collection. Shukroon wants to build a factory that will employee 100 Palestinian and Jewish women, which will have to be located in Area C of the West Bank (under full Israeli military control), so that everyone will be able to get there. Shukroon also envisions a center next to the factory where the women will be able to “study Hebrew, English, and basic economics.”

Shukroon launched a crowdfunding campaign two months ago in order to pay for the collection. That’s when COGAT got in touch. “They really encourage cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians,” she says. COGAT offered to do a “story” on her project, which would then be published on its Facebook page. “They did the interviews, they produced it, they filmed it, they did it all.”

“I met incredible, human Palestinians, who thirst for cooperation, who make peace through commerce, industry, without making headlines. Joint growth, that’s the way.” Economic peace — the Tel Aviv fashion edition. Netanyahu couldn’t have said it better.

You are aware that in the eyes of Palestinians, COGAT represents the occupation. It didn’t bother you to take part in a video they produced?

“I received a lot of responses from Palestinians who watched the video on the COGAT page. This was their only way to see it in Arabic. They told me: just tell us when you can bring us a project.”

And yet, the moment it is published by COGAT, you cannot ignore the political context. After all, what you call “terrorism” is in their eyes a result of the occupation.

“Politics do not interest me, they never did. I have no political message. I am meeting human beings. If I wanted to go into politics, I wouldn’t have a project. I am not going to make peace. But the quiet voice needs to be heard again, we can make peace through commerce. I live in Tel Aviv and was asked about this. I told them: it doesn’t bother me. I want to give these women a job.”

Have you received any responses from people on the political right?

“Of course. They told me there is no such thing as the Palestinian people ­­— the usual responses. They asked me why I don’t care about my own people and supply them with jobs. I said that these women have zero opportunity.”

Do you understand that your video is being used for PR purposes?

“I don’t see it this way. I’ll show you how my Facebook Messenger is full of responses from Palestinians.”

It’s hard to ignore Shukroon’s belief in a human connection with Palestinians. But it is also hard not to wonder how, 25 years after Oslo, Israel continues to push the belief that “economic peace,” disconnected from political rights or the occupation.

Meron Rapoport is an editor at Local Call, where a version of this article first appeared in Hebrew. Read it here.