Fashion shoot slated for Israeli barrier
By Steve Weizman
March 1, 2004 | JERUSALEM (AP) -- An Israeli fashion house plans to
shoot its summer catalog at Israel's West Bank security barrier this
week, the company said Monday, less than a week after troops shot
dead two Palestinians protesting the network of walls, wire and
A statement from the fashion house, Comme-il-faut, said the one-day
shoot Wednesday would take place at a section of the barrier on the
edge of Jerusalem "for the purpose of creating a dialogue around
The statement said the event would contrast beauty, femininity and
fashion with a "concrete wall of insult, ugliness and humiliation."
Israel says it needs the barrier to prevent suicide bombers and other
attackers from entering its towns and cities. Last Thursday two
Palestinian protesters were shot dead by Israeli forces not far from
the site the company picked to send its models and photographers.
Palestinians say the partially built barrier -- which would dip deep
into the West Bank in some parts of its planned 400-mile route -- is
a land grab meant to prevent them from establishing an independent
Under international pressure, Israel has begun making changes in the
route of the barrier to minimize hardship on the Palestinians,
thousands of whom face being cut off from their farmland, schools and
medical facilities elsewhere in the West Bank.
Comme-il-faut got its summer catalog idea from students at a
Jerusalem design school doing a course on the use of ideology in
advertising. They came up with the concept of fashion on the fence,
with the slogan, "women cross boundaries."
The fashion firm's CEO, Sybil Goldfiner, said the project reflects
Comme-il-faut's feminist agenda. Asked by The Associated Press if she
was concerned that Wednesday's front line fashion fest could be seen
as trivializing a deadly serious issue, she responded: "You're a man,
you wouldn't understand."
"We live in a state of constant trivialization," she added. "Every
time there is a terror attack we soon afterward go back to life as
normal. We want to emphasize those paradoxes."
Noam Hofstatter, of human rights group B'Tselem, said that if Comme-
il-faut really meant to draw attention to human rights abuses caused
by the fence, "then that would be welcome."
Fashionable Protest, Lost in Translation
March 4, 2004
By JAMES BENNET
EL EZARIYAH, West Bank, March 3 - It has been said that
there are two schools of thought about what fuels conflict
between Israelis and Palestinians: one, that the two
peoples do not understand each other; two, that they
understand each other all too well and so are trying to do
one another in.
Wednesday, when scandalized Palestinians gaped at fashion
models sashaying on behalf of an Israeli designer along the
barrier Israel is building to enclose Jerusalem, was a
banner day for proponents of the first theory.
Their lacquered faces composed in haughty neutrality, three
models struck poses at the foot of the 25-foot-high
concrete wall, beneath white graffiti in swirling Arabic.
They seemed unaware that the words meant "I Am a Big
That message accounted for the giggles of a nearby knot of
Palestinian schoolboys, at least in part. The other part
may have had something to do with the way one model's shirt
flared, unbuttoned, well below her breasts. Most of the
other women - there were five models in all - wore more
Steps away, a passing Palestinian woman, Umm Muhammad,
squared off with Sybil Goldfiner, the chief executive of
the fashion house, Comme-Il-Faut (French for "as it should
be"), an avowedly feminist, dovish firm.
Umm Muhammad - the name, the only one she would give, means
"mother of Muhammad" - wore a faded blue dress buttoned to
her throat and a brown-and-blue head scarf. Ms. Goldfiner
wore silver-tipped boots and orange-tinted sunglasses.
The two women tried and failed to find a common language,
then communicated through a journalist who spoke Arabic and
"Is it good?" demanded Umm Muhammad, waving at the wall.
"I think it's very bad," replied Ms. Goldfiner. "That's why
I came to do this."
Umm Muhammad did not grasp any link between high fashion
and the high barrier, which the Israeli government and most
Israelis say is needed to stop suicide bombers. Her voice
rising in anger, she spoke about being cut off from three
married daughters on the other side. She spoke about not
much liking the models' clothes. She spoke about wanting
not a fashion shoot but to help to tear the wall down.
"We need to explain to the world that what Israel is doing
is wrong," she said.
"I agree," Ms. Goldfiner said. "I feel not proud to be an
Israeli in this situation, and I'm doing what I can."
Ms. Goldfiner had an idea. Turning to the journalist, she
suggested, "She wants to take a picture with one of the
girls - for us to use it?"
No, she did not. "If it's for fashion, it's painful for
me," Umm Muhammad said, adding that she would be delighted
instead to join a sit-in.
After the two women parted, Ms. Goldfiner mused: "She is
full of hurt. She cannot listen."
For Ms. Goldfiner, the fashion shoot was a way to jar
Israelis with her summer catalog. Fashion is "future,
optimism, colors," she said, "next to the wall, which is
absolutely the opposite, is not normal, is gray and
despair." That, she continued, "is exactly the mirror of
this life - everything is mixed up between normal and not
Wednesday was one of those days, not infrequent here, when
it can be very hard to put one's finger on precisely what
Some of the models were clearly trying to sort that out for
themselves. "My political culture is very limited," said
Nouni Cisse, 23, speaking English with a strong French
accent. "I had few information when I left France. I knew
there was a political problem between Israelis and
Palestinians, but why and what, I didn't learn yet."
She said she had just learned about the Israeli barrier on
Tuesday. "They showed me a newspaper, but I can't read it
because it is in Israelian," she said.
Asked what she thought of the barrier, she said, "It looks
like a jail." Asked what she thought of the clothes, she
said, "I think there are some good ideas."
She wore a smart brown and white pantsuit of what appeared
to be linen, with a string of blazing yellow beads. Her
gold sandals were covered with dust as she made her way
from the West Bank side to the Israeli side of the barrier.
Another model explained to Israel's Channel 2 television:
"We are doing something to show that we are just people who
want to have no barriers, peace and, you know, beautiful
things like me and the clothes. Not gray walls."
In other places, the barrier, which is planned to stretch
more than 450 miles, is composed of fencing, ditches and
guard towers. Here, on the shoulder of the Mount of Olives
in the biblical Bethany, it is under construction. If the
Israeli guards do not object, it is still possible to walk
around its edge.
Northwest of here on Wednesday, in the village of Biddo,
residents buried a Palestinian who had died of wounds
sustained when Israeli forces had fired on stone-throwing
demonstrators against the barrier last Thursday. Two other
Palestinians were killed that day.
The photo session was dreamed up by two 25-year-old
students, Maayan Smoler and Uri Dagan, in an "ideological
advertising" class at Bezalel art school in Jerusalem. They
called their idea "women crossing boundaries," and their
professor passed it on to the fashion house.
The primary audience was Israelis, but Mr. Dagan said there
was a message for Palestinians: "We are not ignoring your
Yet Palestinian onlookers thought the Israelis were trying
to cash in on their suffering. "They come for fun here to
make a fashion show, while we suffer from this and can't go
earn a living?" said Naji Sabagh, 26, whose house faces the
wall about 50 feet away. "They just want to bring this
strange idea to make more money."
Asked what he thought of the clothes, Mr. Sabagh said,
"They reflect their tastes and their culture. We have a
different culture." He wore a white dress shirt and khaki
Another model, Meital Weinberg, 24, said she lived "in my
bubble in Tel Aviv" and had not given the barrier much
thought. "Seeing it for the first time, it's a little
silly," she said.
It was a "big scary wall," she said, yet she had eaten and
changed clothes in the Palestinian house on the other side
and had had a nice, neighborly time there.
"I don't know much about politics and negotiations," she
said. "But the human part of it, that I do understand, is
Ms. Weinberg wore brown plaid pants and a bright orange
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