At this point, it can be agreed upon that discussing peace between Israel and her Palestinian neighbors can be as mentally taxing and emotionally draining as trying to constantly explain to your great aunt Frieda what it is you do for a living. Yes, we all dream of it and have opinions on how the issue should be handled. Heck, we even turn into Ivy League- graduate topographers in debates we have with family and friends. Yet, every once in a while, the answer comes not from a Princeton Political Scientist, nor a CNN commentator, but a rather unlikely source…
Meet Two Neighbors, a clothing and accessories company that highlights the rich tradition of Palestinian embroidery, fused with modern Israeli design techniques. Each thread stitching both beautiful pieces of art and hope; a perfect example for what can be achieved when individuals come to the table with open minds and without pre-conceived notions. Two Neighbors can trace their special beginning to a meeting set up by retired American couple Dr. Whit and Paula Jones. Dr. and Mrs. Jones are the founders of The Center for Emerging Futures – a non-profit that aims to build grassroots relationships between Israelis and Palestinians.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Tara Sauvage, Two Neighbor’s US Director of Marketing and Sales:
Ilana: Tara, thank you for taking the time to speak with me, I’m so thrilled to be able to find out more about this amazing project that is empowering both Israeli and Palestinian women.
Tara: Yes! And thank you for taking an interest in this unique initiative.
Ilana: Who is part of the Two Neighbors team?
Tara: There’s Kefah, who is the Director of the Women’s Cooperative in her village in Hebron Hills. She has long dreamed of presenting the embroidery talents of the women in her village and the surrounding villages. Rehan who is one of the lead embroidery designers in the region, designs unique patterns for Two Neighbors, as well as passes down her knowledge and techniques to other Palestinian women. There is Adeem, who is the Co-Manager of Two Neighbors in the West Bank. She manages all the embroidery production in the West Bank and has been with the company for over three years. For her, Two Neighbors is an opportunity for women from both sides to be a part of the peace process and to strengthen the social and economic development of their communities. Judy Elazari is the Israeli Co-Manager of Two Neighbors. She oversees all of the production for the apparel in Israel, as well as the leather bags. Judy has a clothing shop in Tel Aviv (Boutique Judy) that features the entire Two Neighbors collection. Dr. Whit Jones and his wife, Paula, a retired American couple agreed to start and fund this new venture. You can say this truly is an international initiative.
Ilana: Were the Israeli and Palestinian women already working together when Paula and Whit decided to invest?
Tara: So, the women met at the Peace Talks and then decided to move forward with a small business idea of making embroidery fashion items. Whit had been leading peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian people for about ten years, through The Center for Emerging Futures.
Ilana: What is a misconception people have that don’t live in the immediate area of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? What misconceptions (if any) do Israelis have? Do Palestinians have?
Tara: The average Palestinian and Israeli are completely ready to be friends and partners now. The conflict is being perpetuated by the leaders of the two countries.
Ilana: What makes fashion the ideal medium for bridging this gap?
Tara: It is wearable art. We had to choose a medium that could showcase the Palestinian embroidery and the Israeli design together. Fashion was the logical response and so far it has worked well. Handbags in particular are very useful fashion items and one size fits all.
Ilana: What do you wish more people knew about Two Neighbors?
Tara: That we really are a true co-op and the women working together have become like family to each other from both sides. Women really are the true peace makers. And the Palestinian women really do the most amazing handicraft.-the embroidery is a delight and very artistic. It is a true art.
Ilana: You already have locations in Tel Aviv and La Jolla, California. Are there any plans to open more locations abroad?
Tara: No, not at this time, unless it is to have our brand in more stores (but not open more of our own stores). We are still working on building our USA customer base. We would be interested in doing more wholesale with other shops that are interested in ethical fashion and this type of social innovation fashion business.
Given the context, purchasing and proudly wearing a Two Neighbors dress, bag or jacket is a statement in and of itself. It tells the world that you support peace, believe co-existence is possible and most importantly, that it’s attainable.
Perhaps, achieving peace can be likened to a lofty New Year’s resolution. Mapping borders and security arrangements, might be like pledging to start every morning with Kale juice or mastering Mandarin before next month’s excursion overseas. If an overwhelmingly large and unrealistic goal is set, without any practical ways of achieving it, then failure will be looming over the endeavor from the get-go. Rather, sometimes it takes smaller-scale realistic goals, like working together to create something beautiful, that can slowly bring about peace.
Thank you to everyone at Two Neighbors, for demonstrating what is possible when what unites us overpowers what divides us.