A choreography of fashion - and daily life - in Ramallah
This photograph by Nir Kafri captures the contrasts characteristic of religious societies in a changing world.
Four women, 14 mannequins in window displays, complementary colors, matching designs, decorative elements and mysterious thoughts fill this lovely photograph by Nir Kafri of women shopping in Ramallah during Ramadan. The price of the red dress on the mannequin on the right has been slashed to NIS 180 from NIS 280. Or maybe it never was NIS 280, and this is only an advertising gimmick. The woman on the right reads a text message as her son sleeps in his stroller. (You can tell it’s a boy by the socks.) His mother holds a violet plastic bag she has hung on a handle of the stroller. A female passerby who glances at the sleeping toddler wears a hijab in exactly the same hue as the bag. Behind them, a pregnant young woman in a bubblegum-pink hijab looks into a display window. She lifts the material of her dress with a hand adorned by a wedding ring, and in her other hand holds two bulging green bags.
The fourth woman, slightly older than the others, wears a blouse with orange and gray stripes; draped over her shoulder is a bag with a pattern of large squares in turquoise, black and red. Her bag pattern resembles the pillar that separates the display windows, which is covered with shiny, though quite vulgar, yellow and blue tiles. But the tiles of the delicate pavement are decorated with richly convoluted floral designs. Suddenly the eye notices a flower, similar to the one on the tiles, embroidered near the hem of the toddler’s mother’s dress. As though the tiling and the decoration on her clothes speak the same language, are fashioned from the same conceptions of beauty.
This photograph captures the everyday life of the more affluent urbanites within Palestinian society and points out the contrasts characteristic of religious societies in a changing world − between the aspiration to cover the woman completely and control her, and freedom (problematic in itself) in the form of the daring dresses on the mannequins. Between the black of the loose-fitting dresses and the body-clinging styles in the windows, and the pink, green and purple of the textiles and bags. Between the hyperactivity and acquisitiveness of urban working women everywhere, and their role as mothers, which is manifested here in different ways: the highly visible pregnancy of the young woman, whose gaze is drawn to clothes that do not suit her condition; the mother in comfortable, black shoes who is busy with her phone, exhibiting the divided attention of can-do mothers. The woman in brown looks diagonally into the stroller, whose toy has been wrenched from its place, and her gaze tells a story of envy and worry; the older woman passes by the stroller without stopping.
There is also a man in this photograph, probably a salesman or the owner of the shop. He is standing on the right, at the entrance to the store, next to its electric sign. One arm lies across his chest, the other, its wrist wrapped with thread, is held close to his mouth, in the universal pose of shop owners who haven’t yet made any sales that day. It is the height of summer, and he is the only one wearing summer clothes – the “modern” person in the photograph. This is the month of Ramadan, the holiday to which the culture of the “Jewish state” is indifferent, as though it were not celebrated by 20 percent of Israel’s citizens.
This superb photograph catches a moment of natural choreography, in which relations between the women are forged for a moment and then severed. But it also catches the inherent Ramallah-ness of their place of residence, the Arab “enemy” in a city it’s impossible to leave except by a reverse journey from the sea to the Jordan and from there outward; a city that always serves as an example of “Western night life,” as if it were a free city in a free country; a city that has commerce and consumerism but is dependent on Israel’s support and approval, and makes do with imitations and the interpretation of designs that went out of style a decade ago across the Green Line.
This is a photograph of Arab women from Ramallah shopping during Ramadan. The vast majority of Israel’s Jews have no interest in looking at it. A pity, because even though the prime minister is publicly contemplating the idea of bombing installations in Iran and pretending the public is taking part in an open debate between proponents and opponents − the only solution, the only human, concrete and possible solution to Israel’s problems lies in observing these neighboring women in Ramallah. In casting our gaze on them, not on propaganda about Iranian nuclearization.