Thank You, Bella Hadid. But These People Actually Made the Palestinian Struggle Fashionable

It’s not American celebrities who took up the Palestinian cause, like Susan Sarandon and Zayn Malik, who deserve credit for making it mainstream

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Bella Hadid during Milan fashion week last year.
American supermodel Bella Hadid during Milan fashion week last year.Credit: ALESSANDRO GAROFALO/רויטר
Rajaa Natour
Rajaa Natour

Israelis, you like silence, don't you? And you love a world in which Palestinians are completely silent. You are best at silencing children, especially Palestinian children. The 67 children who were massacred by the Israeli Air Force’s best and who are now buried deep in Gaza’s ground were silenced from afar, with the push of a button, and became collateral damage.

Sixty-seven fresh graves did not lead to an admission of a horrid slaughter. Instead, all the occupiers who control Israeli public opinion did was pull out the discourse of symmetry of Jewish-Palestinian forces, and thus the massacre was rendered kosher.

And instead of a black, howling multilingual cry piercing the skies of Tel Aviv until the child killers are brought to justice, we heard primarily, “How did the news editor at Haaretz dare put the pictures of the slaughtered Palestinian children on the paper’s front page? Where are the Jewish victims?”

But you not only love silence, you are also good at creating and using practical, effective and cruel tools of silence and persecution. This time, the silencing machine operating under the auspices of Israeli public diplomacy worked nonstop, because it is still difficult to silence the graves of 67 Palestinian children. According to the doctrine of the violent Israeli information machine, Palestinians are supposed to die quietly, just as collateral damage is supposed to disappear quickly, without a trace or trail of memories and mourning.

Israeli diplomacy’s silencing machine did not engage in sophisticated discourse. Instead, it repeatedly pulled out the old but expected allegations of antisemitism. But it was certainly consistent, directed and accurate. It scored a direct hit, only this time, unlike in the past, the “target” did not walk back its positions as expected. The machine went after political and cultural figures, various celebrities, trying to silence them by force.

A Palestinian demonstration in Nazareth, in October.Credit: rami shllush

This includes American supermodel from Dutch-Palestinian descent Bella Hadid, who was persecuted by Israeli public diplomacy after she attended a demonstration of solidarity for Palestinians in New York. Hadid, 24, a native of Los Angeles and a descendant of a Palestinian refugee family displaced in 1948, was immediately accused of calling for Israel’s erasure because she shouted “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!”

Israel’s official Twitter account tweeted in response: “When celebrities like @BellaHadid advocate for throwing Jews into the sea, they are advocating for the elimination of the Jewish State. This shouldn’t be an Israeli-Palestinian issue. This should be a human issue. Shame on you.”

I must admit that I did not understand what was wrong with Hadid’s statement. If liberating Palestine means dismantling the apartheid regime, that’s great.

But the divisiveness, harassment and silencing did not stop here. A huge ad was published in the New York Times on May 22, funded by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s The World Values Network, with pictures of the two Hadid sisters with singer Dua Lipa above the caption: “Hamas calls for a second Holocaust, CONDEMN THEM NOW.”

This harassment made it all the way to House of Dior, which according to many sources cancelled a fat contract with Bella Hadid. These rumors angered tens of thousands of Hadid’s followers, who called to boycott Dior because it was trying to infringe on Hadid’s freedom of expression. Dior, for its part, did not comment; the fashion world insists these were baseless rumors. Hadid, who was accused of antisemitism, didn’t back down. She wrote on Instagram: “This is about Israeli colonization, ethnic cleansing, military occupation and apartheid over the Palestinian people that has been going on for YEARS!”

Was Hadid the one who made the Palestinian struggle sexy and even mainstream? Was it Viola Davis, Susan Sarandon, Mark Ruffalo, and Zayn Malik, who also threw their full weight behind the Palestinian struggle? Yes and no. On the one hand, it is clear that once a celebrity like Hadid or Ruffalo expresses support for the Palestinians’ struggle against the apartheid regime and against ethnic cleansing, the message is that the taboo at the heart of Western sociopolitical discourse no longer exists. They also signaled to the whole world that one can oppose Israeli persecution and silencing, and even succeed.

On the other hand, neither Hadid nor Ruffalo could have dared to break down this taboo without the excellent fieldwork of civic movements such as the Sunrise Movement, Black for Palestine, Black-Palestinian Solidarity, and Black Lives Matter.

These movements not only cracked the American consciousness, which until a few years ago was impenetrable to Palestinians, but were extraordinarily successful in connecting the Palestinian struggle to the struggle of Blacks, a group that is excluded and silenced within the United States, and presenting it in broader terms without sacrificing the Palestinian discourse and circumstances. Hadid and her peers grew up into a discourse in which equality and justice are the domain of all human beings and not just the masters, and where there is no justification for erasing, oppressive nationalism. In this sense the stage was set; the Palestinian narrative with all its facets entered the American discourse and consciousness at exactly the right moment.

The silencing machine has failed miserably not only abroad, but also locally. The new Palestinian generation, which was ironically born in 2000, the year the consciousness of Palestinian citizens was burned in fire and blood, did not have to tear down any boundaries, neither conscious nor physical, to reach Sheikh Jarrah.

This generation, contrary to all the sophisticated analyses, bypassed Israeliness as if it were nothing. Its consciousness did not recognize borders and empty, hierarchical and divisive intra-Palestinian divisions, so they came by the thousands to East Jerusalem to protest against ethnic cleansing in Sheikh Jarrah, because they knew well what oppression, persecution and confirmed killings taste like. This Palestinian generation has turned the defeated, victimized and submissive Palestinian identity into an identity of struggle. Coming to Sheikh Jarrah was for them a declaration that they were choosing struggle rather than defeat.

Zayn Malik. Credit: DIA DIPASUPIL / Getty Images via

This new Palestinian generation, despite growing up on a discourse of defeat, sacrifice and loss, has managed to leverage and change the identity of victimization mainly because it has not yet been directly and systematically exposed to Israeli institutional violence and racism. Accordingly, its national and political consciousness has not yet been burned by the political and institutional repression that includes arrests, Shin Bet investigations and torture.

These young people just graduated high school and have not yet entered the labor market and academia. And unlike their parents and grandparents, they are demanding a correction of the historic injustice out of a sense of a new proud Palestinianism, rather than a false Israeliness. This generation clings to Palestinianism not as a worn-out nostalgic identity, but as a consciousness rooted in struggle. At the moment this consciousness is under violent attack by Israel and its agents. This attack includes arrests, interrogations, and physical and psychological violence, which are designed to create a consciousness of trauma that will castrate the developing consciousness of struggle and rebellion. Accordingly, this brutal punishment, and the widespread Israeli anger at the new Palestinian generation’s uprising, are emerging not only amid an undermining of Israeli rule, but mainly because of the Palestinians’ refusal to accept and internalize the defeatist national consciousness.

This new generation of Palestinians, which was photogenic and media-friendly, wore Nike, Adidas and Prada and even resembled their Western counterparts. This was what made Palestinianness, the Palestinian struggle and the demands of the Palestinian people sexy and even mainstream, not only for young people in the Arab world but also, and primarily, their Western peers.

I am not, of course, arguing that it was the “Palestinian trendiness” that accomplished the political work, but rather that this trendiness bolstered their humane image, normalized them and their voice, particularly vis-à-vis the young people of the West. At the height of its pride and beauty, this new Palestinian generation encountered the young Western generation, which saw it as a strong, heroic generation fighting for its life, land and home, facing alone the forces of evil in the form of the Israeli state, and the connection was immediate.

Thanks to this halo of heroism, the new Palestinian generation was able not only to enrapture the young people of the West and spur them to post videos in support of the Palestinian cause, but also to finally push them to choose sides, to express a firm opinion against the apartheid regime and ethnic cleansing, to oppose their own countries’ foreign policy and even to take responsibility for it.

The Hadid sisters walk a Missoni show, during Milan's fashion week last year.Credit: ALESSANDRO GAROFALO/ REUTERS

But above all, this young Palestinian generation, which took to the streets without fear, liberated the young people of the West from their own fears, primarily the fear of anti-Semitic accusations, and drove them to speak out against Israel sharply, critically and harshly. This powerful new generation of Palestinians freed the young people of the West from the shackles of emotional blackmail and from the historical feelings of guilt stemming from the Holocaust, ushering in a radical political dialogue.

There is no going back, and there will be no silencing. Israel can continue to defend itself and to massacre Palestinians indiscriminately, but it will defeat neither the new Palestinian generation nor the voice of the young people of the West who have brought down the boundaries of fear.

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