By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
I get it. You’re an aspiring journalism, or maybe even a veteran, and you’ve decided that it would be good to cover Palestinians. You’ve never really met any Palestinians, but it’s a hot topic.
An author discovered that there were two Palestinian women running a lingerie company, according to her headline. But right from the start we can see the problem with the article.
- “You would be forgiven for thinking that an emerging lingerie company would be trifling for a local population much more concerned with safety than the quality of their underwear.”
“Trifling” means unimportant. The author assumes all Palestinians are concerned about their safety and that they don’t have normal lives. As such the author adopts an Orientalist trope, namely that “they” are not like us. But is this based on any interviews with local Palestinians? Are they truly always worried about safety? The article begins with misinformation. Ramallah or Beit Hanina or Yatta is not Aleppo. Most Palestinians live normal lives, albiet circumscribed by lack of civil rights. But just like women in China, Burma, Saudi Arabia, Cuba or North Korea, whatever the lack of certain rights, doesn’t mean lack of interest in everyday life, including clothing.
The article then mentions the company two women founded named Kenz. Kenz is on Facebook and has 1,700 followers. Now come more Orientalist ignorance-filled tropes.
I’ve left the links in the original quote. The “air strikes” took place in Gaza. Are the founders of the company, Christina Ganim and Nicola Isabel located in Gaza? Is the company located in Gaza? According to Viceland, which has profiled Christina before in an video of her going through Qalandiah to pick up underwear in Jerusalem. The article doesn’t say where the women featured in it live, but evidently they live in Ramallah. The links above implied women in Palestine frequently have to deal with water shortages and electricity outages. But even the links provide evidence of only one example of electricity outages, it is not a frequent occurrence. Are there “water shortages” in Ramallah? Not according to the restaurants there.
According to the women in the article they are pioneering selling underwear online and they are the only ones doing this kind of “high end” selling in the region. “Shopping for lingerie in the West Bank—because it is nearly impossible to go to a store and find something that fits you,” says Ganim. If that were true one might wonder how it is possible that millions of Palestinian women have been able to find underwear up until now? It’s true that there is no Victoria’s Secret in the West Bank. I should know, I once contacted them about opening a branch for a friend of mine who runs a clothing store in Ramallah.
According to the article “Palestinians have to rely on local market sellers for their intimates” because of “severe security inspections.” But why would security inspections make the flow of bras and intimates impossible? There is ample supply of them in Jerusalem, why can’t they make it to Ramallah and Hebron, there are no security checks going through Qalandiah to Ramallah, the security checks are going the other way. According to the article if you order underwear sent to you via Jerusalem or via a friend “there is little joy your battered and misshapen lingerie could bring, and the trouble of securing a permit to cross the border.” What “permit”? Who checks for underwear going into Ramallah? Why would it be “misshapen” if someone bought it at Mango in Jerusalem and drove it 20 minutes to Ramallah?
3) “Choices are reportedly limited to whatever smugglers can bring in under the radar, and Ganim attests to a remorselessly awkward buyer experience, that most women like her, living and growing up in the West Bank, would be subject to. Typically, young women must decide their measurements in full of view of prying eyes, and negotiate prices with the older men who run the stores or stalls — who are just as keen to sell a bra to you as a packet of cigarettes.”
Is any of this accurate? Throughout the West Bank there are clothing shops, especially in Ramallah. Are “prying” eyes of old men always spying on women who want to buy a bra?
Are most clothes in the West Bank “smuggled” in? Is it actually “smuggling” to bring in bras and underwear from stores in West Jerusalem? Basic questions, but no answers from an article more interested in the heroics and exotic than reality.
Inside the article is an internal contradiction. “They have had to rent a warehouse space in Dubai that they access remotely and from which they will distribute their goods to the entire Middle Eastern region.” So even though the article claims it is virtually impossible to import lingerie to Palestine, and that it is all “misshapen”, in fact they are doing just that: importing it via security checks and customs.
According to the article Arab women don’t usually buy sexy lingerie except for their wedding night and that it wasn’t considered culturally appropriate. “The boom in the Middle Eastern market for luxury lingerie could suggest that women are indeed keen to shop to their own tastes.”
Then the article provides another detail that contradicts the whole point about importing underwear for Palestinians. “Most of their purchases for now are coming from women in Saudi Arabia to whom distribution is easier.”
So I get it. You want to write about Palestinians. They are “exotic” and you want to write about the conflict and the struggle and underwear seems sexy and different. Sounds like a good story to pitch to your editor. But instead of imagining women dodging air strikes like this is Stalingrad, to go get measured for lingerie, maybe try actually writing about reality. There are no air strikes. This isn’t the 19th century with underwear coming via donkey “smugglers”. There are millions of Palestinians women, many of them are into fashion, just like women in other countries. They wear sexy underwear, just like other people. Yes, the choices in Ramallah are worse than in Tel Aviv. Yes imports face all sorts of hurdles. But there are also Palestinians who have run companies for years and fly back and forth to China to buy material. And anyway, this story is about a company that apparently is selling in Saudi Arabia, not even so much here.