Real Leaders

Israeli And Palestinian Women Weave Peace Through Fashion

Every few months, Palestinian and Israeli women meet at Everest Hotel in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem in the Palestinian Territories, to discuss fashion — and business.

They work for Two Neighbors, an American company that capitalizes on the legendary embroidery talents of Palestinian women in West Bank villages and Israeli seamstresses and designers.

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“Our way of working together with love and a warm attitude can show the world that it’s very easy to live in peace and make beautiful products together,” said Judy Elazari, a production manager from Israel.

“Working together lessens the differences in everything,” said her Palestinian colleague, embroidery artisan Adeem Amro. The women’s aspirations dovetailed with the two lifelong friends from Idaho who created Two Neighbors in 2013: Andy McCluskey and Whit Jones, both retired successful businessmen looking for ways to make a difference.

Palestinian women create embroidery patterns for Two Neighbors, a fashion and handbag business that also includes Israelis and Americans. (© Two Neighbors)

The business got its start after Jones first established a nonprofit organization that provided a meeting place on the Israeli-Palestinian border for people to gather and discuss peace. Jones noticed women were eager to “demonstrate to the world that they could work together,” and Two Neighbors was born. Today around 50 Palestinian and Israeli women produce a high-quality line of women’s clothing and accessories.

“Women who never had a job before are now earning good wages and able to enroll their children in preschool, get medical care and buy cell phones,” said Tara Sauvage, who joined Two Neighbors in 2017 to introduce the brand to the U.S. market. The women working side by side have developed deep friendships: “They know each other’s children and each other’s stories.”

Jones and McCluskey also have provided business education and other specialized training for the women, including nearly 30 Palestinian embroiderers and a dozen Israeli seamstresses, and plan to turn Two Neighbors entirely over to them in the near future.

“When I see these women meeting together to plan the next steps in their company’s evolution, communicating in two languages, often with babies sleeping and toddlers running around, it gives me great hope in a future, probably led by women, that grows from the grassroots and eventually incorporates all of us,” Jones said.

Traditional Palestinian embroidery, passed down by generations of women in the South Hebron Hills, adorns this Israeli-designed dress. (© Two Neighbors)

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