Common threads: the Palestinian women who made a mark on the Paris art scene

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Embroidery has offered Palestinian women the much-needed opportunity to improve their lives for more than half a century. (Photo/Inaash.org)
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Embroidery has offered Palestinian women the much-needed opportunity to improve their lives for more than half a century. (Photo/Supplied)
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Inassh cushions designed by may daoul in john rosselli gallery New York
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Inassh cushions designed by may daoul in john rosselli gallery New York
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Embroidery has offered Palestinian women the much-needed opportunity to improve their lives. (Photos/Inaash.org)
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Embroidery has offered Palestinian women the much-needed opportunity to improve their lives. (Photos/Inaash.org)
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Updated 09 June 2020

Common threads: the Palestinian women who made a mark on the Paris art scene

  • Lebanese charity Inaash has been improving the lives of refugees for 51 years by teaching them traditional embroidery

PARIS: Embroidery has offered Palestinian women living in refugee camps in Lebanon the much-needed opportunity to improve their lives for more than half a century.

It has also turned some of them into internationally acclaimed artists, with their work displayed in galleries and institutions in France — including the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Institut du Monde Arabe, and UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris — and other institutions and organizations around the world.

It is all thanks to a project launched by Inaash, a charitable Lebanese organization founded 51 years ago. Not only has it helped the women to preserve a traditional skill that is part of their heritage, in doing so it also provides them with a way to earn a decent living.

Inaash president Nadia Abdelnour said that the association currently works with Palestinian women, and the Lebanese women who support them, in five camps: Mar Elias, Ein El-Hilweh, Rashidieh, Bourj El-Shamali and Wavel, near Baalbeck.

“We take DMC threads (a brand of thread popular for embroidery) to the various camps and once items are finished, we pay the women for them and sell their work,” she said. “The more we can sell, the more the Palestinian women benefit.

“Inaash has been doing this work for 50 years. We sell cushions, clothing and other things for the home, and we have had exhibitions in Europe.”

For example, The Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and a number of other international galleries, exhibited “12 Windows,” an artwork conceived by renowned Beirut-born Palestinian artist Mouna Hatoum in partnership with Inaash. Each of its 12 exquisitely embroidered panels represents, through motifs and patterns, a key region of Palestine. Researched and designed by Rahim, the panels were embroidered by some of Inaash’s most experienced craftswomen. The work has also been exhibited at Institut du Monde Arabe and at UNESCO in the French capital, and in Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and New York.

Although its shop in Beirut has remained closed during the coronavirus pandemic, Inaash has continued to give work to the women in the camps to help support them during these difficult times.

It all began in 1969, when Serene Husseini Shahid — a member of an influential Palestinian family who was born in Jerusalem, and died in Beirut in 2008 — was visiting New York and saw a beautiful, embroidered Palestinian dress on display in a shop window.

She went into the shop to ask about it, only to be told it was Israeli. Angered by this claim, because she recognized the style of Palestinian embroidery from her youth, she asked who owned the shop and was told it was Ruth Dayan, the wife of Israeli military leader and politician Moshe Dayan.

Shahid returned to Beirut, where her husband Munib was a doctor at the American University Hospital. Still upset by the appropriation of Palestinian heritage she had discovered, she decided to join recently launched Inaash, the Lebanese Association for the Development of Palestinian Camps.

It was founded by Huguette El-Khoury Caland, the daughter of Bechara El-Khoury, Lebanon’s first post-independence president, Shermine Hneine and Gebran Majdalani. Shahid convinced them to switch the focus of their efforts from encouraging women in the camps to knit to teaching them traditional Palestinian embroidery.

The organization expanded, with Shahid’s sisters, Malak Abdel Rahim and painter Joumana Husseini, joining the team. In the early days, Husseini and Rahim visited the camps personally to teach the women embroidery. Inaash opened a workshop in Shatila Camp, along with a nursery where the women could leave their children to be cared for while they worked. This led to Inaash establishing kindergartens in the Bourj El-Brajneh and Mar Elias camps, although they were difficult to sustain and eventually closed.

Husseini’s eldest daughter, designer Maya Shahid Corm, is now vice president of the association, continuing her mother’s good work. In France, Husseini’s youngest daughter, Zeina Shahid, contributes by organizing a popular annual exhibition and sale of Palestinian embroidered cushions.

A number of well-known Lebanese designers have worked with Inaash, including Nada Debs and fashion designers Rabih Kayrouz and Mira Hayek. Interior designer May Daouk organized a successful exhibition and sale of cushions, designed by her and embroidered by Inaash women, at the John Rosselli Gallery in New York.

Together with the founders of Inaash, and those who continue their good work, they have contributed to the revival, preservation and support of Palestinian heritage, while helping to improve the lives of women in the camps.


Amnesty: Migrants face ‘vicious cycle of cruelty’ in Libya

Updated 12 min 10 sec ago

Amnesty: Migrants face ‘vicious cycle of cruelty’ in Libya

  • Libya has emerged as a major transit point for African and Arab migrants fleeing war and poverty to Europe
  • Most migrants make the perilous journey in ill-equipped and unsafe rubber boats

CAIRO: Amnesty International said Thursday that thousands of Europe-bound migrants who were intercepted and returned to Libyan shores this year were forcefully disappeared after being taken out of unofficial detention centers run by militias allied with the UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli.
In its latest report, the group also said that rival authorities in eastern Libya forcibly expelled several thousand migrants “without due process or the opportunity to challenge their deportation.”
Libya, which descended into chaos following the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, has emerged as a major transit point for African and Arab migrants fleeing war and poverty to Europe.
Most migrants make the perilous journey in ill-equipped and unsafe rubber boats. In recent years, the European Union has partnered with Libya’s coast guard and other Libyan forces to stop the flow of migrants and thousands have been intercepted at sea and returned to Libya.
Officials in Libya’s east and west did not respond to repeated phone calls seeking comment.
Amnesty said about 8,500 migrants, including women and children, were intercepted and brought back to Libya between Jan. 1 and Sep. 14. Since 2016, an estimated 60,000 men, women and children have been captured at sea and taken to Libya where they disembarked, it said.
“The EU and its member states continue to implement policies trapping tens of thousands of men, women and children in a vicious cycle of abuse, showing a callous disregard for people’s lives and dignity,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty’s deputy regional director.
Thousands have been subjected to enforced disappearances in 2020, after being taken to unofficial detention centers in western Libya, including to the so-called Tobacco Factory in Tripoli, run by a government-allied militia, Amnesty said.
There, the migrants and refuges face a “constant risk” of being abducted by militias, armed groups and traffickers.
They are “trapped in a vicious cycle of cruelty with little to no hope of finding safe and legal pathways out,” the report said. “Some are tortured or raped until their families pay ransoms to secure their release. Others die in custody as a result of violence, torture, starvation or medical neglect.”
Eltahawy urged the EU to “completely reconsider” its cooperation with Libyan authorities and make “any further support conditional on immediate action to stop horrific abuses against refugees and migrants.”
In 2020, eastern Libya authorities forcibly expelled over 5,000 refugees and migrants, citing their alleged carrying of “contagious diseases” among reasons cited for the deportations.
Amnesty cited an incident, without saying when it happened, in which eastern Libyan forces blocked a bus from entering the southeastern city of Kufra unless three Chadian nationals got off. They were ordered to take a COVID-19 test and left in the desert outside the city, while other passengers, all of them Libyans, were allowed to enter without further checks or testing.