When it comes to making dreams a reality, being Palestinian comes with its own unique set of obstacles. With the nation under Israeli occupation, resistance comes first— and for many, personal goals and dreams are left on the backburner.
But for those able to bypass the country’s borders, new doors are flung open—and resistance begins to take a different shape, one that intertwines with their aspirations. Such is the case for Qaher Harhash, whose life-long dream was to become a model.
For the last few years, his once-unachievable goal has slowly manifested itself into a reality. After countless rejections from local agencies, the Jerusalem-born model managed to get signed by an agency in Tel Aviv when he was just 16-years-old, making him the first ever Palestinian male model.
Despite his early come up, Harhash still experienced vast levels of discrimination from his respective agencies, and was paraded in front of Israeli media – not for his talent – but as the token Palestinian model used to elevate their own reputations.
Frustrated, Harhash eventually made his way to Berlin just a year later, where he went on to sign with Iconic Management.
MILLE caught up with the 19-year-old to talk about how get got in to modeling, the scene in Palestine and the obstacles he’s faced along the way.
How did you get in to modeling?
I always loved the camera. But, when I was eight years old, I saw Tyson Beckford walking down the runway at a show during New York Fashion Week. His ethnic background captured my attention and I immediately asked my sisters “Who is he and why is he walking down the runway?” They explained to me what modeling was, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
At 16, I started applying to modeling agencies and almost all of them denied me, saying they weren’t ready for a Palestinian male model. It crushed me but I never gave up and I kept on believing that being Arab is beautiful too.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?
The same kind of problems that so many male models face. But when I was in Tel Aviv my nationality was working against me. Some people were even telling me to avoid saying I was Palestinian. But I took a deep breath and simply said no. I am my people and my people are me.
I would love to see a bigger Palestinian presence in fashion but I also know the Israeli occupation back home is what is stopping many of us from following our dreams.But I am here to tell people about coexistence and if someone doesn’t want to work with me because I am Palestinian, then they need to reconsider their point of view because someone’s background should never be a burden. It should be a platform for people to celebrate their differences. It should always be an opener for a healthy conversation so we can find ways to relate to one another.
What’s the modeling world like in Palestine?
I do see some people trying to organize fashion shows where they can showcase local designers, but there is no budget and we are under occupation so success is always limited.
Lots of Palestinian guys and girls ask me about modeling, and I always direct them to people or give them advice. I had a dream the other night that I would open a modeling agency for ethnicities that aren’t really seen on the runway. I would love to do that one day.
How different is the scene for you now in Germany?
Overall, every German city differs, from their ideas to how open they are to different cultures, but I think Berlin is the place to be for any model who wants to root themselves somewhere.
People here are so talented and so relaxed. I love all my bookers and all the friends that I have made here. Berlin will always be my second home after Jerusalem, Palestine. People here were so fast to accept me. And I get to look at the police and not be afraid that I’ll be asked for my ID.
Was it difficult for your family to accept your choice of career?
Every family fears that their child will end up making a decision that they will regret. This was my family’s biggest fear and I had to show them that I was dedicated to what I wanted to do.
How do they feel about it today?
My mom always asks about my gigs and my brother is always asking me to give him half my check haha.
As an Arab model, what are some challenges you face?
First, just a lack of representation, but also, the lack of authenticity in other Arabs within the industry. I feel like so many people turn a blind eye and are in it for themselves. When they shouldn’t be afraid to take risks and represent themselves and their people.
Who would you like to work with in the future?
I would love to shoot a campaign with Versace, Gucci, Prada, Givenchy, and Yves Saint Laurent because they are the brands I grew up following. I always dreamt that one day I would get to walk the runway for these incredibly sophisticated brands. I have so much love for the creative directors and the teams behind them.