The Palestinian Influencers Who Chose Their Country Over Brand Deals

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In 2014 during the seven-week Gaza War, Israel launched a brutal military operation in the Gaza Strip that resulted in the deaths of more than 2,100 Palestinians, most of which were civilians. 

On July 15th of that same year, Rihanna tweeted #FreePalestine and swiftly deleted her tweet within 8 minutes. Seven years later, Rihanna chose to play it safe last week, uploading a ‘both sides’ statement to her Instagram that left many of her fans disappointed. To them, her statement neglected to reflect the asymmetry of power at play between Palestinians and Israelis. 

For years – and even to this day— any Israel and Palestine conversation was controversial, a forbidden topic almost— especially within Hollywood, wherein Israel remains glorified. So, for those of us familiar, it comes as no surprise when celebrities like Rihanna either refuse to speak about Palestine all together or eventually retract any statement of support entirely. And as influencers grew in popularity over the years, a similar approach to the topic shaped up within that demographic too. 

If you’ve wondered why, the answer is pretty straightforward. Supporting the pro-Palestinian movement is a threat to their financial gain. Most are afraid of losing brand deals and endorsements, and work opportunities. Many are even silenced by their management teams or superiors. It might sound like a conspiracy theory but numerous brands have Israeli ties, just have a look at the BDS boycott list and you’ll see. 

But taking the risk of losing brand deals is slowly becoming one that many are willing to take. Palestinian model Bella Hadid has been unapologetic and unwavering in her support for her father’s native country. And she’s not alone.

 

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Numerous Palestinian influencers, models and creatives have been very vocal during the current unrest in occupied Palestine, speaking on the importance of supporting their country during a time of crisis even if it means their careers taking a hit. 

The New York-based Maria Alia, a Palestinian-Puerto Rican model and influencer who boasts 418k followers on Instagram and has worked with the likes of Burberry, Dior, Tiffany and Co. and Nike to name a few, has been unrelenting in her pro-Palestine activism both on-ground and online. 

For me, it’s always been free Palestine. I’m literally Palestinian so my identity and my people’s right to freedom and to not live under oppressive occupation is not up for debate,” she tells us. 

“I’ve been working in fashion and the İnfluencer/creator space for the past 5 years. I think there definitely was a time early in my career where I was reckless with who I worked with, and did not do my due diligence to make sure I was in alignment with who I was working with. At this point, I really [don’t care] if my posts or my voice seem too “political” for brands or followers. If my support of the Palestinian people, my people, and my criticism of their oppressors loses me a job, that’s completely fine by me. I would much rather have them weed themselves out for me,” she explains. 

 

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Reflecting on her family’s background and how it influences her views today Maria added “I’m privileged enough to be from a family that survived the 1948 Nakba, got out of a refugee camp in Lebanon and somehow made it to America, generations later. I have to use my privilege, my freedom of speech and my platform to support my people and amplify our voices, especially at a time like this where there is an unprecedented amount of international attention.”

Another Palestinian influencer, model and creative with over 55k followers who prefers to remain anonymous, has an impressive portfolio of campaigns and endorsements from several luxury beauty and fashion labels. But it all came with a fair share of silencing, threats and fear of speaking out against Israel’s unjust treatment of Palestinians. 

“There was a time in my career where I was literally told and threatened with being terminated as a result of posting stories on my Instagram that were in defense of the Palestinian people and critical of Israel,” she admits.  

After that, and for a very long time I was unable to talk about or post anything in support of Palestine and especially against Israel in particular. Now, it feels really good to be able to speak about it again openly and we owe this a lot to everyone who has been posting about it recently and most importantly the BLM movement that happened last year which allowed people to understand and feel shameful for when they choose silence during times of crisis.” 

 

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Then there’s Haneen Bader, a Palestinian streetwear influencer and fashion designer based in Dubai, who never hesitates to proudly represent her country. 

When it comes to speaking out against the Israeli occupation of her native country, she has no problem losing out on opportunities to work with any brands that have a problem with being outspoken. 

“It’s utterly heartbreaking what’s happening in Palestine, it is my heritage and my ancestry. Any following or appreciation of my content is effectively tied directly to me being a proud Palestinian because it’s not just a part of me, it is me,” she says. 

The risk of losing brand affiliations or even being blocked by global brands because of my outspoken and unwavering support for Palestine does not intimidate me, if anything, it makes me want to become more vocal about the injustices that my people are facing. What’s the point of having a voice that reaches an audience if you’re not saying what you truly believe? And for me, that is my support for my home, Palestine.”

 

 

Main image: Maria Ali

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