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Opinion – Hadid Palestine backlash shows importance of identity

Bella Hadid has admitted to losing ‘so many jobs’ and experiencing harassment from both strangers and friends after vocalising her support for Palestine. 

Today Bella Hadid would be considered as an ‘it girl’.

Her fashion sense drives global trends, her hairstyles have triggered viral tutorials, and her facial features have boosted the popularity of niche surgical treatments.

With this fame has come equal parts criticism. Bella’s privileged upbringing, white complexion, and drastically thin build have been the subject of debate around inclusion and equality in the modelling industry – as well as the narrow limits of our Western beauty standards.

But while she may be a nepotism baby, Bella Hadid’s flawless appearance hasn’t protected her from racist abuse – a result of her Palestinian heritage and a brazen public support of her home country.

It may come as a surprise that Hadid is ethnically Middle Eastern. The disparity between her idolised appearance in the West, and the vitriols of hate targeted at her Arab community is something Hadid has discussed at length.

In a March interview with Vogue, Bella admitted to regretting a nose job she received at 14: ‘I wish I had kept the nose of my ancestors. I think I would have grown into it’. Her confession of rhinoplasty triggered debates around Eurocentric beauty standards and their parallel with colonisation.

But besides using her career to address the beauty industry, Hadid has remained vocal about the Palestinian struggle throughout her career – a move which, she now admits, has caused the loss of jobs, sponsorship deals, and even friendships.

In an interview with for the Rep podcast, Bella described how outspoken advocacy for Palestine and its people – at a time when the conflict in the country has become increasingly contentious topic in the Western world – has cost her a great deal more than online attacks.

‘I had so many companies that stopped working for me’ Hadid said on the podcast. ‘I have friends that completely dropped me’.

Despite the anxiety Bella has felt after speaking up, the one thing that motivates her to do the ‘right thing’ is her family, the patriarch of which is Mohamed Hadid. Her father was born and raised in Palestinian Nazareth, now considered ‘the Arab capital of Israel’.

Bella and sister Gigi have been open about the strong relationships they hold with their father and his Palestinian family. ‘I know my family enough; I know my history enough. And that should be enough’ Hadid told the Rep.

In the past two years, tensions between the Palestinian population and Israeli forces have mounted. In May 2021, a major outbreak of violence in the ongoing conflict resulted in rocket attacks and Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza strip. The destruction was only abated after a ceasefire was enforced on the 21st May.

The criticism Hadid has received after publicly supporting her motherland isn’t all that surprising.

Individuals who have chosen to speak on the Israeli occupation of Palestine have received similar abuse due to the highly controversial nature of the war (many would even consider the term ‘war’ an inappropriate definition in this context).

Natalie Abulhawa, an athlete of Palestinian-American heritage, detailed her own experiences after sharing pro-Palestine social media posts that those in her school community deemed ‘antisemitic’.

Abulhawa has since lost her position as an athletic trainer at the Agnes Irwin School and is struggling to find work.

Pro-Palestinian’s have started speaking more openly about the conflict since Russia invaded Ukraine in March 2022, as the overwhelming international support for Ukraine has been called out for highlighting a racist double standard.

United efforts to boycott Russia have shown how effective the international community can be in repressing violent conflict – so why has the same not been done for Palestine, a country invaded by Israeli forces in 1967?

‘When I speak about Palestine, I get labelled as something that I’m not, but when I speak about the same thing that’s happening somewhere else in the world, it’s honourable. So what’s the difference?’ Hadid asked on the Rep.

The reaction to individuals like Abulhawa and Hadid proves this duplicity is far from behind us. But perhaps the most striking thing about Hadid’s experience is that her status and success hasn’t granted her immunity from marginalisation.

As a white, thin, conventionally beautiful 25-year-old, who rides horses in her spare time and has one of the most enviable wardrobes in the world, Hadid is the blueprint all-American it-girl. And yet a decision to support her heritage has immediately stripped her of that status.

A most notable example of this was a full-page ad in the New York Times in 2021, featuring images of Bella, her sister Gigi, and pop-star Dua Lipa. The ad claims the women were ‘mega-influencers’ who have ‘accused Israel of ethnic cleansing’.

Hadid accused the New York Times of ‘selling its soul’ by agreeing to publish the ad – whose unabashedly racist narrative only serves to remind us that – despite wealth and fame – Hadid is still a child of her father’s displacement.

Bella has also spoken of her own sense of displacement, which burgeoned when her parents divorced in 2000.

The Hadid’s were born and raised in Washington DC until Yolanda left Mohamed and moved the family to California. ‘I was with my Palestinian side [of the family in DC]’ Bella said in an interview with GQ. ‘And I got extracted when we moved’.

‘I would have loved to grow up and be with my dad every day and studying and really benign able to practice [Islam], just in general being able to live in a Muslim culture’ Hadid continued. ‘But I wasn’t given that’.

Despite the physical disconnect Hadid feels toward her Palestinian family, and the sense of loss she harbours for her Arab heritage, Bella’s vocal stance on Palestinian suffering is a mark of her tenacious sense of identity, an identity that is defined by far more than appearance or place.

In the face of shameless attacks, Bella Hadid is a reminder that while she may be Hollywood’s woman of the moment, she is also a Palestinian woman, a Middle Eastern woman, and a woman who fundamentally stands for change – be that in the communities she has lived in, those she has been torn from, or those that have excluded her.