A style all her own

Bezalel’s students’ union chairwoman from Acre.

Mervat Hakroosh 311 (photo credit: Courtesy )
Mervat Hakroosh 311
(photo credit: Courtesy )
Mervat Hakroosh is obviously a doer. The 28-year-old has just completed a two-year term as chairperson of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design students’ union and, by all accounts, she has done a pretty good job. Even before we get down to talking about what the union is doing and where it is going, the evidence of the organization’s robust health is self-evident.
As we round the corridor corner to the union offices, a couple of university maintenance men are busy laying some artificial grass in front of the office door. It all looks breezy and upbeat, apparently a far cry from the way Hakroosh found the union when she took over.
“There was nothing happening and no energy about the place,” she states. “The union is a very important port of call for all the college’s students, but it was mostly dead a couple of years ago.”
Hakroosh says that despite the added workload involved in running the union – and there was the small matter of keeping up with her studies in the jewelry and fashion department – she was happy to remain in the position for a second term. “A year is really not enough. It took me the whole of the first year just to come to grips with the job. If you take over a union that is running well, that’s fine; but if it’s not, you only get to reap the rewards of your work in the second year.”
Hakroosh was not looking for any favors on the academic front, either. “Since I took over the union, my grades have only gotten better,” she declares. “I didn’t want to give anyone the opportunity to say that I couldn’t hack it as both a student and chairperson of the union, that I couldn’t do both and do them well.”
She says that she was under no illusions about the size of the task ahead but that she was up for it, adding that in a way, the position was tailor-made for her.
“I don’t think there’s anyone who really jumps at the chance to head the union. The studies here are very demanding, as is running the union, and it’s no easy thing to juggle both of them. But all the things that make up who I am, not just as a woman, led to my taking on this challenge – to study at a very demanding institution and to carry out an activist and social role.”
On the face of it, as an Arab woman from Acre, Hakroosh had a couple of things going against her in a society that doesn’t always manage to steer clear of preconceptions and populist images. But she comes across as a determined young woman with a strong personality, who is not looking for any compromises on either the gender or cultural front. “The mere fact that I walk around the corridors here talking on my cell phone or with a friend in Arabic is important. There is no discrimination or fear here. That has got to be a basic of life here at the college, and outside the campus, too.”
If anything, Hakroosh believes that her ethnicity and gender have helped her along the way. “People in Israel and, yes, in other places around the world, like to label others. You know, having an Arab woman do so well sounds so romantic to some, like a sort of Cinderella story. If I were from Herzliya, they wouldn’t make such an issue out of where I come from.”
However, Hakroosh does not feel we’re talking specifically Arabs-Jews here. “If I were an Ethiopian, people would make something of that, too.”
Hakroosh says she not only stepped into the chairperson’s role with her eyes wide open, but she also had a good grounding in fusing Arabic and Jewish sentiments and wishes and that she has lived most of her life in a harmonious ethnic ambiance, to some degree.
“In Acre, we all live together. It’s true that there are some Jews whose only contact with Arabs is going to Said’s restaurant for humous, but I went to mixed Arab-Jewish schools, and we all got on together.”
She says that as a child, her main problem was having to cope with learning disabilities. “When I was in second grade, I was diagnosed as having dysgraphia and dyscalculia. But as you can see, I got through all my studies. That certainly helped with my character forming, I can tell you.”
Characteristically, Hakroosh brings her cultural complement to the fore in her artistic work. At last month’s end-of-year students’ exhibition, she displayed several items, including a pair of sunglasses with a latticework design. “That’s like the mashrabiya, the window shading you find in Arabic architecture. I think that’s a cool design and mixes East with West.”
Hakroosh comes across as a woman who knows where she’s going in life, and it is not hard to imagine her at some stage being snapped up by one of the political parties and finding herself with a comfortable slot in a list of candidates for the Knesset. However, she rejects the idea and says she prefers to follow a more traditional life path, albeit with a wider intent.
“Yes, I do want to have some impact on society and the way things are run in this country, but I am not looking for a political career. I want to get married and have a family and to raise a new generation and maintain my own agenda. My dad taught me to spread my ideas. What we need more than anything is education and to bring about change. People are sure that I am very career oriented and that I won’t have the time or want to get married and have a family, but that’s not my way.”
For now, Hakroosh is happy to have moved things along with the union and is looking forward to devoting more of her time to her studies, ahead of her final year. “I get goose bumps when I think of how much progress we have made with the union over the last two years,” she says. “When I came on board, there were only women involved. Now we have a director-general, and people are really active and enthused about the union’s work. The union takes care of so many things for students. They really need to know they have someone to turn to when they need help, regardless of where they came from, their religion or ethnic background. That’s really what I set out to achieve.”