"One thing that is cool about hijab (Muslim head scarf) for me, is that I get to experience the other side of how people treat you. At work, I get treated a certain way because I'm in a stripper outfit. And the next day I can put on a hijab, a long dress, pants, long sleeves, and high neck, and people will be like, ‘Oh, she's so pious, she's probably a virgin.’”
The Gaza Stripper
Her name is Ari Lauren Souad Said. Born of an Israeli mother and a Palestinian father, she spent much of her childhood torn between two conflicting faiths and cultures in Israel. In her teens she was sent to live with her grandparents in Texas where she lives today with her four year old daughter, Avigail-Jerusalem Said.
Mom by day, and topless dancer by night, the “Gaza Stripper “ as she is known, is her stage name. Once a practicing Jew she now identifies more closely with Islam. Her tattoos act as a witness and corporal stigmata of her clash of identities. She now faces the same challenge herself in raising her own daughter of mixed faith heritage.
“I don’t’ feel like it’s fair that you should be forced to pick a side and chose, especially if you’re half (Palestinian) – half (Israeli). People don’t realize how very very similar Jewish and Muslim customs actually are…even how Hebrew and Arabic sound a lot alike or even look a lot alike…it’s almost like they are the same religion. We just use different words for things.”
Since she was 18 years old, Ari works as a topless dancer locally around Austin and at strip clubs by the military facilities in Aberdine. She also raises her daughter alone. After putting her daughter to bed, Ari leaves to work in the strip clubs throughout the night, and often returns home in the early morning. She will then drive Avigail-Jerusalem to day school then return home to sleep. Since Ari was 8-months pregnant, Avigail-Jerusalem’s father has been out of the picture.
“I tried to work it out with my daughter’s dad – even though I didn’t like him. Because I know what it feels to have one side of your family hate your other parent. And pretend to like you. Or genuinely like you. But either way your like “Dude, I’m like half that and your fucking telling me you hate it? How is that supposed to make me feel? - So then even though I desperately don’t like him, myself, I don’t ever want her to have that feeling; that I hate part of her because I don’t. I love every part of her. “
Formerly a Suicide Girl model, Ari has covered much of her body with references to English literature, political and religious references in both Arabic and Hebrew and with what she calls “cute” animals. Her knuckles for instance spell out “ West-Bank”, while one of her Hebrew tattoos states, " I don't believe in God". In another instance, an Arabic tattoo wrapping around her neck reads in bold characters, "I am haram (sin)”.
“Suicide Girls was created by girls who decided to commit “social suicide” - like getting tattoos, body modifications, and stuff. You know, pretty girls that normally people would be like “Oh, look at the beautiful girl“, but then they get all these body modifications and things that were not originally accepted as a form of beauty.”
***Update: Ari was killed in a car accident this Spring. She passed away on May 28, 2011. She was only 27 years old.