The Israeli West Bank Barrier stretches approximately 700 kilometres through the West Bank. It is a concrete wall eight metres high, and serves the ostensible purpose of protecting the Israeli settlers to its west from terrorist attack, although its real effect has been to cut off Palestinians from healthcare, jobs, education, irrigation, and clean water, as well as their families and communities.
The wall is also prime real estate for graffiti artists, who’ve covered its expanse with thousands of images, slogans, cartoons, etchings, and art. The latter was the focus of the March 28 presentation “Against the Wall: The Art of Resistance in Palestine,” given by William Parry, a U.K.-based photojournalist. Published in the Independent, the Guardian, and the Daily Mail, Parry is originally from Canada, where he graduated from Queen’s University. The talk was organized by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) and the Middle East Studies Students’ Association (MESSA) and was held in the Adams auditorium.
In 2007 that graffiti artist Banksy’s charity organization “Pictures on Walls” was holding a charity art auction in Bethlehem, with proceeds going toward funding of a program in that area focusing on public and street art. The Christmas Eve auction – held in a derelict fried chicken restaurant opposite manger square – received contributions from a number of prominent street artists including the Italian street artist Blu, who features prominently in Parry’s accompanying book. Parry decided to travel to Bethlehem, meeting Banksy there and observing that “a lot had changed” since his last visit. Specifically, he noted that the amount of art on the wall, erected in 2003, had exploded, such that the edifice was practically covered end to end in graffiti. He mused to himself that someone ought to document it all, and, on returning to London, decided to do it himself.
The result is the 192-page Against the Wall: The Art of Resistance in Palestine, a chronicle not only of the wall’s many instances of graffiti but also of the daily abuses faced by many who live within its spectre. One example Parry cited is the case of Abdul Halim. Halim’s house was built before the construction of the wall began, and when the barrier’s construction was started, it was found that his home, a magisterial four-story building intended to house his three sons’ future families, was bisected by the planned wall. In an ironic twist, his house was spared by virtue of its strategic location, and was commandeered by the Israeli military as a base of operations. Halim still lives on the ground floor, but cannot access the upper floors. Halim’s lower floor is filled to the ceilings with beautiful furniture imported from Turkey, still in its original plastic coverings, the milky film capturing the essence of the state of limbo in which he now finds his life.
Parry’s presentation comprised a striking combination of Palestinian and international art. Among the big names of the foreign street artists to have painted the wall are Banksy, Blu, Ron English, Swoon ,and New York’s Faile Collective. But what strikes one immediately is the work of the Palestinian artists, which aims largely at uniting the local people in their struggle against Israeli state oppression. Among their works is the mural entitled “To Exist is to Resist,” which was featured on the poster advertising the event. It strikes a defiant chord, and reminds us that the amenities we take for granted – clean water, convenient education and healthcare, plentiful jobs, and easy access to our friends and families – must be fought for day in and day out by Palestinians, often in the face of overwhelming opposition. To exist in spite of such oppression is an act of resistance in and of itself.
William Parry’s book Against the Wall: the Art of Resistance in Palestine is available online.