By Katie King
Renowned photographer, Elias Halabi, and his family have lived near the wall for as long as he can remember. Elias is the winner of the “The Vettor Giusti tourism posters competition” and the recipient of Best Tourism Poster/Photo for the years 2011-2013 with the UNWTO- United Nations World Tourism Organization.
When I asked why he became a photographer, Elias said that he saw a lot of photos of tanks and soldiers, but not a lot of pictures showing the real face of Palestine. However, Elias said, “Holding a camera is not an easy thing. In the end, you are choosing to see things that people don’t usually want to see.” This is especially true considering he witnessed many horrific acts during the Second Intifada – a Palestinian uprising against Israel – from 2000 to 2005. One of his unforgettable memories is having to dodge tear gas, live ammunition and rubber bullets on his walk to school. He witnessed many deaths, some even occurring in his own backyard. Elias saw a 12-year-old get shot in the chest for throwing stones at soldiers.
“Holding a camera is not an easy thing. In the end, you are choosing to see things that people don’t usually want to see.”
Some may see the wall as a hindrance, a reminder that peace is a far off notion— but not Elias. He reminds me that although he has witnessed the brutality of the Israeli soldiers, hope is the most powerful of all weapons, as depicted in the street art.
After the wall was erected in 2002 many internationally acclaimed artists, including underground photographer “JR” and painter Julia Brown have left their own marks on the wall.
Ian Knowles, and English iconographer, painted a mural of Saint Mary titled, “Maria, who tore down these walls.” The icon is located on the partition wall between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Ian used techniques from the Sixth Century to display his art. For him, the creation of an icon is a spiritual activity.
“I am trying here in the presence of Christ and to enable the community of saints. Icons can be written only with the heart,” Ian says.
In the piece the Virgin sits on a wall with the moon at her feet, another sign of transience which guarantees that even this wall will one day fall. Three ancient olive trees symbolize the power of faith, hope, and love. Under the picture is a door painted with a view of the “heavenly Jerusalem” where all tears are wiped away and sadness is left at the door, all signs of hope against the current reality.
Julia Brown, Irish artist and a Palestine Summer Encounter 2013 participant, also references biblical times in her work. She says, “The painting is a contemporary reference to the image of Mary and the Child since it’s meant to make people think about how Jesus was a child of Bethlehem, and there are children that are present here and we need to think about these people. I wanted it to be beautiful and to glorify the struggles of these women and children.” Julia and the numerous other street artists efforts to humanize the politics behind the fighting extend far beyond the conflict itself. They have found a way to unite the Holy Land under a shared commonality – the desire for peace.
The Face to Face project is another venture that aims to exhibit the shared humanity in the region. In 2007, JR and “Marco”, another underground graffiti artist, organized the largest illegal photography exhibition known to exist. For this project, portraits of Israelis and Palestinians are pasted face to face, in monumental formats on both sides of the wall and in several Palestinian and Israeli cities. JR has been quoted saying, “These people look the same; they speak almost the same language, like twin brothers raised in different families. And he is endlessly fighting with him…It’s obvious, but they don’t see that. We must put them face to face. They will realize.”
“These people look the same; they speak almost the same language, like twin brothers raised in different families.”
The street art on the wall proves to be a powerful beacon of hope for the Palestinian people- a reminder that the atrocities committed by the Israeli government will never be forgotten. Moreover, the street art exhibits the beauty of coexisting, transforming this separation wall into a means of bridging the two people together, fostering the necessary tolerance for peace talks to continue.