Graffiti and street art have long been the mouthpiece for populations that are neglected, ignored, and criminalized by the state. Whether it’s in New York, Berlin, or Bethlehem, street artists have used walls as canvases to express truths about how they’re living. The Berlin Wall was iconic for Westerners, particularly Americans, who saw the graffiti on its western face as a tribute to their brand of freedom in the face of the U.S.S.R.’s stark, dictatorial, graffiti-free zone on the wall’s eastern face.
Palestinians live with their own versions of “separation walls” built by the Israeli state — the West Bank Wall and the Iron Wall. They see these 30-foot concrete and barbed wire walls as literal apartheid, while Israel characterizes them as “security barriers.” The West Bank Wall strays as far as 18km into Palestinian territory and is 708km/439 miles long. The Gaza wall is 65km/40 miles long. All along the Palestinian side of these walls is graffiti that expresses their continued resistance to the ongoing Israeli occupation and militarization of their territory.
The Israel side of this wall is hauntingly blank, recalling East Germany’s crackdown on freedom of expression. Where people are forced to show agreement with their government and state, you see blank walls — like in the historically dictatorial regimes of the U.S.S.R., China, and North Korea.
The UN declared Israel’s walls to be a violation of international law around facilitating the free movement of the Palestinian people. According to the UN, “645 movement obstacles are spread across the West Bank…[and] 339 prevent or restrict access to main roads, city hubs, services, and farmland, with a severe impact on Palestinians.”
In Palestinian territory, the wall reminds the people living in this apartheid state to persevere in the face of ongoing oppression. However, it’s also become a tourist attraction for voyeuristic Westerners who book rooms at Banksy’s The Walled Off Hotel, where they can book a presidential suite in Bethlehem that overlooks Israel’s wall while they sleep in a room painted by Banksy. Very cute and not at all exploitative or gross.
What I want to highlight today is the artwork that aims to give Palestinians hope even as they live in a nightmarish totalitarian world, surrounded by barriers and IDF soldiers. While some of this was painted by international artists like Banksy, most are the work of Palestinian graffiti artists, expressing their reality on stark, concrete walls built by their oppressors. Check out this gallery of Palestinian resistance art below, and imagine waking up to a walled-in world every day of your life, your parents’ lives, your grandparents’ lives, and your childrens’ lives…