Since September 2000 and the beginning of the second intifada (the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip) the Israeli government has been building a wall surrounding the occupied Palestinian territories. “It stands three time the height of the Berlin Wall and will eventually run for over 700Km – the distance from London to Zurich. The wall is illegal under international law and essentially turns Palestine into the world’s largest open prison. It also makes it the ultimate activity holiday destination for graffiti writers” (Banksy 2005).
If the famous British street artist made Palestine (and especially the West Bank) a famous destination for all street art amateurs, the walls surrounding the Palestinian territories have long been the support for the political resistance and expression by the Palestinian themselves.
Before Banksy, graffiti has been a tool of the Palestinian liberation struggle for decades; during the first intifada in the late 1980s and early ’90s, Palestinians painted graffiti on all the walls as a means of protesting the occupation. Graffiti artists were met with brutal repression if caught.
In 2012, an unknown group penetrated the heavily-fortified heart of West Jerusalem overnight and painted graffiti bearing political messages on walls, doors, construction sites and other surfaces. Most of the paintings pictured a woman’s face masked with a kuffiyeh, the traditional Palestinian scarf. The group hit the walls of Jerusalem and issued an anonymous statement vowing to carry on their action to send messages to the Israeli and Palestinian communities.
While graffiti has long been a form of political expression for Palestinians, their reactions to the art on the barrier have been varied. Some locals have not been happy with it – they say it is beautifying what should remain ugly. Banksy remembers that an old man walked up to him while he was painting and commanded him to go home, because he did not want to see the wall beautiful and viewed positively (William Parry, Against the Wall). Even Palestinian artist, Muhannad Al-Azzeh, who paints murals on the walls of the refugee camps in Bethlehem, does not like how the art “changes the reality of the wall” .
Whether or not they appreciate the art, Palestinians have not simply ignored the wall, they have engaged with it. They use it to express their opinions, gain international support, and symbolize their oppression through protests and art. “To exist is to resist” – A slogan repeated in graffiti and art work all over Palestine.