Planting Seeds of Change in the Middle East

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IMG_1375Since 2012, The Artolution has been organizing community- based public art projects in the ancient land of Israel and Palestine, where diverse peoples claim the same tiny slice of our planet and have tragically been unable to resolve their conflict to this day. While politicians fail to find solutions year after year, ordinary Jews and Arabs live separate lives and often fear and mistrust one another, even when living in close proximity. While some believe these two groups cannot live in peace, a brief glance at history shows otherwise. For many centuries, Arabs and Jews coexisted peacefully as neighbors in many societies across the Middle East and Northern Africa until relatively recently. While the current political climate does not bode well for a resolution of the conflict in the near future, many ordinary people are organizing grassroots initiatives to end the cycle of violence, hate and fear.

Through collaborative art making, The Artolution seeks to plant the seeds of positive social change in the region. By creating a safe space for youth of diverse backgrounds to meet each other and work toward a common goal, the participants have the opportunity to experience a glimpse of what peaceful coexistence looks like. Often for the first time in their lives, Arabs and Jews can get to know one another, open up a dialogue and work together as a team. The following are three examples of recent Artolution initiatives:

Jerusalem 2015: Mural created by Palestinian and Israeli youth at the Hand in Hand School, then installed at the US Consulate.
Jerusalem 2015: Mural created by Palestinian and Israeli youth at the Hand in Hand School and installed at the US Consulate.

IMG_0624In Jerusalem, Palestinian and Israeli youth came together to create public art at the Hand in Hand (Yad be Yad) School, one of the rare examples of an institution in which children of all backgrounds can study together. This is highly controversial in this region, and the school recently suffered a vicious arson attack by Jewish extremists, illustrating the risks that those who work for peace face here. The Artolution’s Max Frieder and Joel Bergner facilitated workshops with the students in which they designed and painted a long mural that told the story of a journey from the pain of separation and fear to a vision of the future in which barriers are broken, minds are opened and harmony is achieved between those of all backgrounds. The mural was installed in the US Consulate in Jerusalem, a partner on this project. It is viewed everyday by people of all backgrounds and ideologies as they wait in line together.

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In 2014, The Artolution joined forces with the Parents Circle Family Forum, which brings together Palestinians and Israelis who have lost loved ones to the conflict. For bereaved families in the West Bank community of Beit Jallah and those in Tel Aviv, a giant collaborative mural was the only method of communication, as neither group was allowed to enter the other’s territory. Artolution’s Max Frieder led workshops with women in Beit Jallah, where the first part of the mural-conversation began. The women discussed their lives, their family members who had been killed, and their deep frustration with the situation in the region. They poured their pain, joy and hopes for the future on the canvas, knowing that it was their only medium for communicating to the outside world. The mural then traveled to Tel Aviv, where bereaved Israeli families responded to the Palestinians’ expressions with their own reflections and dreams of a peaceful coexistence in the hopes that no other families would have to know the loss they had suffered. The completed mural was welcomed at a ceremony at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, where The Artolution, representatives of the Parents Circle Family Forum and the Deputy Secretary of the UN presented the messages of bereaved families to the world community. The evening included a performance by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary and moving calls to action by those affected most by the tragic conflict, the bereaved family members.

IMG_0528Though the Jewish and Arab towns of Afula and Iksal are in close proximity, interaction is discouraged and residents live completely separate lives. In 2015, students from high schools in each town participated in a project that began in a neutral location, where Artolution artists Max Frieder and Joel Bergner facilitated activities, dialogue and art-making with the two groups. They brainstormed about what they would like to represent in the public murals they would create; the stories, imagery and color schemes. For the following workshops, the two groups visited each other’s communities and painted collaborative murals on their schools. One image was that of a boat with a tree growing out of it with branches that became human figures. The young people wanted to send a message that despite their differences they all had the same roots, and that they were all on the same boat together. Throughout the process they built bonds, laughed together, had discussions and, at the end of the final day, broke out in a spontaneous dance party! Of course, at the end of the project they would each return to their separate worlds and things would not be so simple. But we hope that through projects that bring these communities together, there will slowly be an opening up, an understanding of the other’s perspective even if there is not agreement. We felt hopeful listening to many of the students’ words after these interactions; they noted that they had always been taught to fear the other, but that now they had made new friends and had a new perspective.

Moving forward, The Artolution plans to implement ongoing public art programming with youth and communities facilitated by local Palestinian and Israeli artists and educators that focus on conflict resolution, sparking dialogue and building spaces where peaceful coexistence is possible. Thanks to all our incredible partners who have made this important work possible: the US Consulate in Jerusalem and Embassy in Tel Aviv, the Parents Circle Family Forum, the Hand in Hand School, The UN Girls Secondary Schools in the Qalandia and Al Amari Refugee Camps and the Ein Dor Museum.