Salfit is a small village tucked in amongst the olive grove clad hills in the heart of the Northern West Bank. Over the past five years, the town has been surrounded by Israeli settlements built completely surrounding its permitter. As the settlements grew, the main road into the city was barricaded and closed off, making it extremely difficult to exit or enter the town. This forced people to walk as a mode of transportation, or leave the area, which hurt the economy of the region drastically. This built animosity resulting in violence and deaths amongst the two populations.
The US Consulate has an American corner at the Salfit local library, which organized a mural painting session at the local all boys elementary school, a castle-like school built by the government of Oman. Because of the conflict in the area, the US State department staff was equipped with added security guards and armored security vehicles, adding an aura of reality to the environment. As the boys showed up, there was no lack of enthusiasm for the project. As we all sat down to discuss the concept for the project, there was a small amount political or violent images coming from the kids. The idea resulted in Olive trees with people climbing ladders connecting all of the trees together in harmony.
As the 35 Boys ran to the front wall, the drawings and painting flowed instantly. However, as time continued violent fights erupted quickly, and with the littlest of sparks. Violence seemed to be common-place, and a punch from one kid to another was met with screaming and quarreling. This was exemplified as one of the 12 year old kids lit up a cigarette in the middle of the workshop, blowing smoke amongst the other densely painting kids. He was asked not to smoke, he scoffed at the concept and continued without the objection of any of the local adults. This led into a group bantering in front of the wall, pointing their index fingers in the air, mocking shooting while yelling “Free Palestine”.
As the piece was finishing, most of the kids slowly slinked away indiscriminately, and many walked away with handshakes of approval and appreciation. However, there was one very small boy who would not stop painting. The youngest of the kids, and the most dedicated. Standing behind him observed the cigarette-smoking slicked hair, 12 year old greaser. He smiled and tapped his foot to high pitched arabic music coming from his cellphone, while watching the youngest artist out painting the rest. Before he walked away, he nodded a handshake and an unexpected smile curled across his lips in a “Shukran: Thank you.” The smallest boy went along painting until the last second, when with a humble final mark, he gave a shy smile and walked away. Before departing, 2 Palestinian Authority officers drove by and stopped their vehicle in front of the mural. Staring at the wall, they yelled out to compliment the painting with smiles. An insightful ending to a challenging process in a place where frustration runs strong, and a compliment can mean the world.