I remember being driven through the streets of Ramallah, during my first visit there back in 1994, and noticing the walls filled with graffiti. My cousin at the time said that “graffiti was our daily newspaper during the First Intifadah”, it reported the arrests and deaths of Palestinians during the uprising*. A few years later a campaign to clean up the graffiti took place and the daily records of that time period were erased and a cleaner Ramallah emerged. With the start of the Second Intifadah in late 2000, graffiti made its way back to the walls of Ramallah, this time however the names of those arrested and killed also showed up in posters put up everywhere. What I also noticed was an increase in factional graffiti, almost like gang turf wars, each political faction tried to overtake the other by filling the walls of Ramallah with their symbols.
Of course when The Wall was built, the 8 meter high and 810 Km long cement wall offered the world’s biggest canvas to graffiti artists. Luring artists like Banksy to leave their mark on various parts of the wall. During that time, the form of graffiti changed noticeably, more portraits emerged, whether of the late Yasser Arafat or the incarcerated Marwan Barghouti, and messages to western audiences started to prevail, even graffiti postcards made it to the Wall!
This week a new form of graffiti emerged as part of a campaign run by a group of young Palestinian activists. Their graffiti is trying to direct messages not to a western audience, or political factions, but to their own people. They are asking their people to ‘think’, they are also expressing their ‘Hunger for freedom’ and I even spotted an ‘#occupy wall st. not Palestine’ around the city, linking the Palestinian uprising to that of the Occupy Wall st. movement that started in NYC and has now become a global phenomenon. As one of the activists wrote on their blog, they are “aiming to move the society and create public pressure in regards to fundamental issue such as the Palestinian prisoners hunger strike, the need for the people to think and act.”
I look forward to seeing more of their art covering the walls of Ramallah and other cities across Palestine.
Here are some pictures I took of the graffiti campaign happening in Ramallah recently.
* Here is an interesting article on the role of new media in Palestine, but also on how Palestinians had no broadcast media prior to the Oslo accords, and print media was highly censored by Israel. So Palestinians used graffiti as a way to spread the news. The author also address the development of graffiti from the first Intifadah to the second.