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Peace Wall



The Peace Wall in Jaffa was a project initiated (and funded) by Cityarts, a New-York-based one-woman organization that joins philathropy, low income [slum] youths and artists to make public art works.


Salma Samara Shehade and I (the project brief called for a Jewish artist and an Arab one) were hired in early 2010 to produce the wall in Jaffa after Cityarts had already produced several such murals in New York and elsewhere.


We began to run workshops in schools. Each one-and-one-half hour workshop would begin with talking about peace, coexistence, harmony, and teasing out what it would literally mean to to the children. Then we would give a very very short course in visual communications: line and color, color, composition, etc. Then each child got a sheet of paper on which to trace their vision of peace.


With nearly 600 such drawings in hand Salma and I chose the 20 best and in June 2010 sketched out the concept on the wall and began actually glueing the mosaic. Although this was supposed to be a community project and there was much talk of the school-kids coming to fix their images on the wall; Salma and I ended up doing the vast majority of the work ourselves (with notable help from volunteer Dov Talpaz and others).


We learned the history of the building. It was built to house Palestinians whose beachfront homes were condemned and demolished, often to make room for grandiose villas for Jewish millionaires. The building also housed Palestinian collaborators who had to be evacuated from the occupied territories, and live in constant fear for their lives. Once occupied, the municipality withdrew from its responsibility to maintain it and it quickly degenerated into a blighted tenement. This, we realized, was the reason this wall on this building was chosen for us. In liu of actually repairing the building, the residents would enjoy a beautiful ceramic-tile mural.


It was a community project in the sense that Salma and I were temporarily grafted to the neighborhood. We would greet the people going to work and returning; the children coming from school; watch the police raids the drug-dealers apartments, saw funerals headed to the Moslem cemetary across the street or events at the Peres Peace Center right next to the cemetary. Some of the residents would bring us coffee or snacks. They would watch our stuff if we had to run an errand or drive away vandals after we'd gone home. They sometimes even helped us glue tiles to the wall.

It took nearly five months of daily work to finish the project.


The relationship with Cityarts was frought from the start. In order to fund the project the organization needed to show donors that many hundreds of children participated, that the wall is so big, that it impacts the neighborhood. On the ground Salma and I could see that superficial contact with 600 children was less satisfying and less impactful, than working closely with six kids. That, obviously, is a much harder project to raise money for. Another source of tension was the choice of wall. Kedem St., near the cemetery is not a busy thoroughfare. It was chosen because it is across the street from the Peres Peace center – a choice that was read by residents as a snub. In retrospect I believe the project could have been done differently and had a greater impact on the community. I don't know if the improved project could have been funded.



It took nearly five months of daily work to finish the project.


Although we were told from the first that the mural will not last a month, and that we're wasting our time, as of this writing (early 2015) it's almost completely intact.

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