Palestinian youth activists Yousef Nijim and Faris Arouri, in collaboration with the Dutch NGO “Send a Message Foundation,” are engaged in a nonviolent campaign to combat the oppressive infrastructure of Israeli occupation. Setting their sites on the separation barrier which destructively meanders through Palestinian life and land, they assert their international solidarity and national identity through graffiti art. Stenciling words, images and ideals loftier than the heights of their concrete canvas, they hope to draw international attention to the plight of the Palestinian people. In an article on the Palestine News Network, Nijim notes that “The messages bond people to this place.” He believes that engaging with the Wall is the best way to resist it. “If you don’t deal with it, it won’t be gone,” he adds.
For around $40, anyone in the world can have a message or slogan painted on the wall, as long as it is not an incitement to hatred, violence or otherwise contrary to the peaceable objectives of the project. The money is used by Arouri and his volunteers for spray paint, gas for their car, and for community-development projects in Palestinian neighborhoods designed to increase youth participation in volunteer activities. According to TIME magazine, nearly 850 messages, ranging in content from the juvenile romantic to the politically poetic, have already been painted. (Check out www.sendamessage.nl to see some works in progress and to find out how you can send your own message.)
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This artistic and creative approach to resisting the occupation and denouncing the wall has led to confrontation with Israeli Occupation Forces, yet Nijim notes that the army is generally reluctant to interfere with their projects. “I would say [there have been] a few face to face encounters,” he says. “But the whole project is about media, so they stay way from us.” Criticism of their work is not exclusive to Israeli forces, but also comes from Palestinians who believe they are trying to capitalize on the Wall. On the whole, however, local sentiment continues to be encouraging and supportive of the work that Send a Message is doing.
I recall the moments of my work organizing protests and demonstrations against the wall in Qalqilya and Jayyous with the International Solidarity Movement. I remember the bouts of frustration that led many youth to attempt to dismantle portions of the wall, only to be met with harsh reprisals and collective punishment by the Israeli Occupation Forces. As in Jayyous and other rural areas of the West Bank, not all portions of the barrier are concrete but rather chain link fences reinforced with steel and barbed wire. Graffiti is not an option there. Soldiers would often close the barrier’s entry/exit points and deny farmers access to their lands if they found evidence that locals were attempting to tamper with or destroy any portion of the barrier.
But Palestinians must continue to imbue their own lives with meaning in the ways that they see fit given their circumstances. And those struggling in the path of nonviolence must be even more creative, patient and enduring. The fact remains that the Wall must fall. Whether concrete or fence, none of it is morally sustainable nor can it resist the tides of justice. The writing on the wall reminds us all.