West Bank: writing on the wall

This is the link to the original article which I have reproduced in full: http://www.guardianweekly.co.uk/?page=editorial&id=1015&catID=6

West Bank: writing on the wall
Monday April 6th 2009
Ever wanted to scrawl graffiti onto the West Bank separation wall? Indirectly, now you can. A team of Palestinian peace activists are taking orders through their website, where for a small fee they will spray-paint any message you desire on the eastern, Palestinian side of the 620km structure. Project coordinator Faris Asouri, 27, talks of his delight at being able to vent his opposition to the wall in such a creative way:

When the separation wall was built I was surprised. To me it seemed proof that the Israeli government wasn't interested in peace with Palestine. I was angry too. Neighbours might have walls between their houses but they're built on the borders, not on each other's land. But this wall was built on Palestinian land.

I was devastated. I am a peace activist, I want peace with Israel, but this sort of thing makes me doubt if I am on the right track. I know someone whose house is now surrounded by the wall on three sides. When they left in the morning everything was in its place, and when they came back the house was surrounded by this concrete monster. The six-year-old who lived in it said to me: "Our house isn't a house, it's a tomb." The wall is 12 metres high, the house is four.

The Send a Message initiative gave me back my hope. The project was founded in 2007 by a group of professional artists called Palo-Dutch. They organised annual workshops that brought Dutch artists together with Palestinian activists like me. We were thinking of ways to raise awareness of the Palestinians' plight, and spray-painting messages from around the world on to the wall seemed like a really creative way of doing that.

What we do isn't illegal. If you did it in a Palestinian city you'd get arrested. According to Israeli law, the other side of the wall is Palestinian. According to Palestinian law, this wall doesn't exist. So there's no vandalism here.

We had a few run-ins with the Israeli authorities, who patrol on the Palestinian side as well, but none of them was serious. The patrol would pass by and try to stop us from spraying the messages, and we would tell them to go back to their side, because on our side we do what we want with the wall.

Each activist has a different role to play. Some spray paint, some talk to the media, others manage the project or look after the finances. We have a core team of around 10 people. It's all voluntary, none of the money we raise goes to us.

It's almost the perfect tool to reach people who don't know anything about Palestinian issues or the separation wall. It's a creative way to reach an audience. While before we were preaching to the converted, now for the first time we are in close contact with people in other countries.
Most orders come from Europe, but we've had orders from all over the world. Name a country and we've probably had it.

We love all the messages. We get a lot of solidarity messages and Valentine's Day greetings. I've had quite a few unusual ones – a marriage proposal, a recipe for making falafel and a call from one dog to other dogs to come out and play.

We don't post any messages of a pornographic nature, and we won't write anything with racist connotations or that might incite hatred or violence. Sometimes we get advertisements, in which case we check the business and the owner and then decide if it's something we want to be affiliated with.

Of course we like to spray the solidarity messages and slogans that are in our favour, but the people who write those messages are already convinced of our cause. I prefer a teenage birthday greeting to one intellectual sending a message to another intellectual, because then we don't win anybody over. The solidarity messages make us feel good, but the personal messages help us win more hearts and minds. But of course, both are welcome.

Although I'm relatively young, I can remember the days when Israelis drove to Ramallah to go shopping, eat in a restaurant or meet friends. I have loads of Israeli friends. The conflict between people started when the idea of separation took hold, when the Israeli government stopped Palestinians going to Israel and the other way round. If the people were left to their own devices there wouldn't be a problem; Palestinians and Israelis can live together.

I became a peace activist because of the satisfaction of doing something on a collective, social level. I like the idea of helping young Palestinians regain control of their present and future, and I want to help them engage in the path society is taking, rather than just be bystanders.
The feeling among the Palestinian youth seems to be somewhere between apathy and disappointment. They're disappointed because they were raised to believe that peace would come to the Palestinian people, but it didn't happen.

There is this idea that the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are fighting for independence, but it's false. Palestinians are fighting for human rights and liberation. They don't care if it's called Palestine or Israel. If the Israeli government said there was going to be a one-state solution, few Palestinians would object.

We're hoping to raise awareness with this project. We've had 100,000 unique users on our website and publicity through blogs, TV and newspapers. But I can't say that our project will dismantle the separation wall. We can't change the course of history on our own, but we can contribute.

Fortunately, the wall will never be full. I hope we never reach that stage because that would mean the wall is still in place in two decades' time. The wall is 620km long, longer than the distance from London to Paris.

Spraying the messages on the wall has always made me happy. It has always been fun, even when it was snowing. I hope that we can help to change things for the better in the long term.

• Faris Asouri was speaking to Dyfed Loesche. For more information visit the Send a Message website at sendamessage.nl. If you'd like to leave a comment in response to this interview, feel free to do so here.


Indu said…
Hi Sandra....

Am a journalist based in Dubai and would like to spread the word about their site and wht they do.I tried to get hold of Faris' contact details via the net but was unable to do so...can u help?it would be great.Thanks

Jethu Abraham
Indu said…

My id is indu.abraham@gmail.com.



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