Wall as a weapon: Graffiti, Gaza and spray paint solidarity
As Israel continues its indiscriminate campaign against Gaza, artists around the world have filled their walls with murals in support of Palestine.
Street art has always been a form of popular expression to protest and rebel against the establishment and status quo. In the Middle East, street art and graffiti became especially important during the Arab Spring, when protesters spray painted their opposition to the ancient Arab regimes.
Now, Israel's assault on Gaza — which has left more than 13,000 Palestinians dead — has compelled the world's artists to express solidarity with the people of Gaza.
"Graffiti art — and writings — are very influential in Palestine... During the first Intifada, graffiti played an important role in conveying the psyche of the uprising and raising people's morale"
In Tunisia, graffiti artist Abdelwahed Benmessaoud has painted a number of murals about Palestine. One of his paintings in Kebili shows a young boy wearing a Palestinian shawl and holding a painting bucket full of blood, beside him written: “Enjoy your life” with the ‘f’ in ‘life’ deleted making it “enjoy your lie”.
Speaking to The New Arab, Abdelwahed explained that his drawings attempt to "push a boat of hope into a sea of Arab silence. Each expression I paint is a statement that hopes to urge others to support the Palestinian cause and condemn Israel's criminal actions in Gaza."
Since October 7, Irish artist Emmalene Blake has called for the end of Israeli apartheid and violence in Palestine.
"It's impossible for me not to paint about what is happening in Palestine. There's no way I can just stand and witness the genocide and not paint about it," Emmalene told The New Arab.
One of Emmalene's paintings shows a Gazan woman holding a dead baby wrapped in the Palestinian flag, a scene imitated from real footage.
"The videos coming out of Palestine are some of the most distressing images I've ever seen in my life... world leaders try to cloak Israel's actions as 'self-defence', but bombing children is not self-defence. What's happening at the moment is the intentional targeting of civilians while our leaders stand by and watch," the Dublin-based artist laments.
In Egypt, Moataz Mohamed, a young graffiti artist from Cairo has turned the walls of the 'eternal city' into a mural for Palestine.
"I wanted to make my voice heard. I love it when children ask about my mural of Al-Aqsa and I tell them 'It's in Palestine'," Moataz told The New Arab.
Another graffitist, Nemo, painted two large murals in the cities of Mansoura and Damietta, one showing Palestinian journalist Wael Al-Dahdouh and the other showing a child wearing the iconic Palestinian keffiyeh.
"I try to make my audience think, I want my graffiti to raise awareness," Nemo explained to The New Arab. Graffiti became popular in Egypt during the 2011 revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak. As Nemo told The New Arab, graffiti remains popular today. "There's great enthusiasm in Egypt for graffiti. When passers-by see an artist painting a wall, they gather and watch carefully."
Rabeea Eid, a Palestinian journalist and cultural activist based in London, has started the initiative Graffiti from Palestine to document graffiti in Palestine, inspired by the 2021 Palestinian uprising.
Speaking to The New Arab, Rabeea explained that he noticed that "graffiti was everywhere: in the West Bank, Gaza, occupied Jerusalem, and the 1948 territories. The practice of graffiti has broken down the colonial division of the Palestinian people and expresses their aspiration of liberation that crosses borders.
"Today, we have over 800 documental murals in our group from across the world," Rabeea added.
One of the most popular drawings is that of the Handala — a character created in 1969 by Palestinian political cartoonist Naji al-Ali. Handala is depicted as a barefoot child with his back turned to the viewer, and symbolises the Palestinian struggle for independence.
"Graffiti art — and writings — are very influential in Palestine," Rabeea told The New Arab. "During the first Intifada, graffiti played an important role in conveying the psyche of the uprising and raising people's morale. Many Palestinians spent years in prison for writing on walls. This is something that we continue to experience today."
Graffiti is an ephemeral art, and is often removed by authorities. "In Nazareth, graffiti drawings in Al-Ain have been continuously erased by Israeli police. However, activists keep on repainting them. The process of redrawing therefore becomes an art of resistance. The erasure of murals in Nazareth is the same erasure that Israeli troops are doing to the Gaza Strip; erasing places, history, people, and memory," Rabeea concluded.
But the tide is turning. Street artists around the world are waking up, and rising up to show solidarity for Gaza and Palestine in the face of Israeli aggression and apartheid.
Youssra el-Sharkawy is an Egyptian feature writer and columnist, covering cultural issues, human rights, women's empowerment and social problems. Her work has appeared in various local and international news outlets
Follow her on Twitter: @YoussraSharkawy