Foreign Policy Blogs

"Santa's Ghetto"

Interesting story on grafitti art on NPR this morning. In Bethlehem, Israel's security wall is being tagged by both international and local artists, in what can be seen as a display of defiance or, alternately, just an outlet for frustrated young people. You can listen to and read the story

A British grafitti artist (I suppose that is the proper term) is there, painting scenes such as a young girl frisking an Israeli soldier or a donkey having his ID card checked. Listening to the story I was a little irritated by this, because I didn't care much for the idea of Banksy, as he is known, dropping in and showing the Palestinians the kind of art that meant something. Looking at the pictures, though, I had to concede they have, regardless of politics, a certain artistic merit. Even if you divorce the conflict and whatever your opinions are, the strangely neutral tone of the little girl in a pink dress frisking a soldier- and with both free of local iconography- presents a kind of fascinating dissonance.

A picture of a little girl in a bright pink dress frisking an Israeli soldier

(Eric Westervelt, NPR)

There are other paintings as well, many other paintings, including a escalator taking a bunch of sillouhetes over the wall and a giant bug knocking over a row of dominoes that could, but don't have to, represent the security wall (kind of a Kafka-David Lynch-Abu Mazen mashup, if you will).

Art of children on a staircase

(Eric Westervelt, NPR)

My personal favorite, though, is this one, from an artist named “Sam 3”.

Jake La Motta and Sugar Ray Robinson painted on the wall

(Eric Westervelt, NPR)

That is, of course, Jake LaMotta preparing to take a punch from Sugar Ray Robinson. Robinson fought LaMotta six times (watch a clip of them fighting here, if you are a fan of the sweet science).

Why do I like this one so much? Because the bulk of the story is about Israel preventing suicide bombers, the economy of Palestine in general and Bethlehem specifically being choked (a source of frustration especially now, Christmas being the height of Bethlehem's tourist season) and the usual Israel/Palestine storylines. And those do need to be talked about, of course, and are of dizzying importance. But it is nice to think that someone there, for whatever reason, decided to spend his or her (his) time immortalizing one of boxing's great rivalries, for no reason other than the love of painting and the excitement he or she (he) feels about the sport. For me, that is a better Christmas message than any piety, real or show.

(caveat: CNN has a story today about tourism in Bethlehem being up this holiday season.)



Brian O'Neill

Brian O'Neill is a freelance writer currently based out of Chicago. He has lived in Egypt and in Yemen, and worked as a writer and editor for the Yemen Observer publishing company. He currently is an analyst with the Jamestown Foundation.