Foreign Policy Blogs

Street Art: A Tool for Peace

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On the Security Fence, artists BELIN and BIK ISMO painted a child dreaming of peace and sharing toys with his neighbors.

A unique humanitarian effort to shed light on and offer hope to those affected by the ongoing conflict in Syria harnessed the power of art. From November 3-6, areas along the Syrian border became canvases for international graffiti artists. In this demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria, deep in the area known as the Golan Heights, works of art brought new depth to the effects of internal strife in Syria and the impacts on both Syrian and Israeli citizens.

While the world and media concentrate on the politics of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s rule and the regional and global impact of a country that has been engulfed in a civil war for more than two years, artists’ work replace hateful images with those of hope and humanity.

A disputed territory since the 1967 Six Day War, those who call the Golan Heights home are no stranger to the sounds of gunfire and rocket explosions. During the relatively quiet times, U.N. observers are a reminder of the dangerous reality straddling the Israel-Syrian border. Behind explosions and gunshots are humans struggling to live their lives with the constant reality of death and destruction.

Operating on the Israeli side of the border a band of street artists working with Artists 4 Israel armed themselves with paint and imbedded reporters shadowed the group’s efforts to bring beauty to an otherwise devastated area. In many countries graffiti is illegal. The illegality is the result of artists crafting murals and other designs on private property. However, in these countries street artists fear police sirens and fines. Artists involved in the recent efforts at the Israel-Syrian border face threats of missiles, gunfire, and gas attacks.

 

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Tools of peace. On an army base near Sderot, A4I’s weapons of choice stand next to the weapons used to shoot down incoming rockets.

This is not Artists 4 Israel’s first initiative involving a conflict-affected area. In 2010, the group transformed cement bomb shelters in Sderot, an Israel city less than two miles from Gaza, into artistic rooms. Artists 4 Israel’s founder Craig Dershowitz spoke about the organization’s work in Sderot, saying, “We couldn’t end the fighting, but art brings its own measure of peace. Our mission is humanitarian, not political. “

 

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Artists 4 Israel’s painted prayer for peace on a bomb shelter in Sderot near Gaza.

Dershowitz explained why Artists 4 Israel’s current project. He said, “We are continuing through art what Israel is already doing through humanitarian support. Getting into Israel for medical treatment is often the only hope for those attacked by Assad’s forces.”  Israeli hospitals located in the northern part of the country have had an influx of wounded Syrians. Since February 2013 Ziv Hospital in Safed has treated 96 wounded Syrians. More than 80 Syrians have been treated at the Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya since March 2013.Dershowitz continued, “Israel is the only safe place for international artists to use as a jumping-off point. On Assad’s side of the border, free speech is not big.”

 

Author

Allison Kushner
Allison Kushner

Allison Kushner received three undergraduate degrees from Boston University and a Master's degree in Middle Eastern Security and Diplomacy Studies from Tel Aviv University. She has spent time living and traveling throughout Europe, the Middle East, and China. A former political speechwriter, Allison has taught college level Political Science and International Relations in the U.S. and China. She continues to be engaged in public speaking activities at home and abroad.

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