Conflicts between Palestine and Israel have come to a head and the two states are currently at war. Tensions rose due to May 6, 2021, Israeli Supreme Court decision backing the eviction of six Palestinian families from the Jerusalem-occupied neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The decision led to protests and escalated into violent confrontations.
More violent incidents occurred over the next few days and on May 10, Palestinian militant groups began firing rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip. Israel retaliated. At the time of writing this article, over 200 Palestinians and 12 Israelis have been killed.
In times of conflict, it’s not unusual for art groups and artists to speak up. This article will discuss how the art community is reacting to the current situation.
BDZ vs. the Zubludowicz Art Trust
The BDZ or Boycott/Divest Zabludowicz was formed in 2014 by a group of art workers. The organization’s mission is to boycott the London-based Zubludowicz Art Trust due to its support of the colonization and occupation of Palestine and the apartheid policies against the country.
The current war in Israel has prompted BDZ to act. They published a statement criticizing Israel’s recent attacks on Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque and the illegal removal of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah in eastern Jerusalem. They also condemned Israeli airstrikes that have resulted in the death of at least two hundred Palestinians including 59 children. They are asking cultural workers to join them in their mission.
Zabludowicz Art Trust co-founder Chaim Zabludowicz is also the CEO of Tamares Group, a private investment organization that indirectly supports Israel via its stake in Knafaim, a maintenance service provider for the Israeli armed forces. BDZ accuses the trust and its subsidiaries of ‘art washing what they describe as the policies of racism and apartheid in Israel by using art and cultural activities in the United Kingdom to create a positive image of the state.
Lawrence Abu Hamden Records Incidents of Israeli Violence
Lawrence Abu Hamden is a Turner prize-nominated artist. He turned over his Instagram account to fellow artist InasHalabi on the night of May 11, allowing her to capture incidents of violence that occurred due to Israeli police action in the Jewish-Arab city of Haifa. These included the use of sound bombs, skunk water, stun bombs, excessive force, and illegal arrests. Israeli forces also stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque firing tear gas and rubber bullets at worshippers.
Halabi is calling for the boycotting of Israel and she is not alone. Artists for Palestine UK are joining the effort by requesting the boycott of Israeli art bodies stating that artists should refuse to “engage with a system that oppresses Palestinians”. They feel that this will put pressure on governments to take action and hold Israel accountable for its violent activities.
Israeli’s History of Art Making a Change
Israel has a history fraught with war and the efforts of artists have worked to make a change throughout history. Notable actions include those of Israeli graphic designer Ronny Edry.
Israel and Iran had been on the brink of war for years. Edryinspired a change of attitude in 2012 by posting social media images of people from Israel along with messages like “Iranians, we will never bomb your country. We love you.”
Edry’s actions opened conversations and led to the rise of Facebook groups like Israel Loves Iran, Iran Loves Israel, Palestine Loves Israel and Israel Loves Palestine.
JR and collaborator Marco did their part in relieving tensions in the Middle East in 2007 by collecting eye-catching and often humorous black and white portrait photographs of Israelis and Palestinians that do the same jobs. The oversized images were pasted on the walls that separate Palestine from Israel. The project was inspired when JR visited the region to find out why the two cultures can’t get along.
In 2011, JR took things a step further establishing a global art project called Inside out. The artist traveled to Israel stopping in cities like Tel Aviv, Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Jerusalem, in a truck equipped with a large photo booth. Participants could step inside to take posters that could be pasted instantly.
Israel and other countries in the Middle East are no stranger to conflict. It is terrific that artists speak out during difficult times. These actions can pay off in a big way when it comes to uniting people and helping leaders see that violence is not the only option. It is hopeful that the messages artist groups are sending are recognized to prevent more deaths in the Palestine-Israel conflict.