Political art sends clearer message than 1,000 speeches

Nine Michiganders from the Traverse City region are running across Palestine to raise awareness around issues facing West Bank olive farmers. Jacob Wheeler is with them, and submitting dispatches:


JERUSALEM — Today, the Run Across Palestine left Beit Omar, an olive-farming village in the West Bank that struggles for access to its land in the face of encroaching Israeli settlements, and ran toward Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The runners faced no disruptions from the military, unlike yesterday — the first day of the run.

Once they arrived in Bethlehem (located in the Palestinian West Bank), the “Separation Barrier” wall between it and Jerusalem (which has been part of Israel proper since 1967) forced the runners to confront the specter, and metaphor, of a wall erected to divide people; they marveled at the graffiti and protest art that covers the east side of the wall — reminiscent of the Berlin Wall, and they lamented having to say goodbye to their Palestinian support staff, who were not allowed to enter Jerusalem because they don’t hold Israeli citizenship.

Here are some of the runners’ responses:

“It’s incredible, this wall is so big and so fierce,” said Run Across Palestine musician and Lansing resident Joshua Davis, as he studied graffiti pictures and poignant expressions written on the east side of the wall. They included statements like ‘This wall may take care of the present, but it has no future’. “Art is powerful in so many ways. It brings people together, it sends a message. This can send a clearer message than a thousand speeches can.”

“The only thing I have to compare it to in my memory is the Berlin wall, which was doing pretty much the exact same thing — isolating a specific people and barring them from free movement for political and religious reasons,” said Run Across Palestine organizer Timothy Young, from Honor, Mich. “Visually they look identical to each other, and all the graffiti is the same, just in a different language. But it’s all language of liberation and struggle, and that’s clearly what’s going on here.”

Randy Lyn of Frankfort, Mich., was more succinct: “On this side they made an ugly thing look beautiful.”

Chris Treter of Traverse City, a brainchild of the Run Across Palestine, found hope in the writing on the wall. “It’s really inspirational and powerful,” he said. “It’s amazing how many people around the world come here and recognize how wrong that wall is and how oppressive it is, and they put graffiti all over it expressing those feelings.”

Passing through the checkpoint required entering a series of narrow hallways separated by barred walls — a feeling perhaps akin to being herded like animals through an industrial farm.

“It’s a sad feeling to leave our friends, and to go through these bars here in a temporary prison,” said videographer Aaron Dennis of Traverse City.

View this video of the runners confronting the wall:

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