In addition to the ample amount of falafel joints, each Israeli city seems to have one uniting characteristic: their color. And not just the purple of the perpetual flowers in bloom or the sandy limestone of the buildings, but the color of art that seems to be painted on each nook and cranny of the cities. As you walk along the hidden alleyways of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, you are bound to be greeted by a mural. Sometimes they are towering, sometimes they are small, but there is a guarantee to be every kind.
However, despite its popularity, street art is not technically legal in Israel. Normally this would seem to be inhibitor to its proliferation, but in many ways its restriction is what makes it flourish. Because the art is done without compensation and relatively anonymously, artists are at liberty to paint whatever they please. As a result, art spanning from comedy, meaningless scribbles, emotional expression, to protest platforms can be found throughout the country.
To add to this, street art is often temporary, either being painted over by government authorities or covered up by other street artists. Its fleetingness incentivizes expressive liberty even more.
It’s this unrestricted expression that showcases exactly how diverse Israel is. Each side of Israel comes out, all of its complexity.
During our first week of the Institute for Study Abroad’s orientation, we were fortunate enough to receive a tour of the street art in Tel Aviv by expert, Michal Krak. She took us around several of the main commercial and cultural hubs of the town, acting as both a guide of the city and the art within it. As we went along, she would point out many of the pieces we passed, taking us through hidden doors or pointing out small murals in plain sight that we would have otherwise looked past.
Each mural had a story. Through Michal’s enthusiasm and persistence, she has gained the inside scoop on many of these artists, getting to know several of them individually. From this she was able to tell us why the artists made what they did, their background, their quirks, generally everything. Here are some examples of the diversity within the street art scene:
This is a piece done by an ultra-orthodox Jewish artist. Under the alias of Ometz, he creates his art completely under the radar. If his hidden identity is found out, he would be kicked out by his community, isolated to his way of life. Unfortunately, Ometz has had to discontinue his art due to this issue.
This was done by a young Arab-Israeli woman. On the right is the Arabic word for love, the left is the sameword but in Hebrew. Originally, she would tag this stencil but only with the Arabic. As a result, it would be routinely covered up. After some time, she added the Hebrew to the left and now her work can be found all over the city.
Art Outside Tel Aviv
This is a Banksy replica found in Aida Refugee Camp. In the early 2000s, the internationally renowned street artist travelled to Israel and the West Bank, creating some of his most famous work. His presence is often credited with launching a street art renaissance in the country.
“THE WORLD IS TOO SMALL FOR WALLS.” (Cr. Kevin Boone) An example of Palestinian protest art in Bethlehem.
Coming into Israel, I had known it to be a diverse country. Jerusalem is famous for being home to Abrahamic religion, after all. However, hearing about it and seeing it are two very different things. After the first couple of days, we as a group began to see the conglomeration of peoples. But their existence, not only how they looked, but what they thought, was nowhere more evident in the art the people of Israel make.
It exemplifies the feelings and cares of the people. What they want to talk about: politics and difference; but also what they worry about: faith, violence, and happiness. Through street art, people can voice what they want. In a society with so many political, religious, and social pressures, this form of expression showcases the truly profuse opinions and ways of life this small country on the water has to offer.
Jon Stormer Pezzi is a Global Politics major with an Arabic and Poverty and Human Capability Studies Minor at Washington and Lee University. He studied abroad with IFSA at the Diversity and Coexistence program in Jerusalem, Israel in Fall 2018. He served as an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-to-Study Program.