On our seventh day on the in the Gaza Strip we painted a mural at a kindergarten in Beit Hanoun, a town along the Northern Border. As we approached the driver pointed out rubble and empty lots where rows of houses stood before the 2006 bombings and parked in front of a cement wall, riddled with bullet holes. “Yalla” he told us, “Lets go!”. Walking towards the gate I wondered what it would be like to drop your child off at a school with bullet holes across the front wall.
One of the most densely populated places on earth earth, Gaza is a 140 square mile piece of land that is home to over 1.7 million people. Since the bombing of the sewage plant more than half of the ground water is now contaminated with raw sewage and because of over pumping, salt water from the Mediterranean has spilled in to the aquifer. Children and babies are most susceptible to the water borne illnesses caused by the lack of sanitation. Over 60% of the population is under 18 and scientists predict that within the next 15 years, there will be no water left in the area.
After a tour of the school and rounds of children practicing their English “What is your name?” and “Hello!” the principal showed us the water filtration system that has brought drinkable water to their school in this small piece of the dessert. Author Alice Walker and the Middle East Children’s Alliance funded the filter after permits to rebuild the sewage plant were denied by the Israeli government.
Our group of artists from the US and Gaza unpacked our paints and brushes, and began to talk about what images to paint. We worked on a sketch that would both inspire the kids who attend the school, and inspire the international community to understand the impacts of the occupation and take action.
As we began to paint, Alice Walker was on a boat near Greece as part of an international protest against the blockade attempting to reach Gaza by Sea. We painted an image of boats sailing with banners proclaiming “To Gaza With Love” in English and Arabic. Larger than life birds lead the boats and carry people towards land to symbolize the Flytilla in which 800 internationals were denied entry by the Israeli government in the week after we arrived. Behind the boats, messages of faith, love, peace, and human rights float in bottles. Talking with the teachers and principal we agreed that even if the boats and planes are all turned away, the messages of solidarity have been received.
As we painted in the hundred degree sun, playing Lupe Fiasco and Nancy Ajram songs, children kept popping their heads over the wall to watch us and practice their English. One of the artists, Vyal from Los Angeles walked around the corner to see how they were getting up the wall and found that they were using the bullet holes in the wall as footholds to climb up. Using sign language he asked if they would like to paint the wall and they all gathered around him. He began to spraypaint flowers growing from the holes and turned some into eyeballs. As the kids colored in the petals and leaves, he tagged across the bottom “Bear Witness, Free Palestine”.
The “Maia Mural Brigade” brought artists from The Estria Foundation’s Water Writes Project and The Break the Silence Mural Project to travel to Palestine and collaborate with local artists to paint public murals about water conditions.
We painted 8 murals in 8 days near water filtration systems implemented by the Middle East Children’s Alliance that provide potable water to over 30,000 children and their families at schools across the Gaza Strip.