When the state of Israel began constructing its ‘separation barrier’ through the West Bank, it never anticipated that the wall would become a living gallery of resistance, crowded with images and words of defiance. This creative response to injustice is by nature impermanent (one day the wall will fall) and even now is subject to constant change as parts are added or effaced. Which is why William Parry has performed such a valuable service in documenting it.
There’s an amazing range of styles, from painterly expressionism through pop art parody and cartoon minimalism. Desperate pleas for help and solidarity (‘EU, UN where are you?’) alternate with expressions of misery (‘Dead city’, ‘No hope’), political indictments (‘This is a land grab’) and deadpan, sometimes cryptic irony (‘Here is a wall’, ‘I want my ball back!’, ‘Been there done that’, ‘Nothing to see here’).
Many of the artists make ironic use of the very structure on which they’re painting. A rampaging rhino seems to smash a gaping hole in the wall. A man prods a finger into a spot on the wall from which a network of cracks spreads outwards. ‘CTRL+ALT+DELETE’ reads one large-scale slogan. Everywhere, the more polished artworks, many contributed by artists from abroad, merge with casual, sometimes crude, popular graffiti – as it should be.
A white dove lies speared and bleeding. Eyes peer through barbed wire mesh. A raised fist holds a beating heart: ‘Your heart is a weapon the size of a fist.’ There are donkeys, camels, flags, faces contorted with rage, people sniffing flowers.
The graffiti is in many languages and filled with echoes of faraway struggles. Ben Franklin is quoted (‘Those who don’t stand for something will fall for anything’), as is Bobby Sands (‘Our revenge will be the laugher of our children’) and Immanuel Kant’s first rule of enlightenment: ‘Sapere Aude!’ (‘dare to know’).
The book documents not only the art but the crime of the wall. Deploying hard facts and compelling vignettes, the photographic and verbal evidence he presents leads to the inescapable conclusion that the purpose of the wall is not the protection of Israelis but the slow strangulation of the Palestinians.
One slogan that is found repeatedly on the wall is ‘To Resist Is To Exist’. This is a book that allows us to see and feel what that means.
#232: Rue Britannia ● The legacy of the British Empire ● An interview with Priyamvada Gopal ● The People’s Olympics ● An interview with Neville Southall ● Agribusiness in India ● Deliveroo’s disastrous IPO ● Latest book reviews ● And much more!
And you choose how much to pay for your subscription...
Lesley Chow argues for a new kind of music criticism that re-evaluates women musicians and "meaningless" music, writes Rhian E Jones
Laura Pidcock, former MP for North West Durham, reviews the new book by Huw Beynon and Ray Hudson in the shadow of Brexit and deindustrialisation
Luke Charnley reports on the new publishing houses getting working-class writers onto the printed page.
In this timely book, Matthew Brown and Rhian E. Jones explore new forms of democratic collectivism across the UK, writes Hilary Wainwright.
Magee's memoir isn't an intimate history of the Brighton Bombing. Instead, it delivers a much more powerful treatise on struggle and reconciliation, writes Daniel Baker
Judith Herrin's masterwork of scholarship provides insights into how imperialism deals with times of upheaval, writes Neal Ascherson
Want to try Red Pepper before you take out a subscription? Sign up to our newsletter and read Issue 231 for free.