Breaking occupation walls through resistive art in South Lebanon
The story of nine artists who decided to use their artwork as a form of resistance, turning the Israeli concrete wall that separates Lebanon and Palestine into a beautiful canvas with stories of heroism.
A couple of days ago, on May 25, Lebanese people celebrated the Resistance and Liberation Day, commemorating the day the Resistance fighters kicked the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon and West Bekaa in the year 2000.
In early 2018, the Israeli occupation began building a concrete wall and separated the borders between Lebanon and occupied Palestine, claiming it would protect it from resistance acts.
On the wall, a group of nine artists, Hassan Fneich, Hassan Shehadi, Mohammad Attieh, Mohammad Rammal, Ayman Jaber, Youssef Tellayh, Ebrahim Tellayh, Ahmad Alhaj, and Ali Hodroj, saw that resisting the occupation could be done through artwork, specifically through painting murals about the Palestinian cause and depicting acts of resistance.
In 2021, the inspirational artists unleashed their resistive art that echoed in Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territories and sparked concerns among the Israeli occupiers.
What is the story behind these murals?
Until the demise of the wall
"In addition to the borders that we consider fictitious and relics of colonial countries, the wall represented an additional Israeli violation of our land. It also formed a barrier for us before our eyes that look longingly towards Palestine," Shehadi said.
"We decided to break the silence of these gray blocks through colors," he explained.
For Shehadi, the Israeli separation wall could be used as a tool to send messages to the occupation and the Lebanese people. It is a form of defiance of the enemy and a space for revolutionary messages related to the resistance and the Palestinian cause.
"We consider that if art is not a form of resistance or has no connection to a cause, then it remains an imperfect art or a mere luxury. Therefore, any work on the wall, in particular, must be resistance art. And since we have a cause, then any artwork that expresses ourselves is a form of resistance," he told Al Mayadeen English.
According to Shehadi, the idea of painting murals on the Israeli separation wall came from "individual initiatives aimed at changing the features of the wall before the date of its removal, which is close, and to remain in the people's memory after the complete liberation of Palestine."
The Israeli occupation sees this wall as a kind of a psychological barrier between two peoples and believes that it is also a safe place for it, Shehadi said.
For the artist, the murals have opened a new line of communication with Palestinians. He said Palestinians were very happy with the drawings, circulating them and communicating with the artists for joint work. He also stressed that none of the goals of this wall have been achieved.
"The work on the murals is ongoing until the demise of the wall. Then, we will hopefully be painting with joy on the walls of the cities and villages of liberated Palestine," Shehadi stressed.
Until all streets are filled with murals about resistance
Hassan Fneich, a member of this group, said these murals "are part of our history that is engraved in our people's memory, and we are visually telling this history."
He believes that art that carries the story of a cause prolongs its life and symbolizes it artistically.
"The stories that we try to convey recount specific memories, such as liberation, occupation, martyrdom, or even certain figures. We aim to keep these stories alive for a very long time so that our children and grandchildren learn about them and their importance and influence in the present or the past," he indicated.
The artist explained that their artwork was inspired by the nostalgia of the Islamic resistance in Lebanon and the Palestine Liberation Organization, as well as the streets of Iran, especially in the Iranian capital, Tehran, where murals symbolizing and depicting the Islamic revolution appear on every corner.
The murals were painted a year ago, specifically during the Battle of Seif Al-Quds, and work is still underway.
According to Fneich, "Work will remain in progress on other murals that recount the stories of heroism from the beginning of the resistance against the Israeli enemy and colonialism to this day, as well as the stories of martyrs and influential and essential figures in our world and our movement since the days of Sayyed Abdul Hussein Sharaf El-Din until all our streets are filled with murals about the resistance."
A message to the occupation: Your presence is not permanent
For Mohammad Attieh, another member of the group, the separation wall is an area created by the Israeli occupation to protect itself. However, the group believes that this wall is a large canvas, which will not protect the occupation but pose more of a threat to it.
Attieh, 32, revealed that the murals drew the attention of the people of the occupied Palestinian territories, the West Bank, and Gaza. He said that Israeli media even touched on the murals in its newspapers and television channels, adding that the extent of the impact of these murals was evident.
Art is a space or a field to talk about certain issues and confront oppressors. If art does not include confrontation, it is not considered purposeful, he underlined.
According to the artist, "Art is like a gun. It can target an occupier's heart. Naji Al-Ali and other artists, writers, and intellectuals preceded us to this stage, and the echo of their works shook the land under Israel, which led to their assassination."
Attieh explained that "the message we want to send to the occupation is that its presence on our land is not permanent."
"The wall is very large. From now until the end of the occupation, we will continue with our art on this wall until it becomes like an art gallery," he concluded.