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West Bank Graffiti Artists Arrested Over Mural Of Jailed Teen Activist Tamimi
An artist paints a mural depicting jailed Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi on the separation barrier outside the West Bank city of Bethlehem, last week. (Musa al Shaer/AFP/Getty Images)

West Bank Graffiti Artists Arrested Over Mural Of Jailed Teen Activist Tamimi

The painting on the security fence depicts Ahed Tamimi, the recently-released Palestinian teenager who served an eight-month sentence for slapping an Israeli soldier

Israeli forces over the weekend arrested three graffiti artists for painting a mural of Ahed Tamimi—the Palestinian teenager jailed for slapping an Israeli soldier last year—on the separation barrier in Bethlehem. The artists, two Italians and one Palestinian, were detained on Saturday, a day before 17-year-old Tamimi was released from prison after serving an eight-month sentence for assault.

One of the artists was seen painting the mural last week while wearing a black cloth wrapped around his head. He was later identified as Agostino Chirwin, an Italian living in the West Bank. Chirwin, known by his artistic pseudonym “Jorit Agoch,” has a reputation for creating realistic murals of politicians and activists.

It is unclear if the second Italian arrested and the accompanying Palestinian helped paint the mural or provided logistical support to Chirwin. They have not yet been identified.

The Palestine Liberation Organization’s Negotiation Affairs Department released footage showing Israeli army soldiers pulling the three men from a parked car near a section of the wall displaying the mural, and taking them in for questioning.

The three reportedly violated an Israeli law declaring it illegal to paint on the separation wall. It is unclear how consistent this law is applied given that graffiti along the barrier is common. The IDF Spokesperson’s Office did not offer The Media Line a comment on the issue.

The depiction of Tamimi was fairly large, reaching several feet short of the top of the wall that measures over eight meters (26 feet) high. Tamimi, 17, was sent to prison for assault after being filmed kicking and slapping an Israeli soldier late last year. Her mother, Nariman Tamimi, who took a video of the confrontation that went viral, also served time in prison after being charged over the incident. Both were released on Sunday.

The teenage girl is considered an icon by many Palestinians for what they see as her defiance of Israeli military control of the West Bank. The incident with the soldier took place outside Tamimi’s village of Nabi Saleh in the West Bank. The video of it was widely shared on social media after her mother posted it on Facebook. Her imprisonment has drawn attention from many Palestinian sympathizers around the world.

The prominent image of Tamimi raises questions about the role of graffiti and mural art in promoting the Palestinian cause. Some Palestinians have argued that the art serves no purpose, charging that depictions of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, for example, have little to do with the conflict and just detract attention from pressing concerns. They also dislike that the fact that visitors gravitate to the art, giving it the aura of a tourist attraction instead of what Palestinians see as a symbol of their plight.

Mahmoud Muna, Manager of the Educational Bookshop in eastern Jerusalem, told The Media Line that the graffiti is part of the art scene in Palestine.

“But I don’t think it is realistic that we are going to get all Palestinians to agree if graffiti is nice or not, or if it is useful or not. The role of the artist is to be provocative and to provide images that might not be liked by everyone.”

He added that many Palestinians believe the wall has become a beautiful canvas. They do not welcome this because it beautifies an object of the “occupation.”

“However, just speaking particularly about the art depicting Tamimi, I believe it should stand as an exception,” Muna asserted, “because this young Palestinian female has become a new icon of the Palestinian struggle. It’s a beautiful face, future, and hope of Palestine. So, this art is welcome by many in Palestine.”

Cathren Saadeh, also a resident of eastern Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of a future state, told The Media Line that the graffiti represents the political statement of the Palestinians, which depicts their suffering, heroes, and culture.

“Tamimi’s image is that of a hero to many Palestinians. She is a young girl without fear, who has lived under occupation all her life. She has become a representation of the resistance, the struggle, and daily life of Palestinians.”

Saadeh added that even though the graffiti can be artistically pleasing, as in the case of the depiction of Tamimi, it reminds Palestinians of the darker aspects of the struggle with Israel. Yet, she concluded, “it makes us also feel good inside because we feel like this is our form of peaceful resistance.”

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