“When the situation gets shitty, take a shit!”

On a winding alleyway in the streets of Jerusalem, that’s the slogan that was emblazoned in blue spray-paint on a wall, just steps from a Orthodox synagogue.

This evening, I went on a Graffiti Tour of Jerusalem, run by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. T’ruah is an organization of rabbis from all streams of Judaism that advocates for human rights in Israel and North America. You can learn more about them on their site.

The walking tour this evening brought me face-to-face with much of the graffiti that I’ve often ignored while walking to Burgers Bar or Aroma during my previous stays in Israel. As T’ruah puts it, graffiti culture in Israel “combines humor, politics, poetry, current events, Jewish tradition and more in multiple languages.”

While on previous walks through Jerusalem’s streets, I probably would have just laughed at the iconography of the man squatting to relieve himself, today I gleaned a fascinating new message. The Hebrew word for situation – “matzav” is the word often used to describe the current political state of affairs vis a vis the Occupation and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

UPDATE (6.4.2013): An Israeli friend has just informed me that this slogan and the icon of the man pooping are from a Shalom Achshav/Peace Now campaign in support of the 2005 Disengagement from Gaza. See the original graphic here.

We saw a lot of street art on the tour  – there will most definitely be a second blog post with more shots. For now, here are some of my favorite pieces of graffiti from our tour:

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The image is of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel. In English, the Hebrew text accompanying the image should read: “Those who believe aren’t afraid” – a lyric from an Israeli song by Eyal Golan. But in the word for “aren’t,” one of the letters has been swapped, giving the phrase a new meaning: “Those who believe in him are afraid.” As our tour guide put it, Israeli graffiti is most-often associated with the political left, as the right-wing political establishment is considerably more well funded. So it’s no surprise to see this cheeky poke at the current (right-wing) government showing up in graffiti form.

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The red graffiti on the left reads: “Firing Zone 918,” referring to a military firing zone in the southern West Bank. This is a fairly new piece of graffiti that has appeared in Jerusalem; it is a direct response to the Israeli army imposing a test-firing zone on an area where some 1,000 Palestinians live in the South Hebron Hills. This is a very current situation here, with developments taking place as recently as last week. You can read some more about the situation at The Daily Beast. The graffiti – in it’s harsh, militaristic typography – is attempting to draw attention to an aspect of Israeli society that very few Jerusalemites ever consider, let alone see with their own eyes.

In an almost Talmudic-style commentary on the red graffiti, the black writing to its right reads: “War Crimes.” While these were likely left by two separate artists, the relationship between the two is fascinating and creates its own meta-statement on the situation.

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While this looks like an artistic variation of an Israeli flag, it’s a deeply provocative piece of art that is itself a “dialogue” between two seemingly oppositional parties. The diagonal white stripes have been painted over the first piece, attempting to cover up the original artist’s intended message. The Jewish Stars beneath the white-washing originally included Hindu “Om” icons, Christian crosses, and Muslim Stars & Crescents. Ostensibly, the original artist intended to present a message of coexistence, which was seemingly anathema to whoever came along and painted over them.

Luckily, as we rounded the corner, we came across an unaltered version of the same piece:

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To round things off, it is worth stating that while Israel at large and Jerusalem in particular remain highly charged political environments, not all graffiti is so heavy-handed. Sometimes, someone just comes along and shares a simple, yet easily understandable message; one that may or may not have already been shared by some pretty powerful religious figures 46 years ago:

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More photos from the tour coming soon… Thanks to T’ruah, and our incredible guide, Marisa, for taking us on a literally eye-opening tour.

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2 thoughts on ““When the situation gets shitty, take a shit!”

  1. You know that first graffiti item (כשהמצב חרא) is actually a Peace Now bumper sticker from a settlement pullout campaign? I have some in my office – want me to send you a couple?

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