When street artist Banksy's pictures mysteriously appeared on the West Bank "partition wall" in 2005, they drew the world's attention to the barrier in ways that dozens of protests and op-ed pieces could not.
Proposed in 1992 by former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, the concrete and razor-wire wall was originally planned to follow the 350-kilometer Green Line (the 1949 armistice line from the Arab-Israeli war). Currently, the barrier runs over 600 kilometers as it winds to encapsulate Israeli settlements in the West Bank. For the Israelis, the wall represents increased security from terrorist attacks, as well as a way to consolidate the legitimacy of settlements. For the Palestinians, the wall symbolizes apartheid and economic oppression, separating thousands of West Bank residents from their workplaces, their schools, and their former farmlands. To the rest of the world, the wall represents a geopolitical impasse in the heart of the Middle East.
Banksy returned to the West Bank in December 2007, leaving six new drawings on the wall near Bethlehem. In the same month, Dutch activist group Sendamessage invited people from around the world to leave their own mark: for a fee of €30, Sendamessage commissions locals to spray-paint requested messages on the wall, sending snapshots of the finished text via email.
This publicity comes at a critical time. The disastrous war in Lebanon left Israel in a fragile position, its myth of invincibility shattered and the credibility of its leaders deeply undermined. The seven-year silence between Israel and Palestine was finally broken by peace talks in Annapolis last year. And in January, President Bush made his strongest public statement yet pushing Israel to give up land for an independent Palestine.
Timing is key. The wall is only two years from completion. Already, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has announced that Israel's borders will be expanded and redrawn around the partition wall in 2010, jeopardizing what little hope remains for peace. Artists and activists around the world are putting a spotlight on the barrier to prevent this from taking place. Whether it be stencil drawings or a graffiti scrawl, their message is the same: "Tear this wall down!"