The writing on the wall

Marco Visscher | April/May 2010 issue

According to the Israeli government, the wall dividing Israel from the Palestinian territories is a protective measure. Meanwhile, critics point to the painful consequences. Palestinians are no longer able—at least not without huge delays—to visit their families, get to work, access their own farmland or go to the hospital. In the words of Justus van Oel, a screenwriter from Amsterdam: “They cannot go to their future.”
Van Oel wanted to bring that future a little closer, so he founded
, a website that enables you to have your message written on the wall by Palestinian artists for $40. Once the work is complete, you receive several photos of the artist’s handiwork via email. The proceeds go to Palestinian organizations that set up social, cultural and educational projects, including a sports field and a laundromat for students.
In two years, more than 13,000 messages have been sent, from marriage proposals to political slogans. The messages may not be insulting, but Van Oel emphasizes, “There weren’t more than 10 crazy ones during that entire period.” Last spring, an open letter from the South African human rights activist Farid Esack was placed on the wall; it ended up being 1 1/2 miles (2 1/2 kilometers) long. According to Van Oel, “It is a beautiful document, which offers a lovely counterbalance to all the nonsense on the wall.”
He just wishes more people could have a look. “The wall should get press coverage,” Van Oel says. “We need to see it. If the wall is meant to ensure that Palestinians are forgotten, we must make sure we never forget the wall.” The messages are spread over 4 1/3 miles (7 kilometers) of wall, which means that more than 370 miles (600 kilometers) remain to be filled. Van Oel isn’t sure if that’s a hopeful sign or a sad one.

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