Israel/Palestine Art Therapy Project – Entry 1

Israel/ Palestine Art Therapy Project: Entry #1 – The journey into the “Promised Land”

I, Benjamin Swatez, stepped onto the plane leaving LAX towards Istanbul on February 3rd, 2015. Thousands of dollars worth of art supplies were loaded into the Cargo department beneath the passengers. An existential feeling of liberation washes over me as I melt into the seat, a memorable deep breath oxygenates my lungs and I waive goodbye a beautiful chapter. As the following chapter knocks on the door, thirsty to fill its blank pages with the ink of the untold stories to come, I slip into a deep, peaceful sleep.

I, Shira Shvadron, open my eyes to another gorgeous, sunny day in Israel… AND IT’S FEBRUARY! Yes, a LARGE vehicle has been offered to the Israel Art Therapy Project for the entire month and I get to load up boxes and boxes and boxes of art material donated from amazingly generous and free-thinking, visionary companies.
I can hardly believe it… Two months ago I was reaching out left and right with no real positive response. I felt like a burning candle within a black-hole, but I continued to work, and I continued to dream. Then, out of the darkness exploded amazing support and love from every direction! I am in awe of all of the beautiful people and companies from around the world that envision a land where we can all live in peace and equality. Now it is time to welcome Benjamin Swatez to this sacred land.

The Captain announces over the loud speaker, “Due to a small electrical error we will be landing at the Heathrow International Airport in 20 minutes…” The words fade out as I, Benjamin, observe tears streaming down the cheeks of a young flight attendant. I sent her a comforting smile. “Today is not our day to die!” Although going into all the suspenseful details could be fun, like when the British firemen came running onto the airplane, but let us skip to the real juicy part of the story where the youth of war enlighten the world with a unified voice of peace! I miraculously made my transfer in Istanbul and at 2 am in the morning, Shira Shvadron and Israel were waiting at the arrivals of the Tel Aviv International Airport.

We drove to Jerusalem, navigating through the ancient architecture of stone and find a warm smile awaiting us out on the street at 3 am. It was Shira’s cousin. Moments after falling asleep, the alarm rings like a psychotic wind chime and we are up and out of his home in seconds. The sun is rising above the lime-green grass and metal shacks as we drive through the rolling hills. Within a matter of hours, a foreigner can easily appreciate the enormous diversity in such a small country. Every composition is a masterpiece. Beyond the silohuette of the sheep herder with a staff leading a flock, a sparkling mirage steals the eye. “Is that the Dead Sea?”

EcoME was launched near Jericho and the Dead Sea as a pioneering grassroots project taking a unique multi-level approach to peace work. We arrived at prepared the cement floor with brooms and water for the 10 x 10 meter mural. By 9:30am the beautiful Arab and Jewish youth arrived and within hours of stepping off the plane, the power of art was already underway. Exercise #1: Each participant begins a drawing. At a spontaneous moment the director says, “Stop!” The pencils stop moving and everyone passes their drawing to the left.”Start!” This continues until the original drawing returns to the artist. The attention span of each youth was remarkable as each drawing, touched by the same 26 hands, evolved in its own beautifully unique way. “What did you feel when participating in this exercise?” we asked. The students said that at first it was difficult to surrender control of the outcome of their drawing, but when their composition returned it was a pleasant surprise to see how amazing their drawing had become, beyond the imagination of any one individual.

The exhaustion of “jetlag” did not stand a chance against the energy of this indescribable moment when Arab and Jewish children expressed in perfect English their vision of a unified voice for all of humanity… AND IN ONE DAY! The dialogue was opened and together we explored a composition for the floor mural. There was no shortage of incredible ideas and we managed to incorporate all of them. Every voice deserves to be heard! Within 2 hours, together as a team, we had covered the grey cement with all the colors of love. We said goodbye to the first day of the Israel Art Therapy Project by floating on the glassy waters of the moon-lit Dead Sea.

With So much gratitude to our sponsors: A.L Group, Keter-Press, Palda, Peer-Nesher, Tambour, Arta , Savoir Faire, Chartpak, friends and family!
Benjamin Swatez
Shira Shvadron