Israel/ Palestine Art Therapy Project: Entry 2 – “The Bridge Over the Blue River”
Jisr Az Zarka is known to be the most economically impoverished Arab village of Israel, and yet, the quality of life in the hearts of the youth is growing everyday. We, Shira Shvadron and Benjamin Swatez, drove into this beach town, “The Bridge Over the Blue River”, with eyes wide open, feeling the story within the decaying walls. We were welcomed with open arms and immediately jumped into art class for the next 5 days. Every single class left us in awe as the colors, serving as a positive outlet, revealed the internal and external conflicts of humanity. Several of the youth were considered trouble makers in their school; however, in our art class they were attentive angels. After projecting the Surrealistic paintings of Salvador Dali onto the wall, they came to the conclusion that in order to break free from the cages of fear they needed to courageously walk into their pain in order to emerge into the light and love on the other side.
This village has a history of isolation. One of the reasons is because during the 6 day war of 1967 Jisr Az Zarka resisted from entering the war against the Jewish, leaving them isolated from both the Arab and Jewish institutions. After Shira attempted on multiple occasions to inspire a local Jewish Kibbutz to join the Israel Art Therapy Project, with very little success, the leader of the Benyamina “Scouts” called with exciting news. They wished to hire a private bus and transport 25 Jewish Youth into Jisr in order to initiate a new dialogue between two communities that are ten minutes drive apart with little to no interaction.
“I don’t want peace, I want war”, one 16 year old Arab girl said. The tension was building in Jisr before the arrival of the Jewish Youth, while in Benyamina the Scout leaders were talking to their youth about the fears and judgements that they had as well. As the Jewish youth climbed the stairs, we asked the Arabs to come outside and meet on the balcony. The two groups, standing face to face, softened as they began to share each individual’s dream and began to see clearly that we all have red blood and breathe the same air. It was amazing to watch a leader from each side, translating Benjamin’s inspiring words into both Hebrew and Arabic simultaneously.
Somehow 53 youth squeezed into a small Gallery space and there was hardly ten centimeters between each chair. There are so many incredible snapshots of hope and reconciliation that occurred during this class. For example, the Jewish asked if we could mix up the seating arrangements for a deeper integration. They also asked how to write Peace in Arabic. But the most touching story involves the Arab girl who declared that she wanted war. She had been sitting beside the most timid and frightened Jewish Girl at the gathering, who refused to exchange seats and leave the comfort zone of her friends to sit between Arabs. The Arab began to paint a Palestinian flag, which is often seen as a hostile protest towards Israel, but then painted a red heart. She turned to the Jewish girl and asked if she could please help draw the Israeli flag next to the heart as well. “Palestine loves Israel.” The timidness washed away and before our very eyes we watched the most beautiful transformation within both the Jewish and the Arab girls. We are so grateful to witness the courage of them both. It is a strong example of the power of art, and moreover, the power of the human heart.
After cleaning up for an hour after class with smiles painted all over our faces, we walked back to the Juha’s guesthouse, who had been so incredibly welcoming for the entire week, and as we were climbing up the stairs, the police stopped us and asked, “Do you have drugs? From where are you? What are you doing here.” We shared with them about the project after they searched through our bags. They finally said to Shira, “You should take care of yourself because you are the first Israeli Jew that we have ever seen here at night.” It is a testament to the courage that both Shira and the Youth of Benyamina displayed by taking a risk for their belief in Peace. We thank the community of Jisr for such an amazing week where we felt nothing but love and excitement for our presence. We interviewed both sides a day later. “It was the best day of my life.” Kuds, the 17 year-old Arab boy said with watering eyes.” – “We live right across the river and through art we made a new connection that we would like to maintain.” The Scouts leader said. He continued to say that by sharing respect for one another we’ve taken down the walls of judgement within ourselves and our environment.
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