Israel/Palestine Art Therapy Project – Entry 5

Israel Art Therapy Project – Entry #5: Paint Your Life Into a Masterpiece

I sit on the edge of a wooden dock that climbed right out of the “Phantom Toll Booth”. While my heart dances in the ripples of this Northwestern winter paradise, I hear a dear friend’s voice echo in my ear, “Be the hero of your own movie.” I spin around 360 degrees with my eyes wide open. A bald eagle nest is resting in the tree behind me, the San Juan Islands are to the left and the “Never Ending Story” is straight ahead until morning. The “Little Train That Could” is hooting in the distance and it carries me back to the last week of the Mami Wata Art Therapy Project as Shira Shvadron and I ride the motorcycle through the red-earth countryside of Northern Uganda to finish the last mural, one kilometer south of the Barlonyo Massacre. After working with over 800 former child soldiers, recently freed sex-slaves, and children born in captivity, the last paint strokes of this masterpiece were in motion. “Shira, do you think that it would be beneficial to bring an art therapy project to Israel?” I asked… And just like that a new project was born.

Countless events took place over the months to follow: the highest peaks and the lowest valleys. Shira journeyed from Rwanda all the way to South Africa by land, while I ventured into the heart of Latin America for international art shows, trips into the Amazon, and an amazing art therapy project in Tunuyan, Argentina. Throughout the chapter of post-Africa, many forces attempted to put a permanent road block in front of the Israel Art Therapy Project. “You are an American Jew. If you go over there you will be killed, or you will get someone killed. You are trying to commit suicide,” I was told… and on Shira’s initial inquiry in Israel, positive responses to the idea were few and far between… And then, my Uncle Steve, who had always believed in me, passed away while I was in the jungle. We had been talking about going to Israel together during 2015 for some time. Despite the obstacles and disbelievers, I awoke one morning in the cozy home of Oscar Guinez during the week we were painting a 20 meter mural with the underrepresented children of Argentina and knew, “Everything inside of me is telling me to manifest this Israel Art Therapy project and nothing will stop me.” I bought my ticket that same day!

Hand in hand with creativity we dream with child-like eyes. In the face of extreme trauma, creativity is often suppressed, yet it can never be fully extinguished. The power of art therapy offers tools to reignite the creativity within us all and through a positive outlet, channel out that for which does not serve us any longer. The focus of the Israel Art Therapy project was to offer tools that are designed to enhance communication skills and create a platform for positive dialogue between children, Jewish and Arab alike. Not only has it been remarkably successful, but also loads of fun. We act because it makes us happy, not from guilt that is derived from the perception that something is wrong with the world. Art demonstrates that perception is a matter of choice and there is no wrong way to paint, nor interpret a painting. With our intentions set strong, and failure not being an option, everything began to fall into place: puzzle piece after puzzle piece. By the end, we had so many organizations, schools and communities asking to participate in our project, there were not enough hours in a day to include all of the beautiful people who were coming forward feeling the buzz and excitement of peace through art. Truly, at the beginning, many donations were kept anonymous, and in the end everyone wanted their name on the mural. =) One thing is for certain, this project could have never happened without the amazing work, artistry and love shown by Shira Shvadron!

Within 3 weeks, with many inspired all nighters, we painted four murals of a total of *56 meters in width and 19 meters in height* (10 x 10 meters at Eco-Me, 9 x 5 meters at Jisr Az Zarka, 2 x 4 meters at Neve Shalom, and a 3.5 x 0.20 meter canvas that will be blown up to be 35 x 2 meter* mural with Daniel Amit and Variety) the sixth graders of Neve Shalom helped Robert cover the front of the school with mosaic murals, we worked with over 200 youth and painted a couple thousands compositions. We organized the first gatherings between the Arab youth of Jisr Az Zarka and the Jewish youth of Benyamina celebrating their similarities and differences through art… Many members of the community expressed how vital they feel the work is to make new connections between Arabs and Jewish, which is not an easy thing to do in Israel these days. Those who chose to rise up in their true power and join us are ambassadors of peace and understand how valuable the work is to their community. It would have been easy to work with only Jewish, or only Arabs, but children are children and we wish to work with all of them =) We held teacher training seminars, teacher parent conferences… and endless laughter and smiles. We were on the main television channel #2 and were given a front page spread in the Northern Israeli Newspaper. All of these numbers are impressive and beautiful, but each individual child touched our hearts beyond description and we wish to honor every single one of them for their courage to love in the face of adversity. We love you and you have forever painted yourselves into our hearts!

We pulled up to the curb of the Ben Gurion International Airport of Tel Aviv with 59 minutes to spare. Shira’s mother checked me into my flight over the phone. Traffic was bumper to bumper and while I was packing all my belongings in the backseat of the car, another call came in. It was Neta, the Co-Founder of Juha’s guesthouse in Jisr Az Zarka, and she said, “A dear friend of mine is a movie producer. She heard about your projects, visited the mural on the bridge and wants to talk to you about making a film.” I made my flight. This is why I am painting my masterpiece on the wooden dock, straight out of the “Phantom Toll Booth”, with some amazing news. Judith Manassen-Ramon, the producer of “Dolphin Boy” has signed on to produce the Documentary Film: “A journey film that traverses through Benjamin Swatez’s art therapy projects with children facing adversity around the globe and illuminates the will power within each human to choose happiness over hopelessness. From India, to Africa, to Argentina and back to the Middle East, the power of life and art is manifested in every shot of the film.”