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Protests took place in London, Bristol, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Portsmouth against the ongoing attacks against the people of Gaza.  Should you wish to take action, both Bristol and Oxford have Palestine Solidarity Campaigns – see Indymedia for further information.

An anarchist reports on Gaza

It happened at 9am this morning. We were speaking to Sabrine Naim at the time, standing and talking in the Naim family home which had been wrecked this morning. Chunks of debris – one a meter long and a foot wide – glass, and sharp slices of their own broken roof, had smashed onto beds, chairs, their kitchen and living room. Only two of their family of 12 had been home at the time. They were expecting an attack.

And it came at 4am – a missile strike by an F16 on the local police station and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine offices.

Smouldering rubble and rocks and dust were strewn across the heart of Beit Hanoon – the market, taxi rank and main streat littered with debris.Sabrine had been hit in the face with small chunks of her neighbour’s home. One side of her right cheek was covered with a thick white dressing. She looked watery eyed and exhausted. Debris had also struck her in her heavily pregnant stomach. With only a month to go until giving birth, she spent two hours in the local hospital before being discharged.

The 4am blast shook us all out of our beds. A gigantic abrupt bang – the sound of concrete walls, floors and steel rods exploding on impact in an instant. The strikes had been happening all night – most of them in Jabaliya again. Distant thuds that you strain to map in your mind.

We had spent the night in Beit Hanoon, a town home to some 40,000 people in the North of the Gaza Strip. Beit Hanoon borders Erez Crossing and Houg (now called Sderot) in Israeli territory. The town possesses some of the most fertile land in Gaza. Much of it – orange groves and olive trees – has been bulldozed by the Israeli military to clear cover for fighter fire against Israeli settlements and towns. Even so, because of its’ proximity to Israeli towns, rockets have been known to be launched from here.

The family home we stayed in had been occupied by Israeli soldiers in the last invasion in 2006. The family of six was moved into the downstairs flat, whilst soldiers blasted holes in the walls of rooms on the top floor to make sniper posts. If the noise of an invasion – tanks, apaches, F16s, heavy boots, agitated soldiers and the never-ending sneer of the surveillance drones – didn’t keep the family awake. Then the sound of single shots and the wondering what or who had been hit, worrying that a neighbour or family member had been struck, would add to the internal invasion.

The house, located in a courtyard with olive trees and a roof with clear views of the surrounding streets made an excellent vantage point for snipers. Another home, of local doctor Mohammad Naim, a specialist in treating prematurely babies at Shifa Hospital had been occupied 12 times in the past 8 years by Israeli soldiers. He hadn’t even bothered to paint over the naked grey concrete smears in the walls in his upstairs room. They had been sniper holes. And he knew they would be back again.

His outside wall too, bore the spray painted orientation indicators typical of occupying soldiers moving through narrow alleys at night.

‘Do you think you’ll move if they invade?’ I asked him. ‘Where will I go?’ He said, ‘I haven’t got anywhere else to go?’. He showed me the lock of his front door, ‘This as been smashed open at least 20 times’ he remarked. Dr Mohammad had been blindfolded and taken to the agricultural school in Northern Beit Hanoon during the last invasion, along with all local men aged between 16-40.

He had been interrogated and detained from Thursday afternoon under Friday evening. ‘Every invasion they occupy my house. They cut the electricity and use their own flashlights. Last time my family were all downstairs for five days. My children are the worst affected, they remember everything, the tanks, the invasion, and being jailed; none of us are allowed to go out even when there is a break in curfew’. Asked how the soldiers behaved towards the family, he said, ‘Well it depends on the shift, sometimes they’re decent, sometimes they can be aggressive. But with the situation as it is now, any movement could attract fire’.

‘50 people were killed here’. This is my friend Sabr talking. He’s pointing to the street outside his sister’s home – another one always occupied by soldiers, like that of Dr Mohammad. In the last invasion, resistance had confronted advancing tanks. The result was a bloodbath. His family home had been leveled to the ground.

Walking through the streets here, nearly every house has a martyr – martyrdom status is attributed to anyone, young or old, fighter or civilian – who has been killed by occupation forces. It is a mark of respect, and a coping mechanism for the sheer volume of death and an inconsolable, mounting level of loss that affects every family. It is also a way to honour and pay tribute to lives violently taken, and let life live after death under occupation. Everyone knows a neighbour, a friend, a cousin, somebody who was killed by Israeli occupation forces. Communities here feel each death personally, because so many so know one another personally. The extended family lines and kinship networks that have grown up from the collective experience of dispossession and expulsion are a web of support and a common thread made solid in the form of houses built from tents, all close together and all bearingwitnesses together. Because the size of families and the proximity in which people live together, there is a natural participatory experience in almost every aspect of daily life. And every killing there is a witness, to almost all that happens in peoples lives, there are witnesses, always a ‘together’.

We pass a huge crater in the Al Wahd Street, just opposite the Al Qds community clinic. Its where a missile from either a Surveillance drone or F16 blasted Maysara Mohammad Adwan, a 47-year-old mother of 10, and 24-year old Ibrahim Shafiq Chebat into a pile of cement and clay-like mud. Ibrahim’s father, Shafiq Chebat, a classical Arabic teacher, was the first to uncover his body, but he did not immediately recognize his son. A Bulldozer was clearing debris when an arm was discovered. ‘I never expected to find him here’, he explained, ‘He was a civilian, he had gone to work at the 7-up factory, I thought he was at work’.

Because of an Israeli strike close to the factory in Salahadeen Street, staff were sent home early for their own protection. Shafiq’s sister in law Fatima explained to me, ‘The mud and the rocks, they were piled meters above his body, meters! It was two hours before they got to him. And then his father didn’t know it was him. It was his youngest son that said, ‘Its Ibrahim, Its Ibrahim’. And he said no my son it’s not him, but then we he wiped the mud from his face and when he saw it was him, he fell on the ground, he fainted on the ground’

Ibrahim had been working at the 7-UP plant to save money for his wedding. He was due to marry Selwan Mohammad Ali Shebat, a woman widowed before she could wed, she now describes herself as ‘broken’ and ’suffocated’ with grief. The women’s grieving room was full of mothers with lost sons, sitting around Ibrahim’s mother on gaudy sponge mattresses. Fatima and Kamela, sisters of Sadeeya, Ibrahim’s mother, had both lost a son each. ‘I am a mother of a martyr and she is a mother of a martyr, we are full of martyrs here’. Fatima’s son, Mohammad Kaferna, was killed by a tank shell in September 2001, whilst Kamela’s son Hassan Khadr Naim was killed by a missile strike in 2007.

Sadeeya was stunned and disorientated in her grief, throwing her arms up she keened over the memory of her dead son, ‘I said don’t go out, don’t go out, don’t go out, don’t go out’.

Sadeeya’s sister Kamela takes me by the eyes and leans forward. ‘They are using weapons of war against us’, she says. ‘ we’re civilians and they are bombing these neighbourhoods with war planes’.

Blue tarpolin grieving tents silence the streets of Beit Hanoon, like the rest of Gaza. Men sit side by side in lines on plastic chairs, taking bitter coffee and dates. With their quiet collective remembrance, they are the passage ways for too many families and communities into new levels of desolation and collective resilience.

So, I think we need to go back to 9am this morning. And the ‘it’ of what happened.

We had been talking to Sabrine Naim, in her rubble home when we heard two soaring, succinct, thuds. A plume of black smoke stormed up into the sky. We had though it was too far, maybe the outskirts of Beit Hanoon – in the end we go  to Beit Hanoon hospital – the only one in town. Its a basic facility with just 47 beds, compared to Shifa’s 600, and no intensive care unit. With Beit Hanoon expected to be first in the firing line if Israeli ground forces invade, the Hospital is desperately under-equipped to cope. Two days ago it had just one ambulance. Now 5 have been scrambled from other local state and private hospitals and wait in the parking lot primed for the worst.

‘They’re bringing them in, they’re bringing them in’, we hear people say. I expect to see a wailing ambulance come veering round the corner, instead a cantering donkey pulling a rickety wooden cart vaults up to the hospital gate. Its cargo three blackened children carried by male relatives. They hoist their limp and contorted bodies into their arms and run in to the hospital. Their mother arrives soon after by car, running out in her bare feet to the doors.

Haya Talal Hamdan aged 12 was brought into the main emergency ward and lain down. She was soon covered with a white sheet, as her mother, comforted by relatives disintegrated into pieces. Ismaeel aged 9 came in breathing, his chest pushing up and down quickly as doctors hurriedly examined his shrapnel flecked body.

In the emergency operating theatre was Lamma, aged just 4. Opening the door, I saw a doctor giving her CPR, again and again, trying to bring her to life, but it was too late. She died in front of us.

Lamma’s mother blamed herself, ‘I asked them to take out the rubbish, to take out the rubbish, I should never have asked them to take out the rubbish’. A female relative was livid with disbelief, ‘She hadn’t even started school! We were, sleeping, and they call us the terrorists? How could they cut down this child with an F16?’

Doctor Hussein, a surgeon at Beit Hanoon Hospital said the cause of death was ‘multiple internal injuries and internal bleeding’. Their fatal injuries were consistent with their bodies having been ‘thrown up and down in the air 10 meters’.

Outside the hospital I turn around and see a young girl, maybe 10 years old, in a long skirt and slightly too big for her jacket. She’s beautiful, with straggly brown air and deep brown eyes. She’s on her own which is rare for any child here, they always stick together and move together. She looks eeriely alone, in the car-less empty street. I say hi and smile and she comes over and we shake hands, and I’m struck after the violence of the death of Lemma and Haya, and turmoil and out of control grief of the hospital at how vulnerable she is and how uncertain anything is about her future.

After the hospital, we made our way to the scene of the strike – Al Sikkek Street, close to the Erez Crossing. Two large craters around 6 meters in diameter and 20 meters apart scared an empty wasteland between a row of houses. One had turned into a lake; the missile downed power lines had smashed into a water pipeline, now spewing fresh water into the crater.  Iman, 12 years old, a tough, long haired tom-boy wearing a wooly hat and jeans, witnessed the whole attack. She took us up the roof of her house to point out where and how and what she saw.

At the second crater, next to two green wheelie bins, we see a twisted bicycle and wooden cart, mangled together with plastic bags of rubbish that the children never got to dump. There is still blood on the ground. Crowds of young men gather to stare into the craters, and point to the gushing water mixing with sewage. They also point out a blasted building near by – its corner missing – a casualty of a 2007 Israeli missile attack.

We walk back to the mainstreet, now lined with solemn male, mourners, in groups talking quietly or looking listlessly at us. Iman explains to us, ‘I always ask God for me to become a martyr like the other children. My mother is always asking why, but they’re killing children here all the time, and if I die, then I prefer to be a martyr, like the others.

Even it’s better to die than live a life like this here’.

It happened at 9am this morning. We were speaking to Sabrine Naim at the time, standing and talking in the Naim family home which had been wrecked this morning. Chunks of debris – one a meter long and a foot wide – glass, and sharp slices of their own broken roof, had smashed onto beds, chairs, their kitchen and living room. Only two of their family of 12 had been home at the time. They were expecting an attack.

And it came at 4am – a missile strike by an F16 on the local police station and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine offices.

Smouldering rubble and rocks and dust were strewn across the heart of Beit Hanoon – the market, taxi rank and main streat littered with debris.Sabrine had been hit in the face with small chunks of her neighbour’s home. One side of her right cheek was covered with a thick white dressing. She looked watery eyed and exhausted. Debris had also struck her in her heavily pregnant stomach. With only a month to go until giving birth, she spent two hours in the local hospital before being discharged.

The 4am blast shook us all out of our beds. A gigantic abrupt bang – the sound of concrete walls, floors and steel rods exploding on impact in an instant. The strikes had been happening all night – most of them in Jabaliya again. Distant thuds that you strain to map in your mind.

We had spent the night in Beit Hanoon, a town home to some 40,000 people in the North of the Gaza Strip. Beit Hanoon borders Erez Crossing and Houg (now called Sderot) in Israeli territory. The town possesses some of the most fertile land in Gaza. Much of it – orange groves and olive trees – has been bulldozed by the Israeli military to clear cover for fighter fire against Israeli settlements and towns. Even so, because of its’ proximity to Israeli towns, rockets have been known to be launched from here.

The family home we stayed in had been occupied by Israeli soldiers in the last invasion in 2006. The family of six was moved into the downstairs flat, whilst soldiers blasted holes in the walls of rooms on the top floor to make sniper posts. If the noise of an invasion – tanks, apaches, F16s, heavy boots, agitated soldiers and the never-ending sneer of the surveillance drones – didn’t keep the family awake. Then the sound of single shots and the wondering what or who had been hit, worrying that a neighbour or family member had been struck, would add to the internal invasion.

The house, located in a courtyard with olive trees and a roof with clear views of the surrounding streets made an excellent vantage point for snipers. Another home, of local doctor Mohammad Naim, a specialist in treating prematurely babies at Shifa Hospital had been occupied 12 times in the past 8 years by Israeli soldiers. He hadn’t even bothered to paint over the naked grey concrete smears in the walls in his upstairs room. They had been sniper holes. And he knew they would be back again.

His outside wall too, bore the spray painted orientation indicators typical of occupying soldiers moving through narrow alleys at night.

‘Do you think you’ll move if they invade?’ I asked him. ‘Where will I go?’ He said, ‘I haven’t got anywhere else to go?’. He showed me the lock of his front door, ‘This as been smashed open at least 20 times’ he remarked. Dr Mohammad had been blindfolded and taken to the agricultural school in Northern Beit Hanoon during the last invasion, along with all local men aged between 16-40.

He had been interrogated and detained from Thursday afternoon under Friday evening. ‘Every invasion they occupy my house. They cut the electricity and use their own flashlights. Last time my family were all downstairs for five days. My children are the worst affected, they remember everything, the tanks, the invasion, and being jailed; none of us are allowed to go out even when there is a break in curfew’. Asked how the soldiers behaved towards the family, he said, ‘Well it depends on the shift, sometimes they’re decent, sometimes they can be aggressive. But with the situation as it is now, any movement could attract fire’.

‘50 people were killed here’. This is my friend Sabr talking. He’s pointing to the street outside his sister’s home – another one always occupied by soldiers, like that of Dr Mohammad. In the last invasion, resistance had confronted advancing tanks. The result was a bloodbath. His family home had been leveled to the ground.

Walking through the streets here, nearly every house has a martyr – martyrdom status is attributed to anyone, young or old, fighter or civilian – who has been killed by occupation forces. It is a mark of respect, and a coping mechanism for the sheer volume of death and an inconsolable, mounting level of loss that affects every family. It is also a way to honour and pay tribute to lives violently taken, and let life live after death under occupation. Everyone knows a neighbour, a friend, a cousin, somebody who was killed by Israeli occupation forces. Communities here feel each death personally, because so many so know one another personally. The extended family lines and kinship networks that have grown up from the collective experience of dispossession and expulsion are a web of support and a common thread made solid in the form of houses built from tents, all close together and all bearingwitnesses together. Because the size of families and the proximity in which people live together, there is a natural participatory experience in almost every aspect of daily life. And every killing there is a witness, to almost all that happens in peoples lives, there are witnesses, always a ‘together’.

We pass a huge crater in the Al Wahd Street, just opposite the Al Qds community clinic. Its where a missile from either a Surveillance drone or F16 blasted Maysara Mohammad Adwan, a 47-year-old mother of 10, and 24-year old Ibrahim Shafiq Chebat into a pile of cement and clay-like mud. Ibrahim’s father, Shafiq Chebat, a classical Arabic teacher, was the first to uncover his body, but he did not immediately recognize his son. A Bulldozer was clearing debris when an arm was discovered. ‘I never expected to find him here’, he explained, ‘He was a civilian, he had gone to work at the 7-up factory, I thought he was at work’.

Because of an Israeli strike close to the factory in Salahadeen Street, staff were sent home early for their own protection. Shafiq’s sister in law Fatima explained to me, ‘The mud and the rocks, they were piled meters above his body, meters! It was two hours before they got to him. And then his father didn’t know it was him. It was his youngest son that said, ‘Its Ibrahim, Its Ibrahim’. And he said no my son it’s not him, but then we he wiped the mud from his face and when he saw it was him, he fell on the ground, he fainted on the ground’

Ibrahim had been working at the 7-UP plant to save money for his wedding. He was due to marry Selwan Mohammad Ali Shebat, a woman widowed before she could wed, she now describes herself as ‘broken’ and ’suffocated’ with grief. The women’s grieving room was full of mothers with lost sons, sitting around Ibrahim’s mother on gaudy sponge mattresses. Fatima and Kamela, sisters of Sadeeya, Ibrahim’s mother, had both lost a son each. ‘I am a mother of a martyr and she is a mother of a martyr, we are full of martyrs here’. Fatima’s son, Mohammad Kaferna, was killed by a tank shell in September 2001, whilst Kamela’s son Hassan Khadr Naim was killed by a missile strike in 2007.

Sadeeya was stunned and disorientated in her grief, throwing her arms up she keened over the memory of her dead son, ‘I said don’t go out, don’t go out, don’t go out, don’t go out’.

Sadeeya’s sister Kamela takes me by the eyes and leans forward. ‘They are using weapons of war against us’, she says. ‘ we’re civilians and they are bombing these neighbourhoods with war planes’.

Blue tarpolin grieving tents silence the streets of Beit Hanoon, like the rest of Gaza. Men sit side by side in lines on plastic chairs, taking bitter coffee and dates. With their quiet collective remembrance, they are the passage ways for too many families and communities into new levels of desolation and collective resilience.

So, I think we need to go back to 9am this morning. And the ‘it’ of what happened.

We had been talking to Sabrine Naim, in her rubble home when we heard two soaring, succinct, thuds. A plume of black smoke stormed up into the sky. We had though it was too far, maybe the outskirts of Beit Hanoon – in the end we go  to Beit Hanoon hospital – the only one in town. Its a basic facility with just 47 beds, compared to Shifa’s 600, and no intensive care unit. With Beit Hanoon expected to be first in the firing line if Israeli ground forces invade, the Hospital is desperately under-equipped to cope. Two days ago it had just one ambulance. Now 5 have been scrambled from other local state and private hospitals and wait in the parking lot primed for the worst.

‘They’re bringing them in, they’re bringing them in’, we hear people say. I expect to see a wailing ambulance come veering round the corner, instead a cantering donkey pulling a rickety wooden cart vaults up to the hospital gate. Its cargo three blackened children carried by male relatives. They hoist their limp and contorted bodies into their arms and run in to the hospital. Their mother arrives soon after by car, running out in her bare feet to the doors.

Haya Talal Hamdan aged 12 was brought into the main emergency ward and lain down. She was soon covered with a white sheet, as her mother, comforted by relatives disintegrated into pieces. Ismaeel aged 9 came in breathing, his chest pushing up and down quickly as doctors hurriedly examined his shrapnel flecked body.

In the emergency operating theatre was Lamma, aged just 4. Opening the door, I saw a doctor giving her CPR, again and again, trying to bring her to life, but it was too late. She died in front of us.

Lamma’s mother blamed herself, ‘I asked them to take out the rubbish, to take out the rubbish, I should never have asked them to take out the rubbish’. A female relative was livid with disbelief, ‘She hadn’t even started school! We were, sleeping, and they call us the terrorists? How could they cut down this child with an F16?’

Doctor Hussein, a surgeon at Beit Hanoon Hospital said the cause of death was ‘multiple internal injuries and internal bleeding’. Their fatal injuries were consistent with their bodies having been ‘thrown up and down in the air 10 meters’.

Outside the hospital I turn around and see a young girl, maybe 10 years old, in a long skirt and slightly too big for her jacket. She’s beautiful, with straggly brown air and deep brown eyes. She’s on her own which is rare for any child here, they always stick together and move together. She looks eeriely alone, in the car-less empty street. I say hi and smile and she comes over and we shake hands, and I’m struck after the violence of the death of Lemma and Haya, and turmoil and out of control grief of the hospital at how vulnerable she is and how uncertain anything is about her future.

After the hospital, we made our way to the scene of the strike – Al Sikkek Street, close to the Erez Crossing. Two large craters around 6 meters in diameter and 20 meters apart scared an empty wasteland between a row of houses. One had turned into a lake; the missile downed power lines had smashed into a water pipeline, now spewing fresh water into the crater.  Iman, 12 years old, a tough, long haired tom-boy wearing a wooly hat and jeans, witnessed the whole attack. She took us up the roof of her house to point out where and how and what she saw.

At the second crater, next to two green wheelie bins, we see a twisted bicycle and wooden cart, mangled together with plastic bags of rubbish that the children never got to dump. There is still blood on the ground. Crowds of young men gather to stare into the craters, and point to the gushing water mixing with sewage. They also point out a blasted building near by – its corner missing – a casualty of a 2007 Israeli missile attack.

We walk back to the mainstreet, now lined with solemn male, mourners, in groups talking quietly or looking listlessly at us. Iman explains to us, ‘I always ask God for me to become a martyr like the other children. My mother is always asking why, but they’re killing children here all the time, and if I die, then I prefer to be a martyr, like the others.

Even it’s better to die than live a life like this here’.

 

mural-full-length

Mike Alewitz, American muralist, arrived in August to paint three walls, one in the Azeh refugee camp near Bethlehem, another in the Anatha camp near Jerusalem, and a third in the Arab village of Kufr Qara, located in Israel. (The Kufr Qara mural.) On August 4 he talked to an audience of activists and artists at the Baqa Center in Jaffa. He showed slides of his works – many of them landmarks in the struggle for labor rights. Several exist today in photos alone, for a mural is eminently destructible – and one that carries political punch, like Alewitz’s, will be sandblasted at a change of regime (like Mother Earth in Nicaragua) or upon rattling union fat-cats (like the P-9 mural in support of the meatpackers’ strike at the Hormel plant in Austin). These works and others were resurrected at the Baqa Center. When Alewitz mentioned his intention to paint at Kufr Qara, a young artist in the audience asked if he might help. Alewitz pondered a moment and said, “It’s not necessary for you to help me. If you want to be of help, then go paint a mural. There are plenty of walls out there. It’s not difficult. Any artist can do it.” He went on to say, “The conditions for change are in place. The time is right. We can prevail. But right here, right now, it’s up to you. The movement that is developing depends on you in this room.”  

Who is Mike Alewitz? 

Alewitz began as an activist. Art came later, as part of his effort to build a workers’ movement in America and abroad. He shook up many in the audience at the Baqa Center when, quietly and firmly, he named the US as the foremost terrorist nation on earth. He disturbed some among the artists too when he stated, without apology, that the goal of his art is to further social and political ideas. At one point he thanked the workers throughout the world who had forced him to discover visual images to express their struggle. He calls his genre Agitprop, short for “Agitation and Propaganda”.  


Three local organizations hosted the Alewitz visit. Two work in the Occupied Territories: the Beit Jibrin Cultural Center in the Azeh camp and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. In Israel, the Workers Advice Center (WAC) hosted him for the week of August 3-8. WAC invited him to paint a mural in support of its campaign called “A Job to Win”, which seeks to put people back on the job in the construction industry – especially the Arabs, who were once the dominant labor force there.

Alewitz began making murals in the mid-eighties, after working as a sign and billboard painter. Since then he has painted in Nicaragua, Mexico, Chernobyl, Baghdad, and throughout the US – always in concert with the local unions. “The connection between mural painting and the labor movement is strongest,” he told Challenge, “at the moment of struggle, when the workers have a definite message to express. Then a painting becomes a significant weapon. For example, at the start of the Russian revolution, or the one in Nicaragua, public art played a central role.”


A mural, says Alewitz, can educate workers to solidarity while recalling forgotten parts of the local labor struggle. In the history of the working class, many stories – and inspiring figures – are virtually lost, because the capitalist class has taken care to expunge them. This working-class history, rescued from oblivion, can be a precious asset in the effort to organize. At the Azeh camp near Bethlehem, for example, Alewitz placed a huge loaf of bread in the center of the picture, together with a dozen red roses. He frequently uses this image, recalling the strike of the textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1912, when the women raised banners saying: “We want bread and roses!” If they focus only on job conditions (“bread”), unions fail to develop the workers’ consciousness (“roses”). Here, together with the unions, art can play a decisive role.


To the historical dimension Alewitz brings the spirit of the new era. “Access to art has been denied to workers. They were taught that it wasn’t for them, that they shouldn’t visit museums. There are workers who love to paint, but most will be embarrassed to tell you.” He adds, “When I come to a place, I can’t know the situation as well as the local people. Therefore, I look for subjects and images that are universal, that will be understood by workers everywhere. I paint people purple or green or blue, and sometimes I paint them without a clear gender – hermaphrodites. Agitprop artists need to experiment and develop an imagery to express the multi-hued nature of the workers’ movement today – and not to fall back on clichés.”

Alewitz remains a strong believer in activism. At the Baqa Center he said, “I have not come because I think I can change something here. I have come so I can take the images back with me and use them in the American working class, to show people how the situation here relates to their own.”


For more on Alewitz’s work, see Paul Buhle and Mike Alewitz, Insurgent Images: The Agitprop Murals of Mike Alewitz, New York, Monthly Review Press, 2002. 

WAC’s Part in the Project 

Alewitz and Christine Gauvreau direct the Labor Art and Mural Project (LAMP). In the spring they contacted us at WAC, saying they wanted to paint in Israel and Palestine. We were happy to offer our help – and a wall. The question was which wall? We have many work teams in many villages, but there would only be one mural.


Our choice fell on the village of Kufr Qara, for we had recognized one of its teams for excellence in 2002-03. The mural project set off a welter of activity in the village. People organized supplies, food and logistics. Toward the end of the first preparatory meeting, after the allotment of tasks, Farid Atamneh, himself an artist, said, “This is all very fine, but who’s going to paint it?” On hearing the answer, he exclaimed, “What! Him? To our village? All the way from America?”


Soon after his arrival, I accompanied Alewitz to a building site near Tel Aviv, where workers from Kufr Qara were on the job. In a conversation during the break, Alewitz stressed that George W. Bush does not represent the American people and certainly not its working class. He described the movement opposing the war and the part that labor unions have in the protest.


A week later, after he had finished the mural near Bethlehem, we met at the wall in Kufr Qara. Although on the edge of the village, it occupies 21 square meters at the entrance to a sports stadium serving the whole region. The local council had approved. The workers had cleared the area and erected a scaffold.

They returned from their day of labor and sat with Alewitz. He asked what they wanted the mural to convey. Among the responses was this: “We want a painting that will attract more workers to join us in WAC and help organize.”


In his preliminary sketches, Alewitz sought a picture that would answer to the workers’ need for a union to defend their rights while, at the same time, breaking the walls between workers that “Mr. Moneybags” erects to exploit them.


As the deadline approached, Alewitz accepted the help of local artists, including two from WAC. The work each day went from sunrise to sunset, 14 hours. The only breaks were for food in the homes of the workers, who took turns hosting the team. On the last day, with the dedication ceremony scheduled for the evening, there wasn’t even time to leave for a meal. Muss’ab Atamneh, whose turn had come to provide the food, would not be daunted. The astonished painters watched as serving dishes appeared: dozens of courses spread on carpets among the cans of paint and the brushes.    

Workers and Artists Speak 

Muss’ab Atamneh was among the most active in organizing the Alewitz visit to Kufr Qara, and he also took part in the painting. He says: “The visit helped deepen the connection between WAC and the village. People were astonished that WAC would bring an American artist to us. Apart from this, the artistic result was a delightful surprise. My team workers tell me they are getting enthusiastic responses from the neighbors. Although the soccer season hasn’t yet begun, people drive out to the stadium to look at the mural. Personally, I think it’s very important to us, the members of WAC, because it shows that WAC is concerned not only with our working conditions, but also with the lives we live when the work day is done.”

Ra’afat Khattab is an art student in Jaffa and a leader of its Baqa Center. He took part in the project from start to finish: “This experience has been most important to me. In my work at the Baqa Center, I take it as a guiding principle that art should contribute to social progress, but that goes against what I’m learning in college. There, and in the Israeli artistic milieu generally, they sanctify individualistic art. In working with Alewitz, I saw what potential there is in the genre of mural painting.”


Hillel Roman, a young artist from Tel Aviv, works as a volunteer with children at the Baqa Center. He also took part in the painting. “At the lecture in Jaffa, it was impressive to hear an artist who travels throughout the world engaging with workers and taking part in their struggles. I was also struck by his work, which goes against the stream of establishment art in galleries and museums. I was interested to hear his opposition to the existing order, how he identifies with the oppressed. I asked myself at once, of course, how come I sit at home or show my work in a gallery. He explained very well that in galleries and museums, the level of our opposition as artists is limited to the existing order, because otherwise they simply won’t show our work. So I asked myself, What then? Am I a collaborator?

“On the other hand, I think the question is more complex. I still prefer to make a division, to keep what I create as a tool for personal expression, and to contribute to society in other ways, as when I volunteer at the Baqa Center, teaching kids to express themselves through painting… About the notion of ‘art for a cause’, I think art is the stepchild of two classes: it is crushed between the bourgeoisie, who speculate in it and stick it in museums, and the working class, who flatten it into ideology (even if the latter has merit). Art never reaches the point of identifying with either class, or when it does so, it ceases to be interesting. Alewitz concedes that he is making propaganda, and as such his work has a lot of power.” 

The Kufr Qara mural was unveiled on August 8 toward evening.  Its bold orange sky glows above the solid green of its hills and the blue silhouettes of cities. We see two panels, almost symmetrical, each with a wall, partly broken, stretching from the foreground into the distance. Asymmetry is provided by Mr. Moneybags, who escapes with the loot on a flying carpet. Out of the earth arise great fists, brick-red, clenched in labor’s traditional gesture of defiance and solidarity. Banners proclaim the message in Arabic, Hebrew and English: “No Walls Between Workers!” 

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Sindicalismo Sin Fronteras
by Mike Alewitz
Assistance by Daniel Manrique and numerous volunteers
Approx. 8′ x 30′
Frente Autentico Trabajadores Auditorium
Mexico City 1997

On April 5, 1997, a public inauguration of two new murals was held at the auditorium of the Frente Autentico Trabajadoras (FAT) in Mexico City. The event was part of a cross-border organizing project of the FAT and the United Electrical (UE) union. The following is based on a dedication speech given by artist Mike Alewitz of the Labor Art and Mural Project (LAMP).

Sisters and Brothers:

It is a humbling experience to come to Mexico to paint, for this country is the home of the modern mural movement, and gave birth to some of the greatest public art of this century. Here is where the Rivera, Orozco and Siqueras were inspired by millions of peasants and workers to illustrate the historic conquests of the Revolution. On a smaller scale, we are attempting to illustrate the UE-FAT efforts to build international solidarity and cross-border organizing.

It was Emiliano Zapata who gave the greatest political expression to the Mexican revolution, and it is under his watchful eyes that our mural unfolds. We have also included the figures of Albert and Lucy Parsons. Albert was one of the Haymarket martyrs, framed up and executed for his leadership in the Chicago labor movement’s fight for the eight hour day. Lucy was also a leader in that movement, and she continued her labor and anarchist activities until she died at an old age. She was of African-American and Mexican ancestry, was an early leader of the feminist movement, and a founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World. The Parsons hold in their hands some bread and a rose. “Bread and Roses” was a slogan of the Lawrence textile strikers; women who demanded not only the bread of the union contract, but the rose to symbolize that workers deserve a rich spiritual and cultural life.

The quotation in the painting is from August Spies, also executed on November 11, 1887. “If you think that by hanging us you can stamp out the labor movement…the movement from which the downtrodden millions, the millions who toil in want and misery expect salvation-if that is your opinion, then hang us! Here you will tread upon a spark, but there and there, behind you-and in front of you, and everywhere, flames blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out.”

How fitting a quote for this land of volcanos. This is precisely what is happening today, as first a Los Angeles, and then a Chiapas explode, here and there, precursors of a generalized conflagration. Our class is like the core of the earth, being compressed under ever greater pressure, until forced to explode.

We are using this cultural project to illustrate our collective union vision. Unions are the first line of defense for workers. They keep us from getting killed or poisoned. They allow us some basic human dignity.

Unfortunately, too often our unions resemble exclusive clubs, or worse, criminal gangs. Even unions that pride themselves on being progressive are often beaurocratic and autocratic. Without the full and active participation of the membership, all the weaknesses of our organizations emerge. As workers, we often must not only battle the employers, but our own conservative leaderships as well.

This is a particular problem in the United States, where employers keep us stratified and divided. They attempt to pit low-wage workers against the more privileged. They use divide-and-conquer tactics to convince us to be for “labor peace.” But labor peace is the peace of slavery, wether in the U.S. or in Mexico.

The Frente Autentico Trabajadoras is helping to lead the struggle for genuine union democracy. There have been, and will continue to be casualties in this historic fight. And today we dedicate this mural to those who have been victimized in the struggle for union democracy. This mural is the product of not only artists, but the thousands of workers who built our unions. This is their mural.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to denounce the criminal policies of the United States government. In particular I denounce the economic sabotage of Mexico and the criminal embargo of Cuba. The gang in Washington does not speak for me or millions of other American workers. They are waging war upon our class. They are my enemy and your enemy. They represent the past, we are the future. If we continue to forge these links of solidarity, they can never prevail.

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Justseeds/Visual Resistance Artists’ Cooperative is a decentralized community of artists who have banded together to both sell their work online in a central location and to collaborate with and support each other and social movements. Our website is not just a place to shop, but also a destination to find out about current events in radical art and culture. Our blog covers political printmaking, socially engaged street art, and culture related to social movements. We believe in the power of personal expression in concert with collective action to transform society.

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