On the second day of my AIFL-sponsored press delegation trip, we went on a graffiti tour of Florentin, the trendy South Tel Aviv neighborhood that was #2 on Thrillist’s “The 10 Most Hipster Neighborhoods On Earth” list last summer. Like many neighborhoods of similar status, Florentin is bordered by somewhat darker circumstances.
Like the Tel Aviv Pride Parade, this tour was meant to show myself and the other members of the AIFL delegation the rich, vibrant side of Israeli society, perhaps shielding us from other, less photogenic topics of conversation.
A tour of Palestinian graffiti was not on the table during this trip—nor was, frustratingly but unsurprisingly, any kind of meaningful dialogue about the occupation at all, the trip’s purpose being to pull the American press back in line with the Israeli government’s wildly defensive historical narrative—but earlier this year it received more international focus after Banksy visited Gaza, painting on the separation wall amongst searing work by Palestinian artists.
In Tel Aviv, however, Israeli artists still grapple with their own lives, the results of which are undeniably interesting. “There’s never a dull moment here, and our walls definitely reflect it,” explained Guy Sharett, our tour guide and the founder of StreetWise Hebrew, of the Israeli street art scene. Although Tel Aviv’s street art often revolves around issues of politics and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Sharett told me later over email, “Let’s not forget that even though people talk a lot about the conflict, they still deal with family, love life, money issues and world trends. Vegan, anarchist, consumption issues are really big on our walls.”
Artists like DIOZ bring an air of magical realism to the walls, while Tra, a 13-year-old prodigy, skips school in order to paint his obsession with Botox. That said, there is a lot of political humor; one standout features a line of Israeli politicians propped up by toilet plungers. One of the most striking elements of the scene in Florentin is its emphasis on collaboration—and on three-dimensionality, further subverting the already rebellious medium.
A few days later, we went on a jeep tour of the Golan Heights, which Israel annexed from Syria in 1967 during the Six Day War. We drove up to the top of an IDF bunker, eating watermelon and watching smoke rise near a Syrian town a few short miles away. (We were told the fire wasn’t conflict-related; I’m not so sure that’s true.) Continuing on our way, we waved hello to a UN soldier at the border gate. As we passed signs warning of land mines, our driver told us they were planted by the Syrians back in the ‘60s. “All of them?” I prompted, aware that the Israeli army had placed its fair share of the mines. “All of them!” he replied, somewhat irritably.
We drove up to a large concrete building, a hospital abandoned by the Syrian army in 1967. The graffiti here (mostly done in recent years by Israeli artists) seemed more urgent, much of it slapdash, the imagery fewer and further between. But in this crumbling, politically-charged setting, it also felt more real.
Images by Ellie Shechet.
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