Nablus is a modern city with ancient roots. It has functioned as a cultural and commercial center for the past two thousand years. Most of its charming Old City, with narrow streets and arches, was built during the Ottoman time. Many of the residents, whose families have lived here for generations, are fiercely proud and protective of their land and heritage.
During the Second Intifada, the city endured brutal attacks from the Israeli occupying military. Numerous buildings were destroyed and families perished. Despite continued harassment and arrests, the determined citizens, in their resistance to occupation, have earned Nablus the honored name Mountain of Fire.
In the heart of the Old City is an ample square surrounded by two- and three-story houses on four sides with a circular platform in the center. All of the structures – houses, the platform, and roads were built with stones. Numerous residents and visitors pass daily through the square. It has been used for public gatherings, children’s play, passageway, and parking.
In 2014, our team was invited to design something for the small plastered area on the main wall of the square. Responding to the sentiment of the residents, team member Rob Shetterly (Americans Who Tell the Truth) created the fiery image of the “Resistance Fighter.” Embodying determination and strength, the image was immediately embraced by the community as a symbol of the spirit of its people.
Revisiting the square in Old Town Nablus, we found that the image was pockmarked by many bullet holes. Restoring it in good speed, Rob and the team brought back the vitality and determination of the figure.
While working on the murals, our team also conducted workshops for children. Creativity generates excitement. Happy children bring joy to adults. Images of flags, flowers, victory signs, and geometric patterns began to appear on paper. Why not transfer some of the patterns onto the walls to beautify the public space?
It is taboo to paint on stones, so we found new surfaces; the grey metal doors and the entryways to homes and stores. We cleaned the thick dust and rust off of many of the doors, and started painting.
Art-making draws people like a magnet. Soon, we were surrounded by children who wanted to participate. Painting with bright colors is an act hard to resist. Ayman, a tall and lanky young man of 20, quietly stepped in to help us. He is a professional painter; his quiet confidence calmed the chaotic excitement of the children. For two days, Meesha, 32, who loves motorcycles and keeps a store for them on the square, watched from the side as we painted. On the third day, he could not resist anymore. He took a brush and started painting. Then he could not stop. He painted for seven hours on that day!
In three days, the art making by the joined forces of children, young adults from the community, and our team, transformed the stern stone square into a space of vibrancy and charm. More importantly, people experienced the joy of working together and the power of art in turning darkness into beauty and delight.
For me, it’s not only fun painting, but one put something from the heart and soul into the place and to the community which bring great feelings of giving and belonging. Beside, seeing the beautiful and creative transformation and being part of the process are very inspiring.
– Ayat Omran, volunteer, poets
During our spring 2015 visit, the community requested another, larger mural on the main wall of the square. In response, Rob and the team created this spirited figure, covered partially in a kaffiyeh (symbol of unity), rising from the old city proudly holding the national flag that represents the land and people of Palestine. It immediately became an iconic image and spread like wild fire on social media.
It reminds us of the words of Mahmud Darwish, the pre-eminent Palestinian poet:
And they searched his chest
But could only find his heart
And they searched his heart
And could only find his people.
(Left) Robert Shetterly standing in front of the mural, (Right) Our program coordinator Majdi Shella, our team, and volunteers Ayat and Ghadeer