There is a crossroads of sorts as you drive down the main road into the village of Bil'in, on the West Bank in Palestine. Three roads meet there and a one room, cinder block structure stands in a triangle of dirt and garbage. It looks abandoned or maybe half built, perhaps there was a fire. The white walls that line the streets begin to narrow here and continue down towards the center of town. The mosque and its minaret stand at the heart of the village, an older mosque and nearby ruins attest to the millennia Bil'in has persisted.
But at this crossroads, there is nothing distinctive, the dust and plastic swirl as large tractors and vehicles pass. It might be anywhere. The front of the building is gone and it has only a partial roof. White walls hug its ruin, its cipher of nowhere, far away on the West Bank.
It is certainly not Jerusalem.
In workshops we hold at the start of our residency in Bil"in
a young woman makes a drawing of the Holy City. Palestinians on the West Bank must obtain permission to travel to Jerusalem and cross the checkpoints along the way. Many will never travel there at all. Her drawing symbolizes a day when the Holy City is open to all. Her Jerusalem floats in heavenly space, radiating light.
Later I see sketches, Emma Elliot-Walker, my fellow artist from Scotland, has created; simple box like Palestinian houses in bright colors. Throughout the residency she shows skills as an educator and artist. Emma becomes an indispensable partner on the streets of Bil'in. Soon her simple house forms will become part of the symbolic language we will use in our re-enchantment of walls and roads. I turn in a circle in the patch of dirt facing the cinder block building and white walls enclose me on all sides. Gratefully I consider the stretch of white wall; clear of grafitti and relatively smooth.
There is a gut wrenching quality to the work that is started on these walls. As I walk by from a site further up the road that evening, I brush the little boxes and touch the walls, a place where the forlorn mingles with fierce hope. This is a crossroads, a mysterious stop where you take the bus to the next place. But it is no longer a faceless or remote corner, people have emerged from closed gates and doors have opened during the work; we have had a glimpse of vibrant life beyond the anonymous white walls of the street.
Anointed with labor, now the site sparkles, hums with busy hands.
In the final days of the Bil'in residency most of the artists visiting Bil'in help transform the indifferent walls into monument. As a group we have witnessed violence and the power of imagination. Now good people brush prayers of peace on thirsty surfaces. We give our actions substance and power.
It’s a map of the future. A Palestine with no walls.
"See, there is Jerusalem, and the gates are open."
Perhaps travelers to Bil'in will bring a brush and paint so that the map can continue to be filled in. In between plans for demonstrations, calls to prayer and the endless drone of vegetable trucks someone may ask children walking home from school to make a wish and add to our common work. When I return I want to paint a house with the Chilean flag, another with a star, Inca symbols for the sun and Mayan glyphs for joy.
In the Holy City, at the Carmelite convent at the top of the Mount of Olives the Lords Prayer is written on in a hundred different languages on large tile murals. People come from all over the world to see them. I took pictures of the Our Father in the Guarani and Cree languages, but as far as I could tell there was no plaque in Mapudungun, the language of the Mapuche in Chile.
Maybe at the crossroads where we imagine the future, we can write peace in a hundred languages, make a house for everyone. First we have to imagine that world, then later we will begin its construction. Again and again until the houses stand, gates stay open, walls dismantle.
When our images fade, we will still remember what is possible when imagination is set into action; the walls and people of Bil'in burning like embers in our memories.
|photo Kathleen Blackistone|
|Emma Elliot Walker photo Kathleen Blackistone|
|Sketch by Emma E-W|