20 years ago I lived with a Palestinian family right around when September 11th happened and it was at their dinner table of native food that laughter and sometimes tears would solidify our connection of Indigenous struggles. It was at that very table where I was relayed the story of Faris Odeh, a young teenage boy who was immortalized in the pantheon of Palestinian martyrs alongside hundreds of thousands of others such as Muhammad Al-Durrah.
Fast forward to today and many movements under my belt later. I heard about an organization trying to bring attention to the genocide in Gaza through a small sign on a wall along one of the busiest roads in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This particular route leads up to some of the most famous museums and galleries of “fine art” that Santa Fe has been known for. Street Art never has and never will ask for permission so these particular wheatpaste installations are in direct opposition to these homogenized upper class institutions. When coupled with local racism, the hostility to this conscious art abounds. It is in public spaces and on the streets of change where tear gas and bullets fill the air that some of the hardest hitting images of art reside. I understood long ago the task of an artist is to create the images that people get behind, uniting movements for the continuation of our culture and lifeways. Any Indigenous art that amounts to nothing more than being a gimmick should be considered traitorous to the time and struggle of our own people especially those on the frontlines. These types of self serving “artists” have no place within our struggle other than being a conceited capitalistic hurdle against our collective liberation.
For almost 5 years this Palestinian human rights advocacy group has had their sign defaced, destroyed and even cut into by the knives of racism that exist prominently in Santa Fe. It is these uneducated people who would prefer not to see images of Middle Eastern children or worse yet, the advocacy being made for their basic human rights to exist on their homeland of Gaza – which has been considered one of the largest open air prisons today.
The decision to intervene with virtually indestructible street art installations on the adobe wall, which is very similar to Palestinian home walls, was an easy one. If you compare the dwindling land mass maps to what Indigenous people of this continent and Palestinians had and now have, they are the exact same. What this boils down to is that we have racists who are trying to erase the struggle of the Indigenous people not just in other countries but here on this continent, upon stolen land. For all the people who took knives to the images of Indigenous children of these signs, it is clear these rotten apples did not fall far from the proverbial hanging tree in terms of historical westward expansion. So logically one can draw the conclusion that their actions are an extension of their family’s heritage and legacy on this continent.
This wheatpaste installation was in direct response to the ongoing destruction of the sign and is the result of what happens when you piss of a street artist. The scene tells the story of what has been affecting Palestinian children by utilizing the whole wall instead of just being relegated to the 3’X4′ sign space allocated by the city. There are so many intersectional analogies in terms of the wall itself, the location and the shared Indigenous history so I wanted to make sure these stories were told in a large life sized fashion. This feat required going into a very dark place to live with these images and their stories for weeks on end in order to shed light on this ongoing genocide. In some cases this included taking grainy videos from 20 years ago and enhancing them through different programs so that the terror of their last moments could accurately be displayed during the Christian holidays. The public needed to be educated about what is really happening in Bethlehem in 2020.
It was during these weeks which I began to learn more about Faris Odeh, the boy vs. tank and the David vs. Goliath images of him that I could never get out of my head for 20 years. I always knew I would do something for him but I never knew what that would be until this opportunity came along. I read how Faris would skip school to target state of the art U.S. tanks bought by the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) that killed his people and destroyed homes of Gaza. His mother would plead with him to not skip school and despite being severely punished and locked in his room, he would escape through his window and climb down the drain to be back out on the streets resisting – with stones. What resonated more than anything was when his mother recalled of Faris, “It wasn’t the fame he loved,” she said. “In fact, he’d run away from the cameras.” She begged of him, “Okay, you want to throw stones? Fine. But at least hide behind something! Why do you have to be at the very front, even farther up than the older kids?” And he told her, “I’m not afraid.”.
10 days after this famous photo was taken, it would be this very tank that would ultimately take his life when he was shot in the neck from it. He laid there bleeding out for over an hour with help not being able to respond because he was so close to the tank. I could not help getting emotional many times over from his story and the many others during this project, especially when unrolling the life size printed images for the first time and seeing Muhammad al-Durrah – the little boy crouched behind his father in what was his last moments on Earth.
He and his father were caught in the crossfire of IDF snipers who targeted both of them as they hid behind a concrete barrier (his raw video can be searched online). As hard as this project was physically, mentally and spiritually to endure this is nothing compared to what our Indigenous brothers and sisters go through in Gaza and other settlement prisons on a daily basis. I have the privilege and luxury of walking away from the computer screen, the art and that life. They do not get to walk away from anything so their stories and experiences should remain, never to be forgot.
When the children of Palestine are caught on video resisting with stones or otherwise, the IDF will raid their homes and schools kicking down doors, literally snatching them from their loved ones at gunpoint. These children are disappeared into a system of cages to be interrogated and tortured just like what is happening along the so-called Mexico and U.S. border. In fact, the high tech wall technology that has been perfected against the Palestinian people is now being imported from Israel to the wall on the southern colonial border.
What the average American does not understand is that Indigenous children in cages has been normalized on our continent since ships landed on our shores. In order to secure gold and other natural resources Columbus separated families by keeping men and boys in cages to mine for his gold quotas and our girls and women were trafficked as sex slaves for his crew. Not much has changed for us in over 520 years of continued genocide …but we still exist and in the spirit of many Indigenous warriors like Faris, we still resist. He did what he did for the love of his people and he was not afraid and we shouldn’t be either.
This was for you Faris – and as long I live, so will you because you are me and I am you.
[It is not anti-semitic to advocate for basic human rights] [You are on stolen land] #Indigenous #Palestine #Palestinian #Solidarity #FarisOdeh #MuhammadAlDurrah #FawziAlJunaidi
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