Nada Hammad | 11-09-2015
Gaza looked like a canvas of gray after Israel's Operation Protective Edge was over. Thousands of houses crumbled to the ground. Farms bloomed with ashes instead of their usual vibrant green. Sometimes there were splashes of red and maroon mixed in. Dismembered bodies lying on the roads after a night of heavy bombing. Wounds spilling red over clothes, over roads, over hospital floors.
It started small. All healing processes do.
A gray wall painted white. A gray wall with colorful graffiti swirling around its holes and cracks. Phrases like Gaza will never die and many other variations were painted in vivid colors all over Gaza. Long live the armed resistance. We salute the steadfastness of the people of Gaza. These phrases were a declaration of survival, of a burning will to live despite the destruction. Everywhere you turned your head, you'd see small splashes of color. Vivid, bright colors that were not meant to mask the gray, but rather share its space. A declaration of survival, not a struggle to forget.
Colors of hope
The artists in Gaza, however, needed something bigger, something that screamed hope instead of whispering it on small roads and tiny walls. This is when the Colors of Hope campaign started in January. Some of Gaza's people who were left homeless after the war were given portable houses. These "caravans" were dull, sad and, above all, lifeless. Each time you see one of them you are reminded of a destroyed home, a lost safe haven. Many of Gaza's artists noticed the sadness that clung to these caravans, and they decided to take action.
The walls were painted beautiful colors, with drawings added to make them even more lively. The colors didn't paint over the inhabitants' loss or the difficulties they faced every day, but they offered a window of hope that offered a glimpse of a brighter future.
After the portable homes, the thirst for colors grew.
Gaza's sea port, Al-Mina, is one of the first places people go to relax and breathe some fresh air (although fishy). It is almost always filled with people of all ages—kids running and playing, young men and women gazing into the horizon or chatting with friends, old people passing the time with the sea for company.
It took the artists five days to finish painting the port’s walls with a rainbow of colors. Some of the fishermen rushed to help them once they realized why all of the paint buckets had been lugged to the seaport.
Dalia Abdelrahman, the campaign's coordinator and head artist, says, "Ever since Gaza's seaport was opened to the public after the fighting, the cracked cement walls and the boulders lying around always reminded me of the war's destruction. I said to myself, ‘why don't we color them up and turn them into something beautiful?’ I contacted some donors and fellow artists to work out what could be done and that's how it started."
Earlier this year, my Dad took us on a road trip along the coast, from the sea front in Jabalia all the way to the edges of Rafah city. One of our stops was Al-Mina because my younger siblings had not seen it yet. As he was driving along the seaport's narrow, sandy road, I pointed out to my sister, Nour, all the graffiti drawings painted on the colorful walls. We asked Dad to pull over so we could get out and walk closer to them. Everywhere I turned my head I was met with colors. As were walking, a large, beautifully done piece of graffiti grabbed my attention. It was a line from Marcel Khalife's famous song, “My Homeland” (Ya Watani, in Arabic). The line says, "I have chosen you, oh my homeland."
Color your neighborhood
It seems that colors have magical powers by which they produce more colors. An initiative called Color Your Neighborhood (Lawwen Hartak, in Arabic.) was the next step. The coloring took place this June, just before the holy month of Ramadan.
"The idea started with a Facebook discussion between a few of us," Salsabeel Zeineddin, one of the young women who participated in the campaign, told me. "We had seen many pictures of beautifully colored cities outside Gaza on the Internet. Those pictures showed just how big of a difference a paint bucket can make for a house or a town. And since Gaza has a right to some of this colorful beauty, we decided to do it."
The campaign's participants were mostly young women from Gaza. Women in the street painting and doing what many perceive as a man's job was shocking at first. Salsabeel noted, "At the beginning, the neighborhood's residents were shocked by us and our paint buckets, but after they saw the colors and the effort we were putting in, they started to help us. I was jumping with joy. It felt as if all the negative energy I had bottled up through the past year was vanishing with every brush stroke."
The amount of joy colors can bring to one's life is truly magical. I try to use colors everywhere in my life. My backpacks are always adorned with smiley-faced brooches. My notebook has fun stickers stuck to its plain black cover. My prized and well-loved pen cases are filled to the brim with colored pens. My friends ask me why I bother with the stickers and the colored pens when I'm clearly not in primary or middle school anymore. I always tell them that colors make me happy. Happiness is a choice. It is also a process of trial and error, and above all of perseverance.
The participants of each one of these colorful campaigns and initiatives wanted to give Gaza and its people hope in the way they know best—in color.
Posted: September 11, 2015
Mentor: Tom Sperlinger