A picture speaks 1,000 words, right? But not on the walls of the Middle East. The paintings that have sprung up during the 21-month conflict between Israel and the Palestinians say far, far more. They speak of history, hatred, heroism and pipe dreams.
Gilo, a Jewish settlement built by Israel in occupied territory to shore up Jerusalem's southern flank, faces the Christian Arab village of Beit Jala, next door to Bethlehem. Earlier in the intifada, Palestinian gunmen began firing across the valley into Gilo. The Israeli armed forces replied by shelling Beit Jala with tanks and invaded the village on several occasions. As the shooting continued - sometimes nightly - a 12ft concrete wall, hundred of meters long, was erected to protect Gilo.
The wall deprived residents of a pleasant view of Bethlehem and its surrounding villages sweeping down into the southern West Bank, so the town has settled for the next best thing. Its side of the wall is decorated with murals, one of which depicts the missing view of Beit Jala although - take note - without any of the Palestinian residents.
"This is so people will not regret having this wall," Leah Zarembo, one of the artists responsible for the murals, told the Gulf News at the time of their completion. Commissioned by Jerusalem's municipal authority, the murals were done by Jewish Russian immigrants living in Jerusalem at a cost of £40,000. "We do it because we make the view better" said Mikhail Morgenstern, another of the artists. "Our scenes have nothing to do with what is actually happening on the other side of the wall."
By local standards, this wishful thinking on the part of the Israelis of Gilo is a relatively minor example of the deep emotions underlying the conflict. Barely a wall in the Gaza strip is free of belligerent painting and graffiti including garishly rendered pictures of exploding Israeli buses and heroic suicide bombers.
The wall at Gilo is just the first of many such barriers to crop up across the landscape of the West Bank, some to protect the Jews from Arab gunfire, others simply to separate Arabs from the Jews. And with Israel's prime minister Ariel Sharon's recent approval of plans to build more barriers - work has already begun on 360km of wall in the northern West Bank - it will take more than murals to hide from the reality of a divided country. Phil Reeves, Independent on Sunday 23.06.2002
Gilo, Beit Jala 2001