I spent a whole day and a lot of money tracking down some of the more famous art on the Israeli security barrier (wall) between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Today I manifested Walid, bodybuilder, weightlifter, taxi driver and art connoisseur. Who would have thought!? In my naïveté, I pictured myself just going to Bethlehem walking along the wall in a big circle or as far as I could, taking photos. But I only got about 100 meters into it and there was the first complete block. This was not going to work.

After I had crossed the check point at Bethlehem – now I knew exactly what to do and where to go – a whole bunch of taxi drivers descended on me: Taxi? Taxi? Taxi? The big business in town is to shuttle people from the checkpoint to town. No taxi, thanks. No, I did not need a taxi, I wanted to walk.

When I returned, defeated from my 100 meter walk, the scene repeated itself: Taxi? Taxi? Taxi? No taxi, thanks. I needed information and guidance. I want to see pictures on this wall. One taxi driver singled himself out and said: I have a book – let me show you. His English was great and he started to explain some of the images in front of me. And when he mentioned “Banksy”, I was sold! This guy knew Banksy! Banksy, the aloof, incognito, notorious cartoonist from England who reportedly had left half a dozen images on the wall in Israel. This was the man I needed. He quoted me an outrageous price to take me around the area to the various Banksy pictures and to different parts of the wall – no matter how much time I needed, no matter how many times I wanted to stop for pictures. I sighed. He was my man, there was no question. But he wanted his price; so I agreed. He did not let me down.

Look up Banksy on line if you have not heard of him. His cartoon-stencil art goes for hundreds of thousands by now. Today I saw some on the side of a garage, on a tiny wall along a main road, and on a wall soon to be demolished for a slick clean hotel!

I saw the single concrete yellow/white block on the side of the road which marks the transition from a Zone A to a Zone B territory; and before I mess this all up, google the Oslo Accord. There, the various zones of administrative and police/army authorities between the Palestinian Territories and Israel had been agreed on – that was when the peace process was still making progress and before the first intifada in the 1990’s. It is all about whether you are in a territory administered and policed by the Palestinians, or administered by the Palestinians, but policed by the Israelis, or completely administered and policed by the Israelis.

I saw the check points in the middle of the road going to Palestinian towns which were completely isolated from the rest of the area, surrounded by barbed wires, and I saw miles and miles of the wall interspersed with watch towers. All clean on the Israeli side – all full of graffiti on the Palestinian side. Some slogans were very thoughtful, others outright hateful, some completely unrelated. Some images were first rate art, some mediocre, some just trash. Between pictorial statements and the actual writing of messages, there was a lot to look at and to think about. Over time, some of even the finest of images had been over-painted and vandalized; too bad. But the wall is a living thing and I could have put my own two cents on it, had I cared. But I did not bring a spray can and had no intentions other than to record.

Walid gave me directions on where to find more wall art, and after taking a couple of microbuses I ended up in Kalandia on the way to Ramallah. There I found my final Banksy image for the day. But I know there are a few more.

How is this Corey, for following up on your request on looking out for Banksy?

By now I had crossed in and out of Palestinian Territories on the West Bank a few times and thought I knew what to expect. But the check point at Kalandia turned out to be different. First of all, there were a lot of people. The lines moved excruciatingly slow and the soldiers at the check point seemed to have a bad day. There were two young female Israeli army officers who found something to complain about with everyone crossing. Two women in front of me, they rejected a bag of raw almonds. The distressed woman whose bag it was handed it back through the revolving door to us in line asking us to just eat the darn things. When it was my turn, the woman – she looked like she was barely 16 – yelled at me in Hebrew. I asked her to please speak English with me. She then yelled something in English about liquids in my bag. I had no idea that this was on the “no” list. My bottles of water were empty. What could it be? My tiny container of hand sanitizer? Yes, she did not like that. This would have passed muster as carry-on to any airplane! What was her problem? Then she did not feel like opening the revolving door. The woman in front of me had to wait until I was through with my bag. Then she got through but the angry officer locked the revolving door on me. I was trapped and had to go all the way back to her to ask her to please open the door for me! It took a full forty minutes before I had passed the check point by foot; a humiliating and demeaning process. All it would take would be professional friendliness as we encounter it at all of our airports. Who likes those checks? Nobody. But if they are done with compassion and courtesy on the part of the officers they are bearable. Imagine to be yelled at on top of all the shenanigans!

I wanted to know if this was typical and decided to repeat the crossing. I turned back and walked into the West Bank again. This time, I boarded a bus about 100 meters inside the territory going to Jerusalem and went through the check point on public transportation. It took only 20 minutes. Two guys checked all ID’s. My backpack – the one that had caused so much fuss just ½ hour earlier – did not even draw attention.

I guess, it all depends. It’s like the red line in Iran – you just never know where it is and when you will cross it. You don’t know what you will face that day. It could all be fine, or it could be not fine…

Good night.

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  1. We saw a documentary on Banksy at the Michigan Theater not long ago but I cannot recall the title of it. I did have my tiny hand sanitizer taken away from me in the Monterey, California terminal because “it has alcohol in it and that is an explosive”. I must have fit the profile. It’s amazing what a little kindness can accomplish. Wish we could put it in a bottle and pass it out to the difficult people we encounter.

  2. Oh my God! I love you, I love you, I love you! Thank you for all that hard work and inconvenience! There is a book of the graffiti on the Wall? I must have this.
    Banksy is in the pantheon of my ‘Husbands’. So you know I appreciate it, and love his work. Great pics, I will want them blown up and hung in my office.