In the days before The Will to Live — Arab Liberation Mural was officially introduced, vandals spray-painted over some of its sections, including the faces of Leila Khaled, a prominent Palestinian activist who lives in Jordan, and Mehdi Ben Barka, a Moroccan activist who was murdered in France 50 years ago. By the time the organizers and muralists behind The Will to Live – Arab Liberation Mural introduced the artwork on Sunday, Oct. 14, they’d cleaned it up, but it still had splotches of black paint, which covered a space in the lower left corner that had their own names.
The Will to Live — Arab Liberation Mural is one of three new Clarion Alley works that address the subjects of colonialism, Palestine, and Palestinians. All three wade into the debate over Israel’s policies in the West Bank, which Israel took from Jordan in the 1967 war and where (despite international condemnation) it has since settled around 500,000 Israelis. The three Clarion Alley works — which include Bangkit Palestine (Arise Palestine) and End Apartheid B.D.S. — also address Israel’s use of force against protesting Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and they address the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) that is pressuring Israel to changes its policies in the Palestinian territories and toward its Palestinian citizens.
“Ever since we announced that we’d be doing this event, our murals have gotten tagged several times,” said Sharif Zakout, an organizer with the Arab Resource & Organizing Center, a San Francisco organization that co-sponsored the murals with many others, including the Clarion Alley Mural Project. “Just this week, they were tagged three times.”
Zakout, who’s of Palestinian descent, spoke for the crowd of well-wishers who attended the Oct. 14 dedication when he added: “That does not matter to us. We’re a resilient community, and we’ll continue to show that resilience by fixing up the murals and continue to show that we will stand up to any kind of racism. We’ll be united against that.”
It’s unclear who targeted the new murals, but it’s clear that the three works are sparking the same kind of debate — and finger-pointing — that exists in all public forums where the subject is Palestine and Israel. The organization Jewish Voice for Peace supports the new Clarion murals. But The Will to Live – Arab Liberation Mural depicts a crowd of protestors whose ranks include a sign that says, “Zionism Is Racism,” a slogan that’s controversial in some communities. The muralists behind the three new works say it’s important to raise ideas — and spotlight leaders — that are often ignored by the mainstream media.
Tourists and natives alike throng to Clarion Alley’s wall-to-wall murals. The alley’s three new works, Zakout said, “uplift and empower our community and [let us] show that we’re a part of San Francisco neighborhoods and a part of the Bay Area as Arab communities.” The dedication day’s event featured food and drink for anyone who attended. More than 50 people gathered to applaud Zakout and the other speakers.
The celebration was in stark contrast to the lives of those depicted in The Will to Live – Arab Liberation Mural, among them Nagi Daifallah, a Yemeni farmworker and organizer whom a sheriff killed almost 50 years ago in Kern County. The mural features a cactus that’s indigenous to both California and Palestine. Said Zakout, whose father is from Gaza: “We wanted to connect our community here to what’s happening in the homeland.”