The US consulate in Jerusalem arranged Israeli permission for 13 Gaza artists and artisans to exhibit at a Palestinian cultural fair in East Jerusalem. Publicity for the event did not use the word “Palestinian”.
Malak Mattar, 16, was probably the youngest visual artist from Gaza ever to get a coveted Israeli travel permit. She taught herself to paint in 2014 during Israel’s 50-day Gaza invasion. Painting became on outlet for her grief. Her 14-year-old best friend died in the conflict. Israel called the war a response to mortars and shells.
Gaza today remains plagued by electricity and water shortages, and violence on the border escalated in May. “Life is unbearable,” Mattar says. “I draw to escape, to create new people," adding that, as a woman, “I don’t have freedom.” She says that she “meets” many people through social media, and that the constraints from politics and culture will not stop her from reaching for freedom through art. “I'm supposed to live my own life without restrictions or fear,” she says.
Her portraits of females exude pain and independence, mixing a raw personal style with motifs from traditional Palestinian art. She sold her work to Palestinians, Israelis and foreigners at the Nablus Road Open Days fair held at the Albright Institute. In her first visit to Jerusalem she also toured Jewish and Arab neighborhoods, meeting the residents. The only Jewish people she had ever seen previously were Israeli soldiers.
Tania Hary, the director of the Israel-based Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, says that young people—the majority of Gaza’s population—only get travel permits “in dire humanitarian circumstances or in these one-off gestures and rare events".
Gaza’s 1.8 million people cannot leave the territory without permission from Israel or Egypt. It has been rare for Israel to grant travel permits to Gazans in recent years. In 1999, for example, there were well over 26,000 exits from Gaza daily via the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing. In contrast, there were about 570 exits with Israeli travel permits a day in 2015, according to Gisha.
The Nablus Road Open Days event at the Albright Institute, where the Gaza artists and artisans exhibited their work, paid tribute to the Palestinian history, diversity and culture of the area. Many Palestinians and Israelis showed up.