“Here the child and the sheikh die and we are not giving up. A mother comes across her dead children and we don’t give up.
These words, by Samih Al-Qasim, a poet in light who speaks of the Palestinian resistance, were painted by Palestinian artist Belal Khaled on a unexploded missile in Gaza.
They are applied in a thick braiding calligraphy that wraps around the weapon – one of the hundreds shot the city besieged in the latest outbreak of violence between Israel and Palestine. More than 250 people have been killed in the fighting and nearly 2,000 injured.
“He stumbled upon a family’s house in central Gaza,” says Khaled The National. “Thank goodness it didn’t explode. The losses would have been devastating if that were the case.
A few hours after the missile fell, Khaled donned a hard hat and a navy blue vest like those worn by journalists in conflict zones and rushed to the scene.
With a wide, flat paintbrush in one hand and a disposable cup overflowing with white paint in the other, he leaned over the weapon., writing the verse of Al-Qasim on its iron casing. Above him, F16 jets ripped through the sky and explosions erupted on the ground nearby.
Choosing what to paint on the missile was not difficult. The message, Khaled said, had to be frank and clear, that “despite everything, despite the missiles falling on our homes, we will not give up. That as the people of this land we will not surrender”.
Khaled’s work also has an alchemical motive. The artist, who prefers to paint on cars, walls and everyday objects to canvas, says he wanted to transform the missile, “this machine of destruction”, into a work of art. Disarm weapon with calligraphy.
“I wanted to do something beautiful with this ugliness. I wanted to find life and beauty in the midst of all this death and destruction.
Although the missile has been withdrawn since the ceasefire of May 21, that of Khaled work has been immortalized in a number of photographs which have since gone viral.
A picture shows people of all ages huddled around Khaled, watching him intently as he paints on the missile.
“The missile subsequently transformed. it has become something else, ”he says. “It was first something scary, something that inspired fear, but then it became a work of art. He lost his fear. People started to pose for pictures next door. The calligraphy made it natural.
Khaled sees a commonality between what he does as an artist and as a photojournalist. In both of these roles, he says he wants the world to see another side of Gaza – one in which its persistence does not manifest itself only in its struggle for his right to self-determination against the Israeli assault, but also in his ability to germinate beauty in the middle the ugliness of war.
“In Gaza, we are surrounded by ugliness, blood, death and destruction,” he said. “But we want to show the beauty of Gaza, show the music, the dabke and the art. All the beautiful things that can come out of this city destroyed by death.
Khaled’s work as a photojournalist is as moving as it is relevant. One of her images shows a group of schoolgirls huddled behind the open door of a bomb-destroyed car, smiling and waving peace signs. It shows students drawing on blackboards pockmarked and perforated by explosions. In another, it shows a child hanging clothes on a clothesline, a Gaza devastated by airstrikes in the background.
The images, published in prestigious publications such as Time, The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian, show not only the struggle that the Palestinians in Gaza face under Israel’s constant threat and siege, but also the persistence of positivity and everyday life.
In each of his works both as a photojournalist and as an artist, Khaled says he is aware of representing Palestine, the struggles of its people and their persistence.
In Gaza, we are surrounded by ugliness, blood, death and destruction. But we wanna show the beauty of Gaza, show the music, the dabke and art
“I want to tell the world about our country and our art,” he says. His his work has taken him all over the world, including Kenya, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. “I covered three wars in Gaza,” he said. “It is the artists and photographers who are there to show the world what’s going on. It is up to them to document the pain of the people, their resistance and their struggle, ”he said..
“We always wonder if this is the last time we go out, if this work is the last in the life of an artist or a journalist, if a bullet or a missile will stop his work.
Khaled previously covered the 2014 conflict in Gaza, where he overlaid several images of shelling with sketches of horses on plumes of rising black smoke. Although he now lives in Turkey, he says he will continue to spend time in Gaza for the foreseeable future documenting the post-war landscape.
There has been a noticeable change in the tone of public reaction to the latest events, he said. “The world knows better who is the aggressor and who is attacked; who is the oppressor and who is oppressed.
He says art and photography have helped lift the veil on the daily tragedies that unfold in Palestine.
“We have succeeded in gaining the support of the international community through photographs and works of art from Gaza, Jerusalem and Sheikh Jarrah. “