Graffiti Offers Glimpse into Conflict
Published: Friday, February 22, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 21, 2013 23:02
We often hear of conflicts in the Middle East through the mouths of the extremists and politicians, not those living in the midst of turmoil. Words & Walls, a new book by Adam Heffez (SFS ’11), gives a voice to those overlooked in the conflict: the locals. He has provided a unique window into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by telling his on-the-ground account through the raw, honest visual art of graffiti. The result is a powerful book that illuminates the area in an insightful way.
Heffez is a social impact warrior for he faced many obstacles while gathering information to write Walls & Words. In Sderot, an Israeli town bordering the Gaza Strip, he was constantly running into bomb shelters after the alarm signaled 15 seconds before a rocket strikes. In Hebron, he was tear-gassed for allegedly being a Palestinian walking on the roads usually occupied by Israeli extremists. In East Jerusalem, rocks were thrown at him because the residents believed that he was there to challenge them.
Heffez has a special interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Even though I am Jewish, I see Arabs as part of my spiritual and ancestral family,” he said in an interview with The Hoya. “I am an Arabic translator by trade, lived with a Muslim host family in Jordan and, with my father being Egyptian, I find Palestinian culture to be very similar to my own.”
While at Georgetown, he studied International Politics and Development, served as the assistant program director of Hands of Peace, an Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution program and worked at the U.S. Department of Justice. During his time abroad in Amman, Jordan, Heffez wanted to fully immerse himself in the community to make a difference; he volunteered at the Collateral Damage Project, which provides relief to Iraqi refugees from war.
In the summer of 2010, he was recognized for his international social impact and was awarded the Kathryn Davis Fellowship for Peace to study at Middlebury College’s Summer Language Institute, where he made use of his proficiency in Arabic. One month after graduating Georgetown in 2011, Heffez was granted the Dorot Fellowship for those influential in the international social impact sector and left for a year’s study in Israeli and Palestinian territories, during which he wrote Walls & Words.
“Graffiti is not a monologue — it is a conversation,” said Heffez. “It is one of the few ways that individuals can personalize their surroundings, which are otherwise dictated by war, violence and a struggle of national and territorial identity.”
The opus of his time in Israel and Palestine is a collection of 250 pictures of graffiti with accompanying findings based on observations and local interviews. The graffiti messages range from those espousing extremist separation among the peoples to optimist goals for future peace. On a wall near the Parliament in Jerusalem, one graffito said, “Iran is here.” Another in West Jerusalem reads, “Derech eretz [respectful treatment of others] came before the Torah.” In Bethlehem, one read, “Palestine = Berlin,” a hopeful outlook that the barrier between the Palestinians and Israelis will be destroyed, just like the physical destruction of the Berlin Wall. Heffez’s work shows that many local people are pleading for peace, something the media often forgets to convey. Heffez hopes his work will result in an initiative for more interreligious dialogue, and has upcoming speeches at institutions and schools in the Chicagoland area.
The insightful, expressive and powerful book is now available at Amazon.com.