Members of Congregation Mishkan Shalom's Israel Committee hope that by choosing to display the works of both Israeli and Palestinian artists in their synagogue, they can help further a communal dialogue about the troubled state of Middle East peace efforts, and perhaps focus the discussion on the hardships that the ongoing conflict imposes on both parties.
"Both Sides of Peace," which organizers have called a celebration of the Israeli-Palestinian peace movement, is on display at the Reconstructionist synagogue in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia until June 29. It opened April 13 with a small reception; organizers aren't certain how many congregants and visitors have viewed it so far.
Rabbi Linda Holtzman said that the poster art stirs a visceral appreciation for "the depth of the struggle for peace" and "the pain being caused by the current situation."
The 32 prints on display were culled from a 1996 exhibit and book called Both Sides of Peace: Palestinian and Israeli Political Poster Art. That project was curated and edited by Dana Bartelt, a professor of graphic design who has organized several touring exhibits featuring such poster art. She currently directs North Carolina State University's Prague Institute, which gives design students the opportunity of studying their craft in the capital of the Czech Republic.
All of the works on display at the synagogue are reproductions. Displaying the originals would have been too expensive, according to members of the the synagogue's Israel committee, which organized the exhibit and contacted Bartelt to receive permission to go forward.
The images date from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, covering a period that spanned the first Lebanon war and the first intifada — a time before the Israeli government established relations with Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization — to the signing of the Oslo accords and the ensuing three years.
The exhibit predates the second intifada, Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and the Second Lebanon War; and yet, Holtzman said, the art remains relevant to the current social and political situation.
While it wasn't explicitly tied to Israel's 60th anniversary, the exhibit comes at a moment when Israel's history, achievements, problems and ongoing conflict with the Palestinians are being debated in a multitude of media and forums.
"It just seems that the images were so evocative in the struggle for peace that has been going on for decades. It felt like the images added something that maybe words don't convey as easily," said Hannah Schwartzchild, an Israel Committee member.
Unlike a 2007 exhibit at Haverford College, titled 35 Israeli and Palestinian Artists Against the Occupation and for a Common Tomorrow — which featured a few of the same artists — the Mishkan exhibit offers no specific political platform. But many of the pieces offer criticism, some subtly, others bluntly, of Israel's treatment of Palestinians.
One 1982 work by Israeli artists identified only as Rami & Jacki, called "Don't Say You Didn't Know," lists the names of Palestinians killed by Israeli police. Interspersed with Israeli and Palestinian pieces that either seem to be a protest against Israel or an expression of Palestinian nationalism, there are pictures clearly meant to rally both peoples behind the peace process, such as one titled "Peace, No U-Turn."
Palestinian terrorism is not depicted, at least explicitly, in any of the images.
In a 2007 interview, Suleiman Mansour, a Palestinian resident of eastern Jerusalem, whose work was included in both the Haverford and Mishkan exhibits, acknowledged that he envisioned Israel one day becoming a multicultural state, rather than a Jewish state, something that's considered anathema to the majority of Jewish Israelis.
Susan Landau, another member of the Israel Committee, stressed that while organizers of the exhibit may have specific criticisms of Israeli policy, all consider themselves staunch supporters of the essential right of the Jewish state to exist in peace and security.
"The poster art feels like a way for people to be able to connect, internally, with what the past and present is about for them personally, and to have a choice whether or not to have a conversation with other people about it," said Landau. "Because it is art, one can't argue with the truth or lack of truth of whatever it is that's depicted."