Defacing the Graffiti on the Israeli Separation Wall as an Expression of Popular Palestinian Sovereignty: Exposing Conflict Fetishism and the Israeli Colonial Frontier

By Connie Gagliardi
Submitted to Session P6128 (Territoriality and Contested Borders, 2020 Annual Meeting
Arab-Israeli Conflict;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Research Question:
This paper unravels the entanglements of affect and fetish bound up in foreign graffiti production on the Israeli Separation Wall in Bethlehem. It analyzes a movement of defacement, orchestrated by a group of Palestinians and local activists, who defaced a series of graffiti murals painted on the Wall by Australian artist Lushsux.

Through a visual tracing of Lushsux’s graffiti and its subsequent defacement, this paper asks: what does defacement engender, when it is enacted by Palestinians living under Occupation, within a landscape of conflict fetishism and tentative state sovereignty?
This paper unpacks the ways the defacement sought to ‘expose’ the fetish behind foreign graffiti on the Wall. It visually explores how this exposure counteracted the graffiti’s beautification of the Wall, by rendering its’ materiality naked and by foregrounding its real material presence for Palestinians.

Thesis Statement:
The defacement movement of Lushsux’s graffiti was a movement of ‘unmasking’; a suspension of the fetish-secret of the Wall as an appropriate canvas for foreign graffiti artists’ and tourists’ expressions of resistance and solidarity with Palestinians.
The act of defacement is an act of image destruction. Bound up in this is the assertion of a sovereign individual, impervious to the structures of power and economy that maintain such conflict fetishism, and critical of the ways such fetishes make permanent this Israeli colonial frontier.

This paper is based on events that erupted while carrying out 16 months of fieldwork in Bethlehem. It is based on participant observation amongst tourists and foreign graffiti artists visiting the Walled Off Hotel, a boutique hotel opened by British street artist, Banksy. The Walled Off Hotel hosted Lushsux in Bethlehem as their resident ‘graffiti artist’ for 2 months.
However, this paper is premised upon fieldwork and individual interviews with a group of 10 defacers - two foreign activists and eight Palestinians, living in Bethlehem. During this time, I examined the reasons the defacers mobilized. They included local artists, filmmakers and university students.

Results & Significance:
This paper argues that those involved in the defacement sought to expose the ways Lushsux’s graffiti turned the Separation Wall into a fetish. Those involved in the movement sought to reveal the problematic politics of his graffiti, which employed the obscure metalanguage of the racist and anti-semitic Alt-Right movement. This paper argues that in doing so, the defacers were reclaiming and asserting popular, Palestinian sovereignty in a frontier-space otherwise defined by the Israeli colonial project and marred by conflict fetishism.