For anyone who is familiar with the historical developments of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, viewer fatigue may be all too real. Against the endless barrage of images of fighting and death, many viewers will understandably turn their heads away. But what of the collective memory of the war and its victims?
Perhaps this was the rationalization behind Hatem Ramadan Al-Hour’s work; as a reminder that, despite the tragedies of war, Gazans retain their love for life.
“For a long time, I had been thinking of ways to turn the Israeli missiles, that have rained down on Gazan citizens over the past three wars, from tools for death and destruction to a means of confronting war with love and life,” Al-Hour (42) tells Raseef22, in his home in Bureij Camp in Gaza City.
For over eight years, Al-Hour has been searching for unexploded missiles that were fired by the Israeli air force on the Gaza Strip. Whenever he stumbles upon one, he would remove the explosive material, and turns them into works of art.
Immortalizing Tragedy Through Art
Al-Hour says the idea came to him at a time when fear reigned over the strip, and the firing of missiles had led to the death of hundreds of Gazans in their homes. In response, Al-Hour wanted to reappropriate these missiles, divesting them of their fatal potential and turning them into decorative pieces.
“The nature of my work in the Rescue Department at the Palestinian Civil Defense allowed me to pursue this project, in an attempt to combat the fear that has taken over the residents’ minds and hearts because of these missiles,” Al-Hour says.
From deadly weapons to decorative works of art.
Inverting the symbolism of death to celebrate life.
“After removing the explosive material from the shells, I paint them in bright, attractive colors, then I fill them with sand,” Al-Hour says. He then uses them to decorate gardens, pavements, and flower pots.
Ahmed Abu Aisha (65) lost his three children after his home was heavily shelled by Israeli missiles in the summer of 2014. Abu Aisha, who also lives in Bureij Camp, says he is filled with happiness whenever he sees the painted missiles—those same missiles that led to the death of his children and the destruction of his home.
“This creative garden carries a message, and symbolizes that we are holding strong on the land, and that the Israeli strikes will only add to our strength,” Abu Aisha tells Raseef22.
In the same camp, Mohamed Al-Zamar (38) also paints missiles, shrapnel, and all forms of residue from the airstrikes, assembling them into paintings.
According to Palestine Today, his work drew the attention of the Gaza police force, ultimately launching a partnership between him and the explosives engineering department, which supplies him with the remnants of strikes that he can in turn transform into art.
Head of the department of parks and gardens at the Bureij Camp municipality, Omar Matar, affirms to Raseef22 that the municipality supports such efforts. He notes that projects such as these help beautify the camp, particularly in light of the urban sprawl that has slashed through much of the camp’s green space.
According to the UNRWA, the camp is populated by 13,000 displaced Palestinians, and was established about 60 years ago. The UN agency notes that unemployment is rampant there, and citizens suffer from a housing shortage, and difficulty in accessing electricity.
The housing shortage was further exacerbated by the increasing numbers of displaced people moving there, amid Israel’s ban on importing building materials in the strip.
The Danger of Explosives
Head of the explosives engineering department in the central Gaza Governorate, Captain Ibrahim Al-Othmani, says that the General Administration for Explosives Engineering carefully follows up on the status of unexploded missiles and suspicious objects. He further notes that the dispatched teams ensure that the danger posed by these missiles is neutralized and citizens are protected, in spite of the lack of resources.
“There are regular check-ups to handle unexploded missiles, which more and more residents have begun to acquire, despite the major danger that they pose, since most civilians lack the experience to handle them. Most of these missiles contain highly explosive materials that require immediate intervention to be removed and disposed of,” Al-Othamni tells Raseef22.
“We have followed up on the distinctive project undertaken by Ramadan [Al-Hour] to turn missiles into aesthetic objects since its beginning, to ensure that these missiles do not contain any harmful materials that could costs citizens their lives,” he continues.
Though the missiles continue to hold a distressing significance for Gazans, Al-Hour and Al-Zamar’s attempts to transform them from symbols of destruction to decorative objects mark an attempt to invert the associated symbolism.
Yet, ultimately, these artists hope that one day their city might be emptied of these missiles altogether, and instead be decorated in the same manner as other cities around the world, with objects free of any symbolism of war or death.