Painted eyes on a building in the Batn al-Hawa neighborhood of Silwan

Credit: 

Kobi Wolf for Art Forces via Art Forces Flickr page

In Batn al-Hawa, a Neighborhood Targeted for Forcible Expulsions, the Eyes Bear Witness

The staring eyes say to people we see them and they should see us too . . . we want to say that we are here, we love our land and our home.

Jawad Siyam, director of Madaa Creative Center, Silwan

Everywhere you walk in the Batn al-Hawa neighborhood of Silwan, sets of enormous eyes are eerily watching you. 

The eyes belong to local heroes, international leaders, philosophers, activists, revolutionaries, writers, and artists—figures who are known around the world, such as Sigmund Freud, Che Guevara, and George Floyd, alongside individuals of more local renown, such as Rachel Corrie, Iyad al-Halak, and Silwan resident Najwa al-Rajabi (Um Nasser). The eyes, some visible from as far away as West Jerusalem, bear witness to the systemic violence being inflicted on Palestinians in this neighborhood and in the larger city. 

The massive outdoor mural project in the beleaguered neighborhood, one of 12 that make up Silwan, is called I Witness Silwan—Who Is Watching Whom?” The California-based Art Forces in partnership with the local Madaa Creative Center in Silwan have been working collaboratively on it since the fall of 2019, with support from the Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA), Sam Mazza Foundation, and other foundations. Artists from around the world have participated. 

The images in the art installation are created either by applying acrylic paint on walls or gluing large-scale vinyl stickers printed from digital files of photographs or paintings. 

According to one of the project founders, American artist Susan Green, writing in the Jerusalem Quarterly, “‘I Witness Silwan’ looks the ‘colonial gaze’ in the eye, asking: Who has the power to look and why? Whose sight counts?” Within Silwan, in Batn al-Hawa, nearly 90 Palestinian families (approximately 750 to 800 people) are fighting eviction orders set in motion by the Jewish settler organization Ateret Cohanim, which works hand in glove with the city and the state relentlessly to try and displace the residents in the area, where tourist sites, parks, and gardens that validate Jewish historical connection to the city are being built, with many more planned. Batn al-Hawa is an area of the city with the highest rate of expulsion orders in recent years. To date, nearly 20 Palestinian families have been forcibly evicted from their homes here, their confiscated properties turned over to the settler organizations. Homes whose Palestinian families were denied permits for decades by the city are magically approved for reconstruction once they change hands to Jewish ownership.  

Many of these families have lived in the neighborhood for over 70 years, in some cases after they were made refugees in 1948.

This photo essay captures a selection of the murals and their effects on the local streets and the urban landscape.

Madaa Creative Center

Providing children with knowledge about their history and helping them seek a better future

Pairs of grafitti eyes look out from the Batn al-Hawa neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem

As part of an ongoing art installation project, various sets of eyes gaze out from the Batn al-Hawa neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem, visible from miles away across Wadi Hilweh, as shown here on September 9, 2022.

Credit: 

Mays Shkerat for Jerusalem Story

Pairs of grafitti eyes look out from the Batn al-Hawa neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem

As part of an ongoing art installation project, various sets of eyes gaze out from the Batn al-Hawa neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem, visible from miles away across Wadi Hilweh, as shown here on September 9, 2022.

Credit: 

Mays Shkerat for Jerusalem Story

Pairs of grafitti eyes look out from the Batn al-Hawa neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem

As part of an ongoing art installation project, a sets of eyes gazes out from the Batn al-Hawa neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem, visible from miles away, as shown here on September 9, 2022.

Credit: 

Mays Shkerat for Jerusalem Story

“Eyes of George Floyd,” a mural erected as part of the “I Witness Silwan” art installation in Batn al-Hawa, Silwan, East Jerusalem

“Eyes of George Floyd,” a mural erected as part of the “I Witness Silwan” art installation in Batn al-Hawa, Silwan, East Jerusalem

Credit: 

Art Forces Flickr page

Different sets of eyes painted on homes in Silwan, East Jerusalem, in an art installation

Right (seafoam green): “Eyes of Palestinian Community Member,” acrylic painted on concrete. Left (brown): “Eyes of Bai Bibiyaon Bigkay, Lumad leader, Talaingod Woman Chieftain (Philippines),” an organizer who leads her tribe in defense of ancestral lands, vinyl print image of Bai Bibiyaon by Cece Carpio (Philippines and USA)

Credit: 

Kobi Wolf for Art Forces, via Art Forces Flickr page

“Eyes of Alex Nieto,” a Salvadoran-born American citizen killed in San Francisco, California painted on a wall in Silwan, Jerusalem

“Eyes of Alex Nieto,” a Salvadoran-born American citizen killed in San Francisco, California, 2014, vinyl print. Image by Josue Rojas (USA)

Credit: 

Art Forces Flickr page

“Eyes of Najwa al-Rajabi (Umm Nasser),” a mural painted on her home threatened with expulsion in Silwan, East Jerusalem

“Eyes of Najwa al-Rajabi (Umm Nasser),” a mural painted on her home walls as part of the “I Witness Silwan” art installation in Batn al-Hawa, Silwan, East Jerusalem. The family has been served with an expulsion order that they are appealing. 

Credit: 

Mays Shkerat for Jerusalem Story

Grafitti eyes painted on a wall in Silwan, Jerusalem, as part of an art installation

Credit: 

Mays Shkerat for Jerusalem Story

Grafitti eyes painted on a wall in Silwan, Jerusalem, as part of an art installation

Credit: 

Mays Shkerat for Jerusalem Story

Grafitti eyes painted on homes in Silwan, Jerusalem, as part of an art installation

“Eyes of Nihad Siyam,” Silwan resident, acrylic painted on concrete as part of the “I Witness Silwan” art installation in Batn al-Hawa, Silwan, East Jerusalem

Credit: 

Kobi Wolf for Art Forces, Art Forces Flickr page