The Children of Gaza Will Show You

You can always spot a child’s artwork. All children–no matter the language they speak, the wealth they have, the culture they practice–all of them paint the same way. They use bright colors. Draw big images. Their strokes are thick. They usually use up most of the space on their paper.

The children of Gaza draw that way too. But their paintings hold what no child’s artwork should ever show.

We sat, I and a group from the Code Pink delegation come to Gaza, in a conference room of the Al-Qattan Center in Gaza. The center focuses on literacy and culture specifically for children under the age of 15. It has a beautiful public library and over 13,000 members.

In that room we were shown a truly shocking set (what ought to become an exhibit at every art museum in America) of children’s paintings after the most recent Israeli massacre of Palestinian people in Gaza.

The paintings tell an honest story of the absolute savagery of the Israeli occupation, siege and continual destruction of Gaza. Their oh-so-child-like brushstrokes of bombed out buildings. A red and all too disproportionate stick figure lies in front of a house. He lies in a pool of blood. A black outlined cloud on another painting has red strokes of fire issuing from it–a far too accurate depiction of white phosphorous. Tanks. Blood. Chaos. Dead people scattered. Madness. Bombs. Broken buildings. Terror.

It is disturbing enough to see paintings of such violence from anyone. But that one can tell with a moments glance these are indeed the creations of children makes the viewer jolt with horror and revulsion. No child should ever even know such images, let alone paint them with such intimacy and deliberate, eye-witness conviction.

Those paintings were, somehow, worse for me to digest than even seeing first hand the rubble of far too many buildings to keep count of. It hit me far harder than feeling my feet crunch over the shattered glass of a newly built hospital building never given a chance to be used.

The graphic paintings show the world (if the world ever sees them) with a child’s simplicity that what is happening in Gaza is not just a political problem. It is not about getting bad guys or terrorists or defending Israel–or any other media-driven propaganda.

The paintings tell us that we are destroying the human identity of individuals. Ripping violently from them all that makes people “normal” and decent. What kind of universe do these children see? Their entire psychology has been tortured into an unrecognizable nightmare. Our American taxpayer money did not just destroy the homes, schools, and mosques of these people. The Israeli armed forces did not just scare them with our weapons. Nor did they merely kill and maim them. The Unites States and Israel, and the world in its tacit complicity, has collectively ravaged the consciousness of an entire population. And I wonder, after seeing those paintings, how it can ever be healed.

Good art is supposed to be provocative. Yesterday afternoon I saw what Picasso could never create. Guernica painted with the hands and hearts of children. The bright, unmixed colors a shinning testament to their innocence.

Marryam Haleem is studying Comparative Literature and Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin. Her blog is called Muddled Thoughts. Read other articles by Marryam, or visit Marryam's website.