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Art as resistance: The story of the Maia Mural Brigade

Interview from WIP News Service

This summer, four Olympia activists joined a delegation to Palestine as part of the Maia Mural project. The project involved touring Gaza and the West Bank, producing collaborative murals at the sites of newly installed water purification units. Upon returning to Olympia, three of the participants sat down with WIP to tell us about their experiences and what they witnessed in Palestine.

WIP: Thank you very much for sitting down with us. First, let's start with introductions.

Hilary: My name's Hilary Hacker. I work as the outreach and publications coordinator with the Olympia-Rafah Solidarity Mural Project. I teach Spanish language preschool at Mason County Literacy and I work with Bridges Not Walls; I really became connected to Palestine through the ORSMP with my work around immigration.

Alicia: My name's Alicia Martinson. I currently work as an art teacher at the Mariah Art School. I also worked as a project coordinator of the Olympia-Rafah Solidarity Mural Project for about 4 years. I saw the project through all of it stages, mostly through outreach and production coordination.

Andrew: My name's Andrew Meyer. Currently, I'm a student of political science at Evergreen. I serve on the Board of Directors of the Rachel Corrie Foundation, and I organize heavily with Olympia BDS.

WIP: What are the origins of the Maia Mural project?

Alicia: The Maia Mural Project began with Break the Silence, an organization centered in the Bay Area and directed by Susan Greene. Susan has created a lot of murals in Palestine, in both the West Bank and Gaza for many years. When she heard about the killing of Rachel Corrie and the continuing efforts of the Olympia-Rafah Sister City Project she became interested in working here in Olympia. She proposed the Olympia-Rafah Solidarity Mural Project. The ORSMP works to make visible the relationships that exist between the community of Olympia, and the community of Rafah, and also the community of social justice organizations nationally and internationally.

The Maia Murals Project is really the second part of the Tale of Two Cities: The Olympia-Rafah Solidarity Mural Project. The overall goal of the project was to build relationships and to paint a mural in Gaza as well.

Hilary: We also partnered with the Estria Foundation's Water Writes Project, based in Oakland, California. The Water Writes project is a series of ten collaborative mural projects focusing on water issues in communities across the world. Through the use of Twitter and other social networks, this project is creating a space for global conversations about the issue of water through art, creativity, and collaboration. So far they've completed murals in L.A., Oakland, Hawaii, and while we were in Gaza there was also a crew in the Philippines.

Andrew: As a theme for collaborating between ORSMP and the Estria Foundation and the Water Writes Project, the series of murals in Gaza were painted at the sites of water-desalination units that were installed as part of the Middle East Children's Alliance's Maia water project. "Maia" is the Arabic word for water. MECA went to the children in Gaza and asked, "What is the one thing you want the most? What can we bring you? What can we give you?" At the different schools and kindergartens throughout Gaza, they said "Clean water. We want to be able to come to school and have clean water to drink." So MECA started a campaign to raise funds in the United States to install these desalination units at schools and kindergartens throughout Gaza. That's a continuing campaign to build as many of these units as possible throughout Gaza. And all of the murals we painted are at the sites of these purification units, or at sites where these units will be installed.

WIP: How did you get involved?

Alicia: I became connected to Palestine through working on the Olympia-Rafah Solidarity Mural Project and with the Rachel Corrie Foundation. I was drawn to this project, mostly because of its scale, ambitious goals, and my passion for murals. Through the ORSMP I started to build relationships with artists in Gaza and the West Bank. I started getting to know them mostly through the work they sent for the Olympia-Rafah Solidarity Mural. Originally we planned to bring artists from Gaza to Olympia to collaborate on the mural, but they were not allowed to leave Gaza. We then invited artists to send digital files of their work through the Internet, to then print and install on to the mural. Because artists weren't able to come here, it increasingly meant more to me to go there and meet the people I had been working with in order to better see and understand the situation. There was a handful of artists I was finally able to meet going on this trip. I wanted to continue building relationships with the people I had connected with through the ORSMP, and as an artist, I was excited to work with other artists to create the Maia Murals.

Hilary: Like Alicia, I was really excited to meet the artists and organizers who are a part of the ORSMP. I was invited to go, and I couldn't really not go. Like I said before, I became connected to Palestine through the mural and my work with the immigrant community. There are so many connections between these issues; the militarization of our borders and communities, the construction of huge institutionalized barriers, and the mainstream messages that target a specific community in order to create fear. As an activist and media maker, I was intrigued by the opportunity to really see for myself what's going on and to be a witness to the reality of the occupation. It was an amazing opportunity to build relationships through creativity and art, to connect across barriers of language, culture, and most importantly the blockade and the siege on Gaza.

Andrew: The idea of visual art as resistance has always been very intriguing to me. My artistic expression is music, but I've also really envied people who have other mediums, and I was really interested in seeing how that manifests itself. I've always been so impressed by the Sister City Mural Project and other forms of art as resistance. So I was really intrigued by that. Looking back on it, I'm really thankful for being able to learn so much from some of these artists that were on this delegation, because they're absolutely incredible. And then of course, being able to collaborate with the artists from Gaza was amazing as well.

WIP: Tell us about your trip, and the work you did.

Alicia: The Maia Mural Brigade is a group of artists and activists from Olympia, L.A., the Bay Area, and Lawrence, Kansas. We toured the West Bank and met with people and organizations. When we traveled to Gaza, we created the Maia Murals. We created a series of eight murals in eight schools about issues surrounding water. We held workshops with kids, and we asked kids to draw pictures about water, and left it very open. Kids painted a lot of pictures depicting the water crisis. Pictures of sewage plants being bombed, and sewage spilling into the sea, fish dying, or people trying to fish in the sea and air strikes coming down.

Hilary: Kids playing on trash-filled beaches. Kids painted pictures of people retrieving water from water tanks on roofs and drinking from the water purification units.

Alicia: The kids also drew a lot of hopeful pictures about water. Kids drew pictures of their mothers watering their gardens, or having clean water to drink, or swimming pools being filled with water, or a happy sun and rain. So there were a lot of hopeful images, too.

When we went into the schools to look at the walls we were going to paint, we talked with teachers and administrators. People were so nice and excited that we were there. They were the nicest mural landlords I'd ever met! Because it was a school, they wanted positive and hopeful murals about water. They didn't need murals describing how terrible the water crisis is in Gaza. The kids know all about that. They wanted images that the kids would like to see. So that really set the stage for a lot of the murals that we painted.

Hilary: We were painting a mural a day, pretty much. We were working really fast. There were a few graffiti and spray paint artists with us, from the States and also from Gaza. They would sketch the designs out on the wall. Then everyone would tackle the wall with brushes and acrylic paint. It was amazing to watch each mural come together at the hands of so many different people.

Alicia: It was a really cool collaboration. Given the different mediums, brush paint and spray paint, we were able to move really fast, and it made it easier for a lot of people to be involved. Also, we had kids work on most of the murals. Sometimes we would facilitate a group of kids from the school to paint, and other times we would have kids walk up from the street, and we'd find ways for them to be involved. We worked with so many amazingly talented artists from Gaza! Two artists in particular were well-experienced graffiti and spray paint artists, so that was a cool collaboration. It was pretty amazing the way they all worked out!

WIP: Tell us about some of the murals you painted.

Andrew: One of the murals we painted was at the site of the desalination unit at a kindergarten in Rafah. The funds for that particular unit were raised by the Rachel Corrie Foundation. Of course, Rachel was killed in 2003 in Rafah, protecting the home of a Palestinian family from demolition. And so that particular mural, and that day itself, was a pretty heavy day. Earlier in the day, I had traveled around Rafah with Adnan Abu Al Su'ud, who works with the sister city project in Gaza, and also Khaled Nasrallah, who lived with his family in the home that Rachel was protecting when she was killed. Khaled took me to the site where the home used to stand, prior to going to where the mural was to be painted. So it was a pretty heavy day.

But when we got to the kindergarten, the painting started. The idea was for Mohammed, who was a local artist from Gaza who's an incredible spray-paint artist, and especially incredible in his portrait work, to paint a portrait of Rachel using almost all spray-paint. I think he used a brush just on the eyes. As soon as that decision was made, I became really excited, because I'd seen some of his images of his other portrait work. He's absolutely amazing.

Some of the work Rachel did when she was in Rafah centered around water. When Rachel was in Rafah, it was a much different situation than it is today. Some of the challenges are not the same. One of the challenges that folks in Rafah faced at that time was that the IDF was systematically sabotaging peoples' ability to maintain a water supply and to access that water supply. So, whether it was shelling wells and water tanks, or at one point, there was complete destruction of greenhouses and the facilities to bring water to those greenhouses. So Rachel and other ISM activists spent time guarding these wells, using their privilege and their international passports as what cover they provided to protect these water sources. That was another large part of Rachel's work when she was in Rafah. And although that was many years ago, it flowed right into the work that we felt was important to do in 2011. So that was a big inspiration for that particular mural.

Hilary: We were in Gaza at a time when there were thousands of activists flocking to Gaza on the Flotillas and Flytillas in order to break the siege on Gaza, to no avail. I felt very privileged to be there at that time. The fourth mural that we painted was at a kindergarten in Beit Hanoun, right along the buffer zone, where Alice Walker had donated a water purification unit. Since Alice Walker was on the US Boat to Gaza, carrying letters and messages from the US to Gaza, we painted a mural, "To Gaza with Love," dedicated to the flotilla to ensure that the messages of international solidarity would reach those in Palestine. We painted children on birds leading the way for the bright and colorful flotilla with the banner, "To Gaza with Love." Behind the boat were bottles floating in the sea with messages of international solidarity: "Water is a human right" "End the Siege," "Free Gaza." And there was Arabic in every mural. We were blessed to work with Mohammed, an amazing spray paint artist whose Arabic and calligraphy was beautiful.

Alicia: A lot of our use of water and images of water were symbolic. In this mural we used the image of water, and the boat, as a symbol of international solidarity - delivering messages, like Hilary said, connecting to Gaza, and using water to physically enter Gaza and break the siege.

WIP: How severe is the water crisis in Palestine right now?

Andrew: Israel controls every aspect of the water supply for every person, whether they be Israeli or Palestinian, in both the West Bank and Gaza. But as with most things, in the West Bank and in Gaza, the situation is dire in a lot of ways, but also much different.

In Gaza, the primary contributor to the water crisis is the blockade and the siege. But as with other aspects of the occupation, it's multi-faceted. So you have overpopulation caused by peoples' inability to leave and move freely, because of the blockade and the siege. So that's one layer of the issue. You have water treatment facilities and wastewater facilities that were bombed and destroyed, especially during Operation Cast Lead, so military strikes on that overpopulated and besieged area is another layer. Those attacks have left these facilities unable to treat the water at the rate that it should be. And of course the blockade, not allowing reconstruction materials to come through, and not allowing people to rebuild these facilities, is another layer of the water crisis. Not only are the mechanisms to fix this crisis broken, but they're not able to be repaired. And of course, this is all by design. Especially in Gaza, these different layers of the water crisis are just part of the larger picture, the larger movement by the Israeli government to systematically control every aspect of peoples' lives in Gaza, but also to systematically destroy, to whatever point Israel can maintain politically, to destroy these peoples' ability to survive. So what you're left with then is that 90% of the water that's pumped in Gaza is unfit to drink. The water crisis is the reason why we've come to Gaza to do this work, but of course it's just another item in the list of ill effects of the occupation as a whole.

The situation in the West Bank is much different. In the West Bank, you don't have the blockade, but you still have occupied territory, in a much different way. Israel still controls the water supply. It's really disturbing, but you'll go to an area in the West Bank, where you'll literally have a Palestinian neighborhood, and right next to that is an illegal Jewish-only settlement. And in the Palestinian neighborhood, you'll see these gigantic black tanks on the roofs of the buildings, and those are there to hold water. In the settlements, you typically don't see those tanks. The reason for that is, Israel controls the water supply to the Palestinian neighborhoods, but all too often will just decide at any point to cut that access off. So Palestinians have to be able to store this water in order to ensure that they have water to use throughout those periods. That's not an issue in the settlements, because obviously Israel won't interrupt that service to the settlements.

And there are really absurd things that happen. There are areas where Israel sells the water back to the Palestinian municipalities at a profit, so they're basically diverting Palestinian water resources and then selling it back to the people that it belongs to. I mean, it's really absurd, and it's really hard to wrap your head around. You have instances where really violent, extremist settlers will go sabotage and destroy Palestinian water tanks in the West Bank. They will literally go rooftop to rooftop in neighborhoods and destroy water tanks. It sounds very surreal and very bizarre. Even being there and seeing it all, it almost doesn't seem like it could be a possibility that this could all be real, but it is. So, the water crisis differs between the West Bank and Gaza, but in the end, it's destructive in both places.

WIP: And you also spent a good deal of time in the West Bank, is that right?

Alicia: We were in the West Bank for ten days. The first place we visited was Hebron. We had a walking tour of Hebron, and that was a really eye-opening experience. What we saw in Hebron I would definitely say was similar to apartheid. Some of the first things that stood out to me were Israeli-only streets. Even if there's a Palestinian house on that street, they wouldn't be able to access their front door. We watched mothers and children with strollers trying to get through the turnstile doors guarded by soldiers. There were Israeli checkpoints in the middle of the town, and the presence of the IDF was everywhere.

Andrew: To give a little context, Hebron is a very interesting case. Hebron is home to just over 500 Israeli settlers. They're known as the most extremist, typically the most violent settlers throughout the West Bank. You have a small number of settlers, and you have 2,000 IDF soldiers deployed to Hebron to protect those settlers, which once again, sounds just absolutely outrageous and crazy, but it's true.

In the Palestinian marketplace in the old quarter, you'll have a walkway, and on the right and left you'll have Palestinian owned shops - old buildings. These buildings have been there for hundreds of years. On top of that, you'll typically have some kind of Palestinian-owned home or apartment, and on top of that now sits dwellings for Israeli settlers. And the settlers throw items down onto the people below. Shopkeepers have installed chain-link fences, like a roof of chain-link fence above the walkways throughout the entire old quarter, so people won't be struck by things coming down from the roofs.

Alicia: As we walked down streets of the marketplaces, and talked to people who owned shops, they told us many stories about constant harassment, and about settlers buying property on top of these markets. That was my first eye-opening experience, hearing many, many stories about harassment, and then seeing it, in such a blunt way. And it continued to be that way throughout the rest of the West Bank. It was really appalling.

Andrew: After being in Hebron, I don't hesitate at all in saying what Israel is practicing is apartheid. Unequivocally, apartheid. There are roads where Palestinians and settlers walk on opposite sides of the road. We went to visit the Cave of the Patriarchs. Including our tour guide, there were twelve of us. He was the only Palestinian with us. You have to walk through an IDF-controlled checkpoint to get to the mosque at the Cave of the Patriarchs. Eleven of us went through with no issue. The IDF soldiers at the checkpoint held his passport until we came back to go back through. As the only Palestinian in the group, he was the only one who had his passport held. It's apartheid. They're practicing apartheid. Of course, there's other examples of that throughout the territories, but that's what I saw.

WIP: Tell us about some of the interesting people you met during your time in the West Bank.

Hilary: While we were in the West Bank, we visited the Aamer family in Mas'ha. This family of seven has been surrounded since 2003. There's a huge 30-foot concrete wall in front of their home, and then surrounding them there's fence, with Israeli settlements on the other side. They're completely secluded. One Palestinian family surrounded by Israelis. Susan had visited the family in 2004 and 2005 and painted a mural with the Aamer family, friends and neighbors with the help of Break the Silence Mural & Arts Project. Their daughter painted a leaf in the Olympia-Rafah Solidarity Mural Project. So we went to visit them. They have a little gate, just one little gate, and until recently they had no access to the key.

Alicia: Not until a year ago did they get access to the gate. Only IDF soldiers could let them in and out of the gate. Like Hilary said, their house is completely surrounded on all four sides by the wall!!

Hilary: Now they have access to the key, but the military is notified by an alarm every time it's opened and closed. There's a road in front of their house that's also blocked by the fence, and they are not allowed to drive on it.

They were so welcoming and kind to us; they invited us to sit with them in their living room. We drank tea and had snacks. From the living room, you see the Aamer family's garden and a part of the concrete wall about 15 feet from the house. They'd been given options to sell their property and to relocate, but they weren't interested in giving up their land, so they're still there. It was an extremely heavy experience to be there, to meet the family and try to embrace the context of what the reality is like for this family. The children are constantly harassed. The little boy had a welt on his face, from people throwing rocks at them. And that just happens; they deal with harassment from Israeli settlers and soldiers on a daily basis.

Susan Greene, the director of the project, spent more time with the Aamer family, and they had decided they didn't want the wall to be painted anymore. They said that it's such horrible thing; they didn't want it to be pretty, so they painted out the majority of the mural and left the bird. They want to have poetry written on the walls instead.

Alicia: The bird is at the top of the mural and is flying towards the sky. The image was left as a symbol of hope. The whole mural was this huge form of resistance, because they were really battling the wall being built in the first place, and the fact that they were being forced to leave their home. This got a lot of attention, and a lot of activists came. And the soldiers were making lots of threats to them while they were painting.

Andrew: We should really say something about the wall. When they talk about the wall, it's a 30-foot high concrete barrier. Literally, when you look out the front door of the Aamer family's home, you see the wall. Of course, the wall is deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice. Some call it a "separation barrier" or a "security barrier." I call it the apartheid wall, as many people do. The idea of it being a "security barrier" doesn't quite stick because it doesn't follow even the green line, the 1967 borders; it quite often juts out to appropriate and take more Palestinian land. I've seen a thousand images of that wall, but until you're standing there and looking at the wall, it's really hard to wrap your head around it, especially when it's right outside your front door.

WIP: What were some other memorable places you visited during your time in the West Bank?

Andrew: There's a town in the West Bank called Bil'in. It's a town that's been very adversely affected by the construction of the apartheid wall. It's seen a lot of its land annexed by the wall. So the people there have been organizing these nonviolent protests and demonstrations against the wall, every Friday for six years now. And Israel has responded to these nonviolent protests with very violent means, with tear gas, with rubber bullets, and other forms of violence. Several Palestinians have been killed at these demonstrations since they began. Tristan Anderson, from the Bay Area, was nearly killed by a high-velocity tear gas canister in Bil'in. To this day, he suffers the effects of a brain injury that he suffered when he was struck in the head by a tear gas canister. There was another young woman who lost her eye during these demonstrations. And also, the leaders of these demonstrations have been subjected to arrests, like Abdullah Abu Rahma, the leader of the Bil'in Popular Committee Against the Wall. Every single demonstration has been nonviolent since its inception. The fact that Israel is combating nonviolent resistance with detention, arrest, and violent means is of course very concerning.

So we went there, on a Friday, which typically would mean that there was a demonstration. And there was a demonstration of a sort, but it was more of a celebration. In previous weeks, the Israeli High Court had reached a decision and ordered the military to remove a section of a fence. So although the wall still stands beyond where this fence was, they had to remove a section of the fence, and the residents of the village were able to reclaim a large area of their land which was home to olive trees and other arable land. We just happened to be there on the first Friday after this ruling and after the fence was removed, so there was this big celebration.

Hilary: It was a pretty powerful experience to be there, to be a part of that. There was a truck with a sound system blasting music, and everyone was dancing and waving flags. We were standing about 30 feet from the wall. You can see the settlement on the other side, a few settlers watching and the soldiers poking their heads up over the wall, ready to enforce their control. It was so colorful, lively and celebratory. There were children waving flags and dancing right in front of the wall.

Andrew: They actually started to build a structure on this reclaimed land - a cinder block structure that some community members had gathered materials for. It was really incredible to witness. The large concrete wall still stood, and on the other side of that was a settlement you could see. It was really strange. You had all of us on the hillside, and beyond that was the apartheid wall, and you could see the heads of Israeli soldiers peeking over the wall. Any other given Friday, they might have been over there shooting tear gas. Settlers were standing there, watching the demonstration from far away, but I'm sure they could see what was going on. It was a very strange dynamic, to see these layers of occupation, but still seeing this Palestinian village celebrating a victory, reclaiming their land.

WIP: Tell us a bit about your time at the Popular Theater Society.

Alicia: Because Susan Greene and Miranda Bergman (muralist and member of Break the Silence) didn't get granted their permits, half the group went to Gaza to start the work there, and half of us stayed in Ramallah for a few days. We were invited to paint a mural for the Popular Theater Society. During that time there was a summer theater camp going on and it was a really exciting place to be. We were given tons of photos of all their different performances to collage together for the mural. They even welded this huge frame and stretched a canvas, that was like 30 feet long, on the spot for us. It was amazing. We had a really good time meeting with many of the actors and kids at the camp. They told us stories about the plays they were in, and what they all meant, and which ones they really wanted us to highlight in the mural. I worked on painting the bird of happiness from a Palestinian folk tale. It's this big rainbow phoenix-looking bird. It was really fun!

WIP: What was it like to leave Palestine and return to the U.S.?

Hilary: Leaving Gaza and going back into Israel was pretty shocking. When you're in the West Bank, you can see the difference. You can see the settlers, you can see the Palestinians, you can see the wall. But when you're in Gaza, you don't see settlers. There's no settlers in Gaza. Coming out of Gaza and back into Israel was pretty intense. Once we crossed through Erez, we took a taxi about 20 minutes through rural areas until we came to a town. The difference is extreme; you'll see corporate businesses, big stores, buses, manicured lawns and gardens. It's a lot less crowded and more spread out; even the difference in the traffic and the streets is shocking.

Coming home, I had a lot of sad feelings about not being in Gaza, and wondering if I'd ever be able to make it back. You make these connections with people and who knows when you're going to be able to see them again. I came home with this huge sense of responsibility to talk about what I saw, to share stories and photos and to engage others but still found it extremely hard to process the experience as a whole. I found myself really wishing that I could have spent more time there.

About two or three weeks after we got back, there was intense bombing and airstrikes that began between Israel and Gaza which lasted just under a week. Watching that unfold via the Internet through people that we had spent time with in Gaza was pretty intense. We had just spent time connecting to the place and the people. While we were there, I heard a bomb go off. Others heard two bombs go off. Come to find out, while we were there, there were seven attacks, 21 people injured and one person killed. And that's just within the ten days that we were there. So having that connection, and being able to watch these things unfold on the Internet, on Twitter, blogs, and Facebook made it more clear how important it is for us as witnesses to the occupation to speak out against these injustices. It was pretty intense to be here, to be far away, and to have the privilege of closing my computer and walking away from it, to sit outside where it's totally calm and quiet, feeling so attached and detached at the same time. Feeling insignificant, like there's so much work to be done.

Alicia: One thing I've been thinking a lot about is all of the kids in Gaza. We were doing the murals at kindergartens and elementary schools. I would really sum up my experience visiting Gaza as being surrounded by children, all the time! Over half of the population in Gaza is under 18. It's also one of the most densely populated areas on the planet. And there are children everywhere. So the experience of trying to witness even the little bit that I could of life in Gaza through the eyes of children was pretty intense. And then coming back home, and working with the kids at my school has been an interesting contrast in many ways.

Also, I really believe in connecting kids with kids, and that is something I feel more passionately about now. Andrew's been working on a pen pal project through RCF, which I think is so important. But I've been struggling with how to talk about Palestine and the water crisis with the kids I work with here in Olympia. It obviously can be a difficult thing to talk about at home because of the type of conflicts it can bring up.

Andrew: What I'm most thankful for from the trip is that I was able to have the experiences. It has strengthened my resolve. It's more obvious to me now than ever that people need to be respecting the call from Palestinian civil society and engaging in BDS campaigns, widespread, across the world, until all of this comes to an end. My resolve, that I didn't think could be any stronger about that, is much stronger now since coming back. And that's something I'll be encouraging people to be involved with, because of the things I've seen there. It's really hard to say this, but no other people in the world that I can identify are expected to live the way that Palestinians are expected to live. The circumstances that are given, the realities on the ground that they're forced to face are horrendous, and yet at the same time, they're routinely stripped of any means of legitimately defending themselves and resisting that. If they resist nonviolently, that's squelched by the Israelis. People are arrested, anti-boycott laws are passed. The question is always asked, "Where's the Palestinian Gandhi?" Well, he or she is probably in prison. If they resist, if they use armed resistance, that's obviously completely abhorred by the entire world, regardless of the level of violence that's used by the Israelis. All those means are stripped from them, so they're put into a situation with no means to resist, which I find pretty appalling.

Politically speaking, one of the conclusions I drew just from trying to analyze the mood and what I felt, was a very, very heavy sense of frustration, especially in Gaza. Something will happen soon, as it relates to Gaza. The siege and the blockade itself are completely unsustainable, and I think even the Israelis understand that. And because it is that way, something has to crack. Something has to break at some point. I don't know if that's going to be a shift in policy, I don't know if that's going to be the international community stepping up and finally demanding that the blockade is lifted. I don't know what it will be. But something is coming soon. I could feel it. When you're there, you can feel it.

I'll continue to go back to Palestine. I think we all feel connected to that area now. Ali Abunimah spoke one time when he was in town of all of the ways that Olympia continues to go back to Palestine, whether it's the BDS work, or whether it's delegations or whatever it may be. I'm just interested in maintaining that relationship, and I think because of this mural project, that bond is much stronger now, and it will be conducive to people from this area being able to continue that relationship, and continuing to go back to Palestine and bringing Palestine back to Olympia.

Hilary: And I think it's a really powerful way to begin a conversation and dialogue around the occupation - art, creativity, collaboration, and relationships. We're talking about water. Water is a human right. We all have this understanding: We need water, and we need clean water. So, I feel very, very, very blessed to have been a part of this trip and to be able to make the connections that we've made, and meet the people that we met in Gaza, and throughout the United States that are doing this work and making these connections.

This work will continue. We'll continue to spread the word about the project, about the murals. We'll continue to share images; we'll continue to share the stories of the people we met and the way we were treated there. It's as simple as that. We were taken care of. There was not one minute where we had to wonder "What are we doing? Where are we going? What are we going to eat?" We were taken care of.

Alicia: I recently had a barbecue with my family, and I had the sweetest conversation with my grandparents. They were looking at the pictures from my trip, and they said to me, "We're so glad you're home. We were so worried about you being in Palestine. Did you feel safe?" And I said, "You know grandma, I really did. The only time I felt nervous was driving from the airport, after my security experience, to the hostel, and I had no idea where I was, and I was thinking 'What did I get myself into?' And then we get to the hostel, and this little five foot woman who was running it greeted us with tea and stayed up and talked with us 'til like four in the morning. She was so sweet and kind. She was really like a grandma. And I felt really taken care of! And that type of hospitality really lasted my entire time there." It was really amazing. And my Grandma really enjoyed hearing this.

I continued telling my grandparents stories, and they were so cute. They kept saying, "Well, I'll be darned! We don't hear about any of that on the news." And we started getting into a conversation about the situation there, and they continued to say things like "Well, that's just wrong." And then I would say "I KNOW!" It was maybe the easiest conversation about Palestine I have ever had! "And none of that is on the news?" they would say. It was a pretty sweet conversation.

I don't think, before I went, I could have had that conversation. And so it's really important, just even to have my own personal experiences as a way to open up those conversations which I really believe in a lot, with my family, my community, my work. People that typically aren't engaged in politics, or that don't usually come to activist events, are asking me about my experience. And with my family for example, starting at that small level, it feels so important, being able to show them pictures and share stories, and using that to do what we promised to do. We promised every Palestinian we met that we would tell their stories and carry their messages back home.

For more information about the Maia Mural Brigade, visit Find the Maia Mural Brigade on Facebook & Twitter: @MaiaMurals. Stop by the Olympia Rafah Solidarity Mural, at the corner of State and Capitol, during Arts Walk on October 6th & 7th!

"Once we crossed Erez and presented our passport twice to two different sets of Israeli authorities we arrived in Gaza but confined to a long caged passage through the buffer zone to reach the Palestinian border control at the other end. The walk takes around 15-20 minutes." Photo by Melissa Franklin

Children at Afaq Jadeeda Children's Center in Nuseirat, Gaza, drawing pictures of what water means to them - Top photo by Melissa Franklin, bottom photo by Joanne Osband

Circus director: "With all the problems in Gaza, we can still make happy time" - Photo by Hilary Hacker

At Beit Hanoun Kindergarten, an ordinary wall is transformed into a living symbol of resistance - Photos by Hilary Hacker

"Behind the boat were bottles floating in the sea with messages of international solidarity: 'Water is a human right' 'End the Siege,' 'Free Gaza.'" - Photo by Hilary Hacker

Alicia Martinson talks with the children at the New Gaza School for Boys in Gaza City - Photo by Hilary Hacker

"All of the murals we painted are at the sites of these [water] purification units, or at sites where these units will be installed." - Photo by Hilary Hacker

"Water is a human right" - The Maia Mural Brigade's first mural, at the New Gaza School for Boys - Photo by Joanne Osband

The Maia Mural Brigade collaborated with several local artists, some of whom were expected, and some of whom showed up unannounced - From top to bottom: Jeje Alfarra, Mohammed Dairi, and an anonymous woman - Photos by Hilary Hacker

A mother and daughter pose together in front of the mural painted at a girls' kindergarten in Rafah, Tuyor Al-Jena, Um Al-Nasser Kindergarten - Photo by Josue Rojas

The children of Jabalia Elementary Girls School - Photo by Joanne Osband

"Watch your water... Protect your water... Care for your water" - The mural at Jabalia Elementary Girls School - Photo by Hilary Hacker

Part of the mural painted at al-Shati Kindergarten in Gaza. This mural was based on an event in July, where children in Gaza broke the Guinness World Record for most kites flown simultaneously, with 13,000. - Photo by Hilary Hacker

The mural at Bureij Girls' Elementary School, Bureij Refugee Camp ("Water is life" and "Maia," in English and Arabic) - Photos by Hilary Hacker

The streets of Gaza City - Photo by Hilary Hacker

A mural dedicated to Rachel Corrie at a kindergarten in Rafah - Photo by Hilary Hacker

"Handala" graces the mural at Afaq Jadeeda Children's Center in Nuseirat, Gaza - Photo by Hilary Hacker

The Maia Mural Brigade consisted of artists from Palestine and the United States, working together through their art to connect issues of occupation, water rights, and Palestinian sovereignty. - Photo by unknown