Around 100 countries wordwide recognize Palestine as a sovereign state, and the same amount of nations even maintain diplomatic relations with its government. This September, Palestine plans to declare itself an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, naming East Jerusalem as its capital, and it has been asking the UN for support and approval.
Yet until then, Palestine is still an occupied territory, meaning it holds no rights to set up foreign controls. Foreigners visiting the West Bank and Gaza Strip are ushered through Israeli checkpoints instead, and their passports are only given Israeli entry stamps.
On the other side of the Israeli checkpoint in Ramallah is Khaled Jarrar, a 35-year-old Palestinian art student who offers tourists another stamp he created to represent the territory they’re about to enter.
“I thought that there is no stamp for the state of Palestine, no one is stamping the people who are coming to the state of Palestine,” he explained. “So, I thought that I would do it, and start stamping passports.”
His design is small, just a round imprint bordered with the phrase “State of Palestine” in both Arabic and English. In the middle is his drawing of the Palestinian Sun Bird flying near a patch of flowers. Jarrar also created an accompanying Facebook page for the project called “Live and Work in Palestine.” The page has harnessed over 1,500 fans, 500 of which joined it within its first 24 hours.
“I believe in art that makes a difference, that talks about change,” Jarrar said. “My art is making a political statement.”
While a few tourists refuse out of fear of getting harassed by Israeli authorities, most have been very receptive and more than willing to hand over their passports.
“I’m very supportive of the Palestinian cause, and I think this is occupation,” said Morjana Benedetti, a tourist from Italy. She had Jaffar stamp page nine of her passport because it’s her favorite number. “So I find it outrageous that they don’t have the right to have their own authority. So I think this is a symbol of them, it’s silly, but it’s like a country. I get a stamp of Israel but I don’t get a stamp of Palestine? Like this, I have a stamp of Palestine.”
“I decided to have my passport stamped, the Palestinian stamp, because I believe this land belongs to the Palestinians,” said Zanet Stepian, a tourist from Poland. “And my Israeli stamp is on a separate sheet of paper which I can throw away later.”
Yet it’s not just foreign tourists who are eager to spread the message, but travelers who have citizenship ties to Israel as well. “Luckily, I had the perfect place for the stamp, ” Alison Avigayil Ramer, who holds both an American and an Israeli passport, wrote on her blog. “Directly above my Israeli immigration ID, which Israeli immigration required me to put in my American passport.”
Will Jarrar’s stamp succeeds as a catalyst for change? It’s still too soon to tell. Yet its greatest strength is in pushing the boundaries that diplomacy has failed to negotiate in the first place. The Palestinian stamp is more than a piece of political art, it’s also an intervention, one that demands dialogue in its questioning of negotiations, occupation and who has a say in immigration and border patrol.
“In regards to the question of statehood, I think I have sent the message,” Jarrar said. “I think I have done what I can.”
Photo courtesy of ninasaurusrex via Flickr