Tsameret Zamir lives adjacent to the Gaza Strip under the shadow of the grey security walls that protect Israel from incursions from the Gaza Strip. The imposing structure darkens the beautiful landscape that surrounds her home. Zamir, a peace-oriented ceramic artist, uses her art and passion to transform the protective wall into a tool of engagement and a symbol of peace.
In 2012, Zamir initiated a crowd-sourced project, the “Path to Peace.” Zamir began painting the bleak security wall to add color to her moshav, Netiv HaAsara. She then expanded her project into a participatory educational and tourist program, enabling thousands of people to take an active role in creating an atmosphere of peace. People from across the world come to Netiv HaAsara, 400 yards from the Palestinian town of Beit Lahiya, to learn about life next to the Gaza Strip. Guests listen to the community’s story and then are transformed into ambassadors for peace and artists like Zamir. Each guest selects a piece of Zamir’s mosaic work and writes a personal message of peace on the back. With their work in hand, the nervous groups of tourists follow Zamir to the security wall to add their pieces and messages to the wall.
As they approach the wall, the tourists meet IDF soldiers and have the opportunity to speak with those who stand on Israel’s frontline. In a motion reminiscent of tucking notes into the Western Wall in Jerusalem, tourists glue their hopes for peace on both sides of the security wall. The thousands of shards of pottery, each with a message of hope and peace, join together to create a colorful mosaic of rainbows, flowers and homes. The color fills the landscape and spreads a unified message of peace and hope at a site of war and division.
Zamir’s transformed wall has experienced many difficult periods. Earlier this month, in response to Israel’s targeted killing of Baha Abu Al-Ata, a senior Islamic Jihad leader, Gaza militants launched an intensive attack against Israel in which over 400 rockets were fired over Nitiv HaAsarah and the rest of Southern Israel. On Nov. 14, a ceasefire was reached, but 12 days later, the IDF tweeted that “2 rockets were just fired from #Gaza at Israeli civilians. 1 rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome Aerial Defense System.” The already-shaky ceasefire seems to have ended. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later announced, “We will respond firmly to any attack against us and continue to maintain Israel’s security on all fronts.” Once again, Zamir’s work for peace confronted sirens and the threat of rockets.
Just before the ceasefire broke, I spoke with Tsameret Zamir about her work and message. The following is an excerpt from my interview.
Can you describe your moshav, Nitiv HaAsarah?
I think it is a beautiful moshav, community. It is full of very brave people who enjoy helping and supporting each other. When you need help, there are people that will appear to help you. When it is calm and quiet, kids have a beautiful life here.
How often are rockets launched at your moshav?
Sadly, it is very often
Can you explain to Americans the experience of air raids over your home?
It always surprises you; you are always in the middle of something and need to stop everything and run very, very fast to a shelter. We have a shelter in my house. You have to try to get to a safe place before an explosion. We hear really loud alarms, and it is very scary. You need to decide very fast what to do, where to run, where to hide. Many houses have been damaged from rockets and a few people have been killed through the years, so we understand that it is very dangerous. We take it very seriously. If we don’t have a shelter close enough, we lie on the ground and cover our heads with our arms. When a rocket hits, there is a big explosion and a lot of sharp pieces spread all over. Kindergartens and schools are all in shelters, so kids are safe the whole day. But when they need to return home, the roads and buses aren’t safe against rockets. When we know there are lots of rockets, we do not leave our houses. Many times, it is quiet and routine, and kids go out on their bicycles with their friends in the center of the village; they play tennis and swim in the pool. Then, they hear the alarms and are unprepared.
What is the aftermath of an air raid?
We try to continue with our lives, but it is not easy. The first few days after rockets are very scary because you never know if it is really over or there are a few more. It takes time to relax and feel safe again. Every time we have missiles, we do not work on the wall or go near it. Also, visitors stop coming. They are too scared, sometimes even months after rockets are launched.
Recently, there has been a lot of violence in Israel. How has that affected your moshav?
We have had a few tough days about a week ago and two days of intense rockets. People stay in shelters most of the time. Many families with young kids took their things and moved away for a few days. The soldiers try to protect us. Even this evening, there was a rocket from the Gaza Strip that was launched into Israel. It is never really quiet.
Given the opportunity, would you leave Nitiv HaAsarah for a safer area of Israel?
No, I wouldn’t leave. This is my home, and I love my home. I was born here and built my life here. I do not want to start my life again anywhere else.
What inspired you to create the “Pathway to Peace”?
I am a ceramic artist. The way that I express myself is with art. I wanted to help the people of my village keep their strength and happiness. The best way to do that is together. After every escalation, we get all the people and kids together to help us heal. I took this model of creating hope together and decided to use it on the wall.
Why do you encourage visitors to write their personal messages on the back of their mosaic?
First, visitors come to the visitor center, and they hear about my story and the story of the wall. Then, I ask them to write their message, and I think that it is important to let visitors think about life in Nitiv HaAsarah for a minute. Maybe they can understand it better, and if they write it, they can remember it. Usually messages will be positive and will create good energy on the wall.
How do you protect your artwork?
Gaza cannot destroy the wall because it is owned by Israel. Nobody from Gaza is allowed to get within three hundred meters of the wall. It is a very strong and sturdy wall.
What is the message behind your work?
First, I want people from all over the world to know that it is very sad to live in a world with so much hate. I want people to see how much sorrow and fear we have. It is a cold world. I want this wall to remind us all that it is our duty to educate for peace. Each one of us can affect the people around us by choosing the peaceful way. Second, I want this wall to bring hope to people on both sides of the wall, so we decorate both sides of the inside wall.
What message would you pass on to today’s teenagers?
I would say that solutions will only come through tolerance, understanding, and peaceful means. They will not come through violence. It is much easier to choose to be violent and angry, but this is wrong. For the last twenty years, there has been violence, and it is getting worse and worse. Many people on both sides of the wall are suffering every day. I wish my neighbors a good life like I wish myself. Everyone deserves to feel safe and to be happy.
As the rockets continue to fly, we hope that Tsameret Zamir’s message of peace through her art will inspire peace in the world.