By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Sir Arthur Grenfell Wauchope, the British high commissioner for Palestine in 1935, wrote the forward to a tiny tourism booklet in which he proclaimed Palestine “the most interesting country in the world.” His assertion was backed up by vivid descriptions of life in Palestine, such as this one of orange-picking season in Tel Aviv: “In and out of the trees run Arab girls and Bedouin maidens, in fantastic coats of many colours, Jewish women in shorts, from every country of the world, turning the sober orange-grove into a fair.”
I tracked down this booklet because of a poster I see everywhere here in Jerusalem that became a bit of a fixation for me. Created to promote tourism in the ’30s, the poster is a stylized, collagelike painting of Jerusalem, including the Dome of the Rock, seen from under the shade of a sprawling tree. The city and land are painted in intense yellows and oranges that capture the way the light works here. Along the bottom it says, “VISIT PALESTINE.” This poster is all over East Jerusalem — the predominantly Palestinian side of the city — and also in the West Bank and Gaza. It shows up in restaurants, stores, hotels, cafés, offices. A friend saw a reproduction in Gaza painted onto a huge piece of glass. I also saw it in Tel Aviv, and I wondered what about this image is able to span the yawning cultural and political gap between Tel Aviv and Gaza.
A poster shop in East Jerusalem had Visit Palestinein the window and I went inside. The owner of the shop told me the poster is his best seller by far. Even now, he said, with the economy so bad, he still sells about 10 a week. When times were better, he sold 100 or more a week.
At the bottom of the poster are the words “Produced by Tartakover-Tal, 1994.” I poked around and found out that “Tartakover” is David Tartakover, a famous Israeli graphic artist who won the country’s top prize for design in 2002. His posters are arresting, clever and bluntly political. Tartakover has spent the last 30-plus years fighting Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, protesting settlements, pushing for peace, and creating some of the most memorable images of the peace movement in Israel. He suggested the name and designed the logo for the leading Israeli peace group — Peace Now. When Israel, in a campaign to reduce the number of car accidents, ran ads with a picture of a blond boy over the caption “Dying To Live,” Tartakover took out ads of his own with the same slogan, using a picture of a Palestinian boy.
David Tartakover is 59 years old, intense, bald, with dark eyebrows over deep-set eyes and wire-rimmed glasses. He’s divorced and has a 16-year-old daughter. He smokes. He lives in an expansive, two-story stone house with 20-foot ceilings, arches between every room, and original tile designs in the floor.
“It was built by an Arab who wanted to live on the Jewish side,” he said. “In the 1929 riots, Arabs killed him for collaborating.”
Tartakover didn’t paint Visit Palestine, but he does have an original copy on the wall of his studio in his house. Tartakover discovered the poster, loved it and decided to revive it. He didn’t just happen to stumble on a cool, old poster, though; he has devoted his life to seeking out and collecting cool, old stuff from Israel’s history. He has a room stacked with posters, shelves of games and toys and books, a kitchen full of old tins and boxes. Like many on the left in Israel, Tartakover is not just critical of his country — he is obsessed with it.
“It’s nostalgia for the place that had a chance to be different,” he said. “Because this country was different before the Six Day War.”
I asked him how he was feeling about the political situation in Israel.
He scratched the table for a moment before answering.
“Without any drastic moves toward the settlers, there won’t be any quiet here,” he said.
What are you working on now? I asked.
“I’m not doing any of my own personal work right now,” he said. “I’m a little paralyzed.”
Do you think your paralysis is related to the political situation or is it personal?
“Both,” he said.
He started showing me some of his past work, running a slide show on his computer. Not surprisingly, his posters have accompanied — and sometimes foreshadowed — most of the major events in the last 30 years of Israel’s peace movement. A few months before then–Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated — three shots to the back — Tartakover created a poster for the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, that was a giant close-up of a gun over the caption “Happy New Fear.” The photograph is so clear you can read the words Israel Military Industries and Desert Eagle Magnum Pistol etched on the gun’s barrel. Another poster, a close-up of a grenade — lit so that the bulb of it looks like a plump, juicy piece of fruit — came out the same year that a peace demonstrator was killed when someone threw a grenade at a Peace Now rally. Like Visit Palestine, Tartakover’s posters use simple, memorable images and messages — a testament to his lifelong interest in advertising and commercial art. (You can see some at http://www.geocities.com/ erezam/tartakover.html.)