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 Palestine in 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 https://www.geocities.com/ erezam/tartakover.html.)
For Israel’s 30th anniversary in 1978, Tartakover produced a poster with the word Shalom — which means peace as well as hello and goodbye — hovering in a blue sky. Soon after, then-President Anwar Sadat of Egypt announced his historic trip to Israel, and Tartakover’s poster became a symbol of the nation’s move toward peace.
“That was a very important event in my life — the visit of President Sadat of Egypt,” Tartakover said. “Before that, I’d been in two wars — ’67 and ’73. The excitement of this visit was really something. I remember everything. Watching it on a black-and-white TV. No color TV at the time. It was so exciting to see the plane coming down and to see him coming down from the plane. We felt everything was changing. There was hope. Like after Oslo.”
We looked through more posters, one a picture of a group of men seen from the back, waist down, all holding slingshots.
“This was the stone intifada,” Tartakover said. “And it’s okay, stone. Now, it’s . . .” He trailed off. “Now it’s cruel. It’s not human, you know. I am against violence from any side.”
A poster of two Israeli soldiers standing at a funeral, their arms around each other’s shoulders, one of them looking down and away, his hand at his mouth. The caption reads, “1,245 soldiers have already left Lebanon in a unilateral exit.”
“This was a year before [Israel’s] withdrawal from Lebanon,” Tartakover said.
He showed me a poster from the year 2000 with the words “BRING THE SETTLERS HOME” across the top, and underneath a yellow truck hauling a trailer-home across a green line. I asked him what he sees for five years from now.
“More of the same,” he said. “Even 25 years from now. Unless the Americans will do something. And really do something.”
The man who painted Visit Palestine, Franz Krausz, became a friend of Tartakover’s more than 20 years ago. Tartakover sought him out after seeing his work in an old book of Israeli advertising posters. Krausz was a pioneer in Israeli graphic design who immigrated to what was then known as Palestine in the 1930s. It was a good time and place to be a Jewish artist.
“The first art school [in Israel] was founded before Tel Aviv,” Tartakover said. “The arts in Israel are big.”
Krausz, like most commercial artists at the time, was splitting his time between Zionist propaganda and advertising. He created Visit Palestine as an ad for the Tourist Development Association of Palestine, which had been formed to convince Jews, and others, to come to Palestine. Sir Wauchope was the patron of the Tourist Development Association.
Krausz was part of the last big wave of Jewish immigration to Palestine before the Holocaust. Many, like Krausz, were fleeing Germany. Within a four-year period starting in 1933 when the Nazi party came to power, tens of thousands of Jews settled in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the surrounding land. The year Krausz painted the poster, 1936, was the start of the Arab Revolt — three years of riots, work stoppages and clashes where Arabs tried to force Palestine’s British rulers to halt Jewish immigration. Several hundred Jews and between 3,000 and 6,000 Arabs were killed in those years; most of the Arabs were killed by British troops.
Tartakover approached Krausz — who still lived in the same Tel Aviv apartment he’d moved into in 1934 — about reviving the poster in 1994, the beginning of the Oslo Accords. It was a time when, as Tartakover said, “The whole horizon was different.” Even so, he and Krausz didn’t have a specific political message in mind for the poster; they liked the ambiguity of the call to “visit Palestine.” Also, it was pretty.
“I liked the way it treated the landscape,” Tartakover said. “Everyone likes it, and I thought it’s a pity people couldn’t have it on their walls.”
Visit Palestine was not a moneymaker, Tartakover said. He and Krausz printed a limited run of 1,000 on extra-large sheets of good, heavy paper. Krausz got a little money from it, they recovered their costs, and that was it. Tartakover didn’t think about the poster again until several years later as Oslo was beginning to deteriorate. Suddenly, he started seeing it in the background on TV as high-ranking Palestinian Authority figures were being interviewed in their offices. He could tell by looking at the posters that they were unauthorized reproductions: The paper was smaller and of lesser quality than what he and Krausz had used, and the colors were faded. I asked Tartakover how he felt when he saw the poster on TV taking on a new meaning.
“I think everyone can use it the way he wants,” he said. “You can’t control something you put out there. You can’t give people instructions how to use it.”
The poster that was painted by a Jew to entice people to Palestine and revived by an Israeli in the heady days of a peace plan was taken up by Palestinians as a symbol of their nationalist ambitions. An American bought an original at auction last year for more than $8,000. Before I left, Tartakover carefully rolled one up and gave it to me.
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