2009_Graffiti
Pay a little more attention on your next walk through an Israeli, or Palestinian, city. Photo by Moti Milrod
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Eyal Toueg
A wall in Haifa. Photo by Eyal Toueg

What do Gilad Shalit, Golda Meir and legendary Mizrahi singer Zohar Argov have in common? No, this isn’t the start of a bad joke. They're all among the figures you can find stenciled on the walls of Israel’s cities.

When you next stroll down the street, take a little extra time to examine the buildings around you. Soon you’ll start to notice pieces of colorful artwork everywhere, from tiny stencils on small side streets to huge murals on main roads.

They aren’t all just pretty pictures. Some of the pieces are rich cultural resources, referencing issues as diverse as the plight of migrant workers from Sudan to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Others are political and subversive, like the stencils of Golda Meir wearing a party hat or a stern-looking Theodor Herzl accompanied by the caption, “If you don’t want to, you don’t have to” (a play on his famous Zionist slogan, “If you will it, it is no dream”). Others, like the ubiquitous paintings of eggplants covering the walls of downtown Tel Aviv, are just plain puzzling.

If you visit the West Bank, you can also check out the artwork on the Palestinian side of the separation fence, where slogans sprayed by amateurs appear alongside iconic murals by world-famous graffiti artist Bansky.

Although it’s mostly illegal, street art is increasingly seen as a legitimate form of artistic expression. Last year, several artists had their own exhibition – the first of its kind in Israel – at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.