The Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA) book A Child's View from Gaza: Palestinian Children's Art and the Fight Against Censorship offers a behind the scenes window into a continued struggle to give voice to a people whose cultural identity has been assaulted, ignored, hidden, repressed, attacked and stolen. However, the project behind the book began with a very different goal in mind.
Since 1988 MECA has sent more than $17 million in aid to children in Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon, assisting local community organizations meeting children’s needs. The "Child's View from Gaza" project began as another one of those efforts. The drawings were created by participants of the Let the Children Play and Heal project, the Qattan Center for the Child in Gaza City and numerous children’s centers throughout Gaza.
Initiated and run by Afaq Jadeeda (New Horizons) Center with support from MECA, Let the Children Play and Heal is a psychological support program designed to address the needs of Gazan children traumatized by the assault on Gaza. No one, certainly not exhibit coordinator Susan Johnson, MECA, or Afaq Jadeeda Center ever expected this art project, initiated to address children's needs, to explode into a worldwide phenomena exposing Palestinian children's visions to a worldwide audience. In addition, the episode dramatically demonstrated the influence local American Jewish organizations can have over how we, as Americans, are exposed to Palestinian people, as they police the discourse over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
We have been shielded from Palestinian culture, their witness, their narrative, their stories, their art and their voice. The cultural assault of Palestinians has taken place on many fronts, from olive oil to the rhetorical erasure of their existence, throughout the mainstream media.
The censorship of Palestinian people within American society has permeated our culture in such profound ways that most people simply do not recognize either what's behind it or how it's done. Nothing I have read documents how this occurs better than MECA's startling new book, "A Child's View from Gaza: Palestinian Children's Art and the Fight Against Censorship" which lays out in undeniable terms the kinds of mechanisms employed in the denial and erasure of Palestinian culture within American society.
Meca's Founder and Executive Director Barbara Lubin:
When we first planned the exhibition at MOCHA, we expected that a few hundred people would see the show and attend the programs. Now, thanks to the efforts to make the show disappear and the power of those images to move people, they have been viewed by hundreds of thousands. Requests have come from people in countries around the globe saying they wanted to host the show. Crayons, pencils, and magic markers. Maybe they were right. Maybe the images are too dangerous to be seen.
Dangerous for whom you might ask? Dangerous to a carefully nurtured image of who is, or more precisely who is not, the victim in the eyes of outsiders.
Bay Area residents will not be forgetting the abrupt cancellation of the "A Child's View from Gaza" exhibit of art by Gazan children at the Museum of Children's Art in Oakland California (Mocha). "The news spread like WILDFIRE!" and the community rallied.
As a resident of the Bay Area I was looking forward to attending the opening at Mocha. The free exhibit, co-sponsored by nearly twenty local organizations, featured special activities for children and families, including a cartooning workshop and poetry readings, and was sure to be attended at full capacity. Meca's frequent events, as well as raising funds for the Maia project, Plant-a-Tree in Palestine, and Playgrounds (to name a few) are always an opportunity for our local Palestinian solidarity activist community to unite and greet friends. I had already made plans with a couple of friends to commute. The news Mocha was under pressure to close the show right before the opening startled the community to the core and we rallied with letters to the museum expressing our support for the show. Then, as fast as you can say 'censored' we found out the exhibit was off...it was as if a lead hammer had descended and slammed the door shut once again. The overwhelming revulsion at the swift closure still sends chills down my spine, it reached the East Coast in a nanosecond and quickly spread to Europe and the Middle East.
MECA’s Gallery, 9.24, 2011 Photo:Dave Indybay.com
A Child's View From Gaza: Palestinian Children's Art and the Fight Against Censorship presents a step by step, page by page account of the unfolding drama. Walking us through events, told through the voices of participants, citizens and activists, the book is a testament to the sheer will and determination of MECA and the global solidarity community that guaranteed the show must and will go on. Palestinians will be heard, we will be their witness because the truth is being exposed.
The amazing art of Palestinian children that documents the horrors they experience and know all too well is included in the book of course. This is the same art that terrifies the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Federation of the East Bay, the art that screams out in raw unfiltered expression. Page after page after page....buy it and support for The Middle East Children's Alliance, be a witness.
My appreciation knows no bounds.