This post is part of the series “Roots of Resistance: 25 year retrospective on the first intifada.” Read the entire series here.
The poster tradition is an exceptional element of Palestinian cultural heritage, and the posters themselves are important repositories of primary data. Palestine posters created by artists at the time of the first Intifada provide a unique lens through which today’s audiences can gain insight into the attitudes and aspirations of people directly involved in the resistance as it emerged. The Palestine Poster Project Archives contains 230 posters in its “Intifada” Special Collection (posters that contain the word “Intifada” or obvious visual references to the Intifada). Below is a selection of twelve posters from around the first year of the Intifada that provide a representative history of that watershed event.
Created by the Palestinian artist Sliman Mansour, this poster references one of the many grassroots organizations that helped coordinate Intifada activities. It combines iconographic elements common to earlier Palestine posters—the kaffiyeh, barbed wire, raised arm—with a new element, the stones. The most impressive feature here, however, is the expression of sumud (Arabic: steadfastness) in the human figure. He (or she) stands alone, but the barrage of stones signifies an entire population. The fact that the text appears in both English and Arabic indicates that the poster was meant to be understood by both Palestinians and the international community.
Published by Fatah, this poster reveals how the mainline Palestinian resistance organizations were quick to honor their compatriots inside the Israeli occupied territories and in fact to lend full support to the Intifada, making it among the first pan-Palestinian actions. The caption underneath Yasser Arafat states, “Realization of statehood is within a stone’s throw.”
The poster’s slogan, a quote from Khalil Al Wazir (Fatah’s founder, also known as Abu Jihad), provides an unequivocal endorsement of the resistance. The niqafa (Arabic: slingshot) emerges here as another iconographic symbol of the Intifada. After 1988 Palestinian poster art also increasingly incorporated the Palestinian nationalist colors and flag, which were banned by Israel inside the occupied territories until the Oslo Accords of 1993.
Published by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), this poster provides further evidence that the Intifada quickly erased the distinctions separating diaspora Palestinians from those living under the occupation. The white horse, symbol of revolution in Palestinian iconography, is seen here in outline, having broken free and rearing its head in defiance. The horse straddles a destroyed Palestinian village, pushes past barbed wire, and tramples on the Star of David (a religious symbol self-selected by Israel as its political symbol).
The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) is another major political faction that immediately and unconditionally embraced the Intifada. Words and phrases such as “unceasing”, “steadfastness”, and “revolution until victory” are hallmarks of the Palestine poster tradition before, during and after the Intifada. The Intifada expanded the modes of resistance and so continues to this day in many forms, including among others Palestinian civil society’s call for a campaign of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) of Israeli goods and institutions.
The emergence of nonviolent resistance tactics against the Occupation is captured in this image of a young boy holding up his hand against armed Israeli soldiers and a tank. The steady gaze is a visual reference to the core Palestinian concept of steadfastness. Created by Vladimar Tamari, a Palestinian artist living (then and now) in Japan, this poster reflects the solidarity between Palestinians in the diaspora with those living under the occupation. The use of Japanese as well as Arabic and English text signifies an awareness of and connection to international solidarity.
This poster was published by the Progressive List for Peace, a political party in Israel formed from an alliance of both Arab and Jewish left-wing activists (A Hebrew version of the same poster carries the caption, “Let’s Talk to the PLO”). The dove is a frequent icon in Palestine posters.
Published by the Komite Internazionistak in Basque Country, this poster demonstrates the degree to which liberation movements around the world identified with and were inspired by the Intifada. The extreme youth of the child, whose fist barely encircles the rock, honors the role of young people as leaders of the resistance. The boy in this picture is Ramzi Aburedwan, now known as “Al Kamandjati” (the Violinist), who established The Kamandjati Association in 2002, which encourages young Palestinians to make music and so to transcend the hardships of the occupation.
Prior to the Intifada, the heroic figures depicted in Palestine posters were the fedayeen (Arabic: militants) who engaged Israel in direct armed combat—usually men and, rarely, female militants such as Leila Khalid or Dalal Mughrabi. By contrast, the hero in this poster is a woman in traditional dress without a firearm. The use of the term “frontline” acknowledges both the dangers faced by Palestinian women participating directly in the Intifada as well as the expansion of the modes of resistance. The tatreez (Arabic: embroidery) decorating the stone heroicizes the participation of Palestinian women in the Intifada.
The bayonet piercing the orange and the bayonet broken by the rock highlight the contrast between the crushing violence and refugee flight of Al Nakba (Arabic: the Catastrophe) in 1948 and the mass resistance to the occupation via the Intifada in 1989. This poster serves as a commemoration both of the first anniversary of the Intifada as well as of May 15, the date in 1948 of Al Nakba, also known as “the Day of Palestinian Struggle” and, as referenced here, “the Usurpation of Palestine.”
As with the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, a key strategy of the Intifada was to make the occupied territories ungovernable for Israel. The boy brandishing his slingshot and the burning tire indicate that a year into the Intifada, the Palestinian people were showing no signs of having been pacified.
The Intifada opened a new day for Palestine. A population that been forcefully violently repressed and censored burst free in a unified effort for self-determination. It was also a new day for American artists, who were inspired by Palestinian acts of courage to take creative action in solidarity. This poster was included in a 1989 exhibit in Berkeley, California, titled In Celebration of the State of Palestine. Although nominally the exhibit’s theme was a subsequent event—Yasser Arafat’s declaration of the State of Palestine on November 15, 1988—its true inspiration was the Intifada itself. This can be inferred from the visual elements in many of the exhibit’s posters such as those seen here: the defiantly unarmed figure, the flag, and the kaffiyeh.
The exhibit’s catalog text asserts the critical importance of poster art both to the Intifada and to the broader Palestinian struggle as it continues to this day: “While politicians shuffle from one foot to another, we create on rectangles of paper, a place where the Palestinian flag flies freely. We prefigure in the realm of the imagination, the end of the bloody journey while we honor the suffering that will be necessary to bridge the distance between imagination and reality.”