"Reaching for peace, a French artist this week hung the same huge portraits of Israelis and Palestinians making silly faces across the cities of the two warring peoples. The artist, known simply as JR, hoped his oversized portraits - hung in public squares and on both sides of Israel's controversial West Bank separation barrier - would send a message of coexistence, understanding and humanity." Or as the subtitle of the article tellingly puts it, the attempt was to "humanize Israel's separation barrier."
Who can blame them? From their point of view, not only did the Israelis built a huge wall around them that took a good chunk of their land, imprisoned them, and blocked their literal and metaphorical horizons, they now come to make larger than life faces at them as if to taunt them in their prison.
The Israelis, on the other hand, seem more open to the humor. While some people may choose to see this as a sign that Israelis have a better sense of humor than Palestinians or that they are more open minded than their neighbors, I believe it has to do with location. The Israelis are looking at the pictures from a different place--i.e. from the other side of the wall. True, the wall has two sides, but the two sides are not equal.
The French artist meant well; his good intentions, however, led him into the "both sides" trap: both sides have a story to tell, both sides have a legitimate claim, both sides need to get along with each other, both sides have a wall between them. He forgot that one side built the illegal wall and the other side was trapped behind it.
The well-meaning French artist ended up doing what Vasco de Gama did when he went to China. According to the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe in his essay "An Image of Africa," the Portuguese explorer wrote about all the things he saw during his visit down to the smallest detail, but forgot to mention the great wall of china.
JR saw the two sides but, like De Gama, missed the wall, which is why the Palestinians missed the joke.
But the real moral of the story is that no matter how French or artistic you are, there is no way to "humanize Israel's separation barrier." It's made of concrete. Concrete can't be human.