Children’s Art for Peace

text by Peg Maron
photos: courtesy, Givat Haviva

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My first impression was of dazzling color – brilliant reds, yellows, greens – radiating from the pristine walls of a Manhattan art gallery. Then I saw the pervasive longing for peace, sometimes implied, more often expressed, in the drawings and paintings of Israeli children.

The occasion was the New York opening of “Children’s Art For Peace,” an exhibit of paintings and drawings by young Arab and Jewish artists from the Givat Haviva Institute in Israel.

Nestled in the Sharon Valley, halfway between Haifa and Tel Aviv, Givat HavivaInstitute is the largest and oldest organization in Israel working for Jewish-Arab rapport in that troubled land. Established in 1949, the Institute brings together 40,000 Jews and Arabs each year to study Jewish-Arab relations, Middle Eastern politics and history, Zionism, the Holocaust, kibbutz life and the Hebrew and Arabic languages.

One of its most promising activities is “Children’s Art for Peace,” an after-school program that offers talented Arab and Jewish seventh and eighth graders a year or more of serious art study. Participants are chosen for their artistic ability. The children submit art samples to the faculties of their individual schools, who in turn send the best portfolios to Givat Haviva. Faculty at the institute then choose students for the program. The names of the children are not known at that time.

Once they have been admitted to the program, youngsters come to the Givat Haviva Art Center once a week throughout the academic year for three-hour classes. After leaving the program, students may continue their art studies for an additional year at a campus high school.

According to a Givat Haviva spokesman, the Art Center is one of the few institutions in Israel where young Arab students can receive formal art lessons, because most Arab schools do not have the resources to provide art education, even at the senior high school level.

In the “Art for Peace” program, youngsters learned from two gifted instructors, Fadia Korbi, a young Arab-Israeli schoolteacher, and David Koren, a Jewish instructor. Samples of their pupils’ work were incorporated into an exhibit that opened in Washington D.C. in March 1991 and is still touring the United States and Canada.

The often wistful ouvre of the youthful artists included in this exhibit reveals a diversity of talent. Technically outstanding are sketches by two Jewish students from Kibbutz Ein Shemer: a drawing by Hagit Riftin of a mare and her nursing colt, and another by Arman Lotan showing a hand holding a rose in front of a dented car.

At least two paintings depict violence and war. One, especially disturbing, includes fragments of people – a face, an arm – in a junkpile. The other shows two trucks in a head-on collision, replete with bombs and explosions. The soul of a dead person is shown as an angel rising toward heaven. In a third picture, a spigot has been inserted into a globe, from which flow drops of blood.

Clearly, artwork such as this suggests that children in Israel have been damaged by the violence and tension between Arabs and Jews. When asked to comment, David Koren said, “Yes, due to the circumstances it’s inevitable sometimes.”

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Tags: Children Israel Jews Art Arabs