Gimme Shelter! A Taste of Mideast Mishegas Comes to Washington Square Park

photo Gimme Shelter! A Taste of Mideast Mishegas Comes to Washington Square ParkAnything related to the Israel-Palestine conflict is sure to be controversial. That’s what makes it so much fun.

And so it was with the graffiti-covered faux-bomb shelter/art installation erected in Washington Square Park on Monday afternoon.

At issue was a Sderot-style bunker of the sort used by Israelis when Palestinian militants lob missles over the border. Just what it was doing in Greenwich Village and what it meant depended on whom you asked. To Artists 4 Israel, the group that created the installation with funding from the Birthright Israel Alumni Community, it represented a sad piece of daily life in the Holy Land. To the pro-Palestine protesters who arrived to offer their own take, it seemed a questionable piece of propaganda, on city property. To passersby, a spectacle.

The Observer showed up just a few minutes after the protesters, “got their act together,” according to Artists 4 Israel president Craig Dershowitz, “and started saying their usual diatribe about Israel.”

“You’ll notice, none of them have mentioned the bomb shelter. None of them have mentioned the kids who are living under this threat of terror,” he said.

The protesters held signs declaring “Gaza Hungers for Justice” and demanding “U.S. Dollars out of Israel.” They chanted, “Not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Israel’s crimes” and handed out their own pamphlets.

“For most of the day this has been relatively peaceful,” Mr. Dershowitz said. “What we’re doing is creating artwork and beauty. So what can you say to that, right? And what can you say to ‘Children should not have to live under threat of rockets?’ Who can be against that?”

Artists 4 Israel’s literature said that Israeli students, Jews and Arabs like, have but 15 seconds to get into a bomb shelter when a warning is sounded. The protesters’ literature included information on how to boycott Israeli products, divest from the country and encourage the U.S. government to cut funding.

“Artistically, it’s kind of sad because they’re appropriating New York hip hop art to serve the Israeli propaganda agenda,” said Andrew Felluss, a music producer with the group Artists Against Apartheid, who was handing out the opposition’s literature. “It’s a little disturbing.” 

The shelter itself was small, about five-by-five. The graffiti was contributed by COPE2, SKI, 2ESAE and KA, graffiti artists who, according to Matt Mindell, a representative for the Birthright Israel Alumni Community, had visited Israel on a trip funded by Artists 4 Israel and were “trying to reenact what they experienced on a daily basis.” None of the artists are Jewish, he said.

“A bomb shelter shouldn’t be about death or getting destroyed, I guess is what they were trying to say,” said COPE2, who hadn’t actually been to Israel yet, but plans on going on a junket soon. “It’s just both sides. It’s like, damn, could this end? Especially when kids are getting involved and getting killed.”

COPE2 said he has both Jewish and Palestinian friends and that he added his work to the shelter because of his close friendship with Dershowitz and Dershowitz’ commitment to the project.

Inside the bunker, a flatscreen TV was mounted on one of the walls showing footage shot during the bombings. A man was available to answer questions.

Only a few minutes after The Observer ducked inside, an argument broke out between one of the protesters and the guy answering questions.

The protester, a woman, declared, “This is just rhetoric, these aren’t facts,” and referenced an event in which she saw the Israelis as aggressors. He retorted that Israel is the only democratic state in the Middle East and that “you can be gay and live in Israel, you can’t do that in other countries.” She countered that Israeli troops had raided the office of a Palestinian news organization. He said the Palestinians did the same thing to CNN. She asked where he got his news and he did the same. They both cried bias.

Outside, a few dog owners clung to a nearby fence, staring at the scene while their pets yipped in the background.

mcoyne@observer.com