Word on the Street

From native Jerusalemites to new immigrants and tourists, the consensus seemed to be a preference for graffiti that carries a message or image. Still, many distinguish between what they perceive as art and plain vandalism. Well into his 70s and wearing a skullcap and dense white beard, Zvi is not the most likely candidate for a graffiti fan, but there is something about the uninvited images and slogans that have sprung up in his neighborhood that appeal to him. "I think that they're interesting. I'll tell you why: He's [the graffiti artist] writing about what's hurting him, he doesn't just write for no reason," he says in Arabic-accented Hebrew, standing outside his house on Nahlaot's Rehov Hakarmel. "They are doing it to say 'We were here,' to establish themselves in some way." When asked whether he thinks that graffiti spoils the city, he replies with a resounding "No." "It's language, a secret language. You don't see them do it, they come here at night." Zvi didn't say whether he has seen the words "Free Pollard" sprayed in black on the golden Jerusalem stone at the end of his street, but some of his neighbors who have noticed it are less than impressed. Etti believes that the slogans spray-painted on her street are decidedly "Not okay." "It's not nice and it destroys the neighborhood, too," she says, sitting on the doorstep of her Nahlaot home chatting with neighbors and passersby. Etti's next-door neighbor, Mazal, agrees. "I'm not for it. If they've got something to say, they can go and write it in the media instead. Sometimes the writing is not nice either, it can be rude. But what can you do? No one knows who they are." Etti and Mazal say they would prefer that the authors of the ubiquitous Rabbi Nahman slogans would find an alternative medium for their pastime. Their attitudes changed, however, after In Jerusalem showed them photographs of stenciled pictures, including silhouettes of Winnie the Pooh and the snappily-dressed White Rabbit from Lewis Caroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, sprayed elsewhere in the city. "The pictures are nice, but not the writing. I read them sometimes, but they are not interesting to me," says Mazal. "It can be beautiful, but it can be ugly too."