Palestinian makes artistic mark on passports

Art student has decided to fill institutional void with a dainty entry stamp of his own design, which he offers to foreigners in W. Bank.

Palestinian activist stamps passports_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Palestinian activist stamps passports_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
It is like no other passport control on earth.
No stern official sitting behind a glass wall, no scanning of travel documents, no terse questions about where you are going. Instead, a lone artist greets arriving visitors and politely asks them if they would like an entry stamp.
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Living in the West Bank, the Palestinians do not have the right to set up their own frontier controls. Anyone who passes through Israeli checkpoints is swiftly absorbed into the bustling streets of West Bank cities like Ramallah.
But art student Khaled Jarrar has decided to fill the institutional void with a dainty entry stamp of his own design, which he offers to foreigners as they tumble out of the buses.
"I believe in art that makes a difference, that talks about change. My art is making a political statement," said Jarrar, spurning traditional galleries for Ramallah's chaotic central bus station.
While many tourists arriving from nearby Jerusalem appear enthusiastic about the project, few are willing to hand over their precious passports for the sake of art.
Jeff Reynolds, a visitor from Canada, listens intently as Jarrar explains the idea behind the unofficial stamp, then politely declines, fearful that Israeli authorities will give him grief when he tries to fly home.
"I'm just worried about missing my flight at Tel Aviv airport if they question me for a long time about it," he says, referring to security guards who grill passengers at length before they leave, asking where they went and whom they met.
Palestinians want to set up an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with east Jerusalem as their capital, on land the Israelis seized in the 1967 Middle East war.
Nearly 20 years of on-off peace negotiations have failed to secure an accord, and the Palestinians say they will now seek United Nations' approval for a sovereign state in September.
Diplomats say this move stands little chance of success, meaning 35-year-old Jarrar might be the only Palestinian passport controller in the West Bank for some time to come.
His small, round stamp is circled with the words 'State of Palestine', written in Arabic and English. In the middle is a drawing of the Palestine Sun Bird flying near delicate flowers.
"In regards to the question of statehood, I think I have sent the message. I think I have done what I can," says Jarrar, who has set up a Facebook page to promote his stamp -- Live-and-work-in-Palestine.
After a string of polite rejections, Jarrar finally finds some foreigners eager to hand over their passports.
"I'm very supportive of the Palestinian cause, and I think this is occupation. So I find it outrageous that they don't have the right to have their own authority," says Morgana Benedetti, visiting the West Bank from Italy.
She asks Jarrar to put the stamp on page 9 of her passport -- her favorite number -- saying it is important for her to have both an Israeli and a Palestinian stamp.
"It's silly, but it's like a country. I get a stamp of Israel, but I don't get a stamp of Palestine?" she says.