Palestinian makes artistic mark on passports

Mon May 30, 2011 1:05pm EDT
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By Jihan Abdalla

RAMALLAH, West Bank (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.

Living in occupied territory, 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.   Continued...