A child’s view of the Middle East conflict

A candle burns in front of the globe. A white bird of peace flies over the city. An airplane throws chocolate bullets at surprised children. What such images so clearly say is that no child should grow up in war.

“Children of Jerusalem: Painting Pain, Dreaming Peace,” on view at Zeum through July 8, is a collection of artwork by Israeli and Palestinian children living in Jerusalem. The collection, sponsored by Zeum and the Israeli Consulate, is exhibited along the museum’s spiraling corridor and accompanied by sound effects (noisy explosions and a song about peace) as well as interactive questionnaires that make it interesting for young viewers.

But it is the message, presented through diverse interpretations of war and a singular inspiration for peace, that makes this U.S. premiere (tour stops also include London, Geneva and Manchester, as well as the point of origin in Jerusalem) especially important for children growing up into a world of conflict.

Fifty schoolchildren worked onthese paintings over a two-year period. They were first separated into two groups led by a Palestinian artist and an Israeli artist. The children’s inspiration was the view outside — Intifada and the physical and mental damage it caused in people around them. In one painting, “The Old City in Mourning,” 9-year-old Reem Al-Halawani depicts a narrow staircase between two walls connected by a bridge. The staircase is empty, but the menacing purple and green that fill it poignantly describe the atmosphere. “I used the colors of war,” Al-Halawani said.

Images of violence and struggle for land appear in many other paintings. Explosions, airplanes, guns and flags speak to the corruption of children’s innocent lives through politics and war. No one says it better than Michal Patlas, 10, in “Chocolate Bullets,” a collage in which a bombardment of chocolates lands on children. The creativity and wishful thinking of this artist are touching and impressive.

Toward the middle of the exhibit, the mood of the artworks shifts to images of peace and hope. These paintings come from the second stage of the two-year period, when the Israeli and Palestinian workshops were combined. More than half of these images include birds of peace that unite the Israeli and Palestinian lands, flags and people. Some of the paintings were even done together by several young artists.

“Children of Jerusalem” is a worthwhile exhibit for both adults and kids. Although the Israeli-Palestinian struggle may be half a world away from California, the loud and clear vision of the affected children is important for everyone to see.

Children of Jerusalem

Where: Zeum, 221 Fourth St., San Francisco

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays; also open Tuesdays after June 19; closes July 8

Tickets: $6 for youth ages 3 to8, $8 for adults, $7 for students and seniors

Contact: (415) 820-3320 or www.zeum.org

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