Black Panthers Prowl Again in Jerusalem

Inspired by Americans, Social Justice Movement Thrives in Israel

Street Art: Inspired by the Israeli Black Panthers, the Muslala collective creates political art in Jerusalem.
Courtesy Muslala
Street Art: Inspired by the Israeli Black Panthers, the Muslala collective creates political art in Jerusalem.

By Margaret Eby

Published November 27, 2012, issue of November 30, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Jerusalem in early September is a restless place. The streets still emanate waves of trapped desert heat into the air. It’s the brief lull between Ramadan and Rosh Hashanah, but the Old City is alive with the sounds of chanting, clanging bells and calls to prayer.

I am just outside of the Damascus Gate, which opens into the Muslim Quarter of the city, about to enter into Musrara, a neighborhood that lies on the seam of East and West Jerusalem. My tour guide, Matan Israeli, is a scruffy 30-something Jerusalemite wearing a pair of sunglasses that look like old-fashioned aviator goggles and an oversized T-shirt. Israeli is the leader of a not-for-profit arts organization based in the neighborhood called “Muslala,” a combination of the neighborhood’s name and “k’lala,” the Hebrew word for “curse.” The name is reflective of the complications of the neighborhood, a place often caught in the middle of violent conflicts.

Israeli stops in front of a winding alleyway flanked with stone houses riddled with bullet holes from the years of conflict the neighborhood has seen. Above the wall of the Old City, just across from us, the Dome of the Rock glints in the sunlight. The alley bears a tiled sign typical of the streets of the Old City, with the name of the street in Arabic, Hebrew and English. “This,” he explains with a triumphant flourish, “is Black Panthers Way.”

Forty years after their founding, the Israeli Black Panthers have become folk heroes for artists like Israeli; they are icons of social justice in a country increasingly polarized between left and right. The Panthers, inspired by Huey Newton and Bobby Seele’s fight for equality in America, struggled to make prejudices against Mizrahi Jews visible. They hoped for an overhaul of Israeli society. Today, they are remembered, with more warmth than are their American counterparts, as pioneers in the arena of social justice.

Black Panthers Way was one of several guerilla art projects that Israeli and Muslala installed in the neighborhood — subtle works that, like the street sign, look like any other municipal markers until you peer a bit more closely. Some spray-painted signs modeled to look like the common markers directing residents to bomb shelters have been replaced with the word “love.” Another sign announces “They’re Not Nice” Alley next to a picture of Golda Meir. That is how the prime minister described the Panthers after meeting with them in the early 1970s. Another plaque, on top of a reclaimed community center, simply has the imprint of an upraised fist, the symbol of the group.

“The Panthers were a radical voice for equality,” Israeli explains. “What the Panthers were fighting for hasn’t changed here. This is a chance to revive them.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.