ONE of the drawings shows four casualties of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Artist Abed Abedi, a Palestinian, calls the work ``Men Under the Sun.'' Mr. Abedi's art is part of a traveling exhibition designed to help promote peace between Palestinians and Israelis. The show, titled ``It's Possible'' was seen earlier in New York and Chicago, and it will open Wedneday at San Francisco's South Market Community Center (through June 3). Abedi is one of the 24 artists whose work is displayed in what is billed as the first joint Israeli-Palestinian art exhibition in the United States. The 12 Palestinian and 12 Israeli artists constitute a small voice for compromise. Their coalition is not an easy one.
``Officially, I am his enemy,'' says a Israeli peace activist, Shulamith Koenig, pointing to Palestinian artist Sari Khoury, who emigrated to the United States with his family after the 1948 war. ``This is why I worked like a madwoman to put this show together, so that we could overcome these barriers and mistrusts.''
Much of the art on display is not overtly political. A simple drawing of Arabic rugs hangs near Abedi's painting of an Israeli airplane flying over Lebanon. Another drawing is of a flowerpot. But even though all the images are not political, many artists think the exhibition as a whole is.
``We feel we've used our art for progress, freedom of speech, and to denounce the occupation [of the West Bank and Gaza Strip],'' says Abedi, who was born and still lives in Haifa. ``Part of the Israeli intelligentsia understands the occupation can be a tragedy for their lives, too.'' Abedi adds that the exhibit has traveled to the US because ``we are reaching out to the American public for a solution to the conflict.''
Several of the artists in the exhibition have proposed their own solution. Nearly all have signed a symbolic peace treaty calling for the creation of a Palestinian state, acceptance of Israel's right to exist, and the making of Jerusalem as an open and shared capital. The document has been signed by other prominent Israeli and Palestinian artists and academics, but it is by no means a popular concept. For the artists, using their names and art to support a two-state solution can be highly controversial.
``I had two Israelis who withdrew from the show because of pressure [from the Israeli community],'' says Ms. Koenig.
Even among the artists represented, the politically charged atmosphere of Israeli life becomes apparent. Joshua Neustein said his participation in the show has not been well received by some fellow Israelis. ``There are people who think I'm betraying them because I'm in this show,'' he said. He added that he will not sign the peace treaty. ``I don't think we all speak with one voice,'' he said. And though he has made tentative steps toward approaching the Palestinian artists, Neustein felt the image of unity expressed in the exhibit is somewhat artificial. ``I don't think there's a real community between Palestinian and Israeli artists,'' he said. ``I feel at one with those Israeli artists not at this show, as much as those that are in the show.''
But other artists see their participation here as a meaningful step toward peace. ``When you get artists together, they can understand each other on a different level,'' says Mr. Khoury, whose abstract paintings are a part of the exhibition. ``Art is a universal language. There are no barriers there.''