‘Palestine’s Pearl’: Tunisian Street Artists Celebrate Palestinian Culture

By Majd Salem

“Popular street art has a mission to shed light on particular causes before beautifying the walls.” 

The Dome of the Rock floats in a sea of blue clouds, peaceful and majestic, resting in infinite space. Though in real life the Mosque is firmly planted in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City, in this painting it shimmers in mid-air, untethered to the earth.

The artist is Ilef Ben Salah, a 20-year-old Tunisian and one of the founders of Palestine’s Pearl, a youth street art team that draws murals throughout Tunisia to raise awareness of the Palestinian struggle and heritage while beautifying streets across the city of Gabes with colorful designs and epochal symbols. 

“I called this painting ‘Dome of the Rock in the Sky,’ Ben Salah told The Palestine Chronicle. 

“I drew it to honor the Al-Isra’a Wal Mi’raj holiday, commemorating the journey of the Prophet Mohammed from Mecca to Jerusalem and His ascension to Heaven from Al-Aqsa Mosque,” she explained. 

Israeli police raids on Al-Aqsa during last Ramadan in April 2023 resulted in extreme violence and led to the injuries and arrests of many Palestinian worshippers inside and around the Mosque. 

On May 18, thousands of Israeli settlers and far-right nationalists marched with Israeli flags, celebrating the military occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967. They passed through the Arab neighborhoods there and chanted racist slogans against the Palestinian residents.

“In my painting, the holy site is free from all the strife on the ground and can remind people of the rich culture and timeless connection Palestinians share with this place,” Ben Salah said.

Ben Salah was born in Tunisia to a Tunisian father and a Palestinian mother. Fadia Kiwan, Ben Salah’s mother, was born in Syria and lived most of her life in Al-Yarmouk Refugee Camp. The camp, like many others in the region, was established by the UN Palestinian Refugees Agency, UNRWA to shelter Palestinians who were forced to flee their homes to neighboring countries during the Nakba in 1948. 

Kiwan’s parents were originally from Nazareth. Neither she nor her daughter has ever been back there. According to a report issued by Amnesty International in 2019, Israel continues to deny Palestinian refugees the right to return to their lands and villages that they were displaced from more than 70 years later.

Kiwan moved to Tunisia in 2000 when she married Imed Ben Salah, a native Tunisian. “I have always taught my daughter Ilef about her origins, and I started noticing her love of art from a young age.” 

While studying in Gabes in Southern Tunisia, Ben Salah met two other Tunisian artists, Alaa Kadri and Aziz Sakhri, also in their twenties. Together they form Palestine’s Pearl. 

“We chose this name because Pearl stands for something precious, and Palestine is precious to us.  Also, pearls come from the oyster, which lives in the Mediterranean Sea, shared by both Palestine and Tunisia,” Ben Salah commented.  

Kadri had drawn a mural about Palestine when he was a student in high school. He also was part of a group that created a large banner about the Palestinian struggle for freedom for a football team that was raised up by fans in a football stadium in Tunisia. Establishing Palestine’s Pearl was a continuation of Kadri’s march for supporting Palestine through drawing murals and art.

The first work the art group undertook was on March 16. The three artists identified an old store on a corner in the ancient city of Gabes or what is known as “Medina.” They adorned the walls with traditional symbols in striking colors, renewing the building and enlivening the surrounding streets from which it could be seen.

“We chose to launch our first work on March 16 because it’s the date each year when we in Tunisia celebrate our national culture with traditional dress and handicrafts,” Ben Salah said.  

“In our first mural we gathered symbols from traditional Palestinian costumes, known as ‘Thobe’, as well as Tunisian traditional dress, to emphasize the strong relationship between our two countries,” she added.


Naji Al-Yakoubi, Professor of the Plastic Arts at the Higher Institute of Languages of Gabes, told the Palestine Chronicle that it is typical for street art to be associated with the struggle for justice.

“Popular street art has a mission to shed light on particular causes before beautifying the walls.” 

Ben Salah aims to do both while making more murals with her team in the future. “We are planning to draw Palestinian icons on the walls of cities throughout Tunisia. We want to highlight important figures like Mahmoud Darwish, Yasser Arafat, Ghassan Kanafani, and Shereen Abu Akleh”. 

“Art is the gateway for a refugee like me. Through my art, I go back to my homeland. And that’s why I will always practice it, until one day I return with my mother to our city of Nazareth, and I draw murals there in its streets.”

– Majd Salem is a Palestinian freelance journalist and a journalism master’s degree student in Tunisia. We Are Not Numbers contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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