August 2, 2006

Palestinian artist brings Nasrallah to the masses

By Mohammed Assadi

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - The life of a Palestinian
portrait artist in the West Bank is seldom lucrative, but it's
certainly looking up for Waleed Ayyoub.

Israel's conflict with Hizbollah has boosted the image of
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the Lebanese guerrilla group's leader,
provoking a surge in demand for portraits among Palestinians.

Whereas Ayyoub, 33, used to deal mostly in portraits of
late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat and former Egyptian
leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser, now it's all about Nasrallah.

"Sheikh Nasrallah is now number one," said Ayyoub, as he
put the finishing touches to a portrait at his roadside easel
in Ramallah, the main city in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Before the Lebanon conflict broke out on July 12, when
Hizbollah seized two Israeli soldiers in a raid, Ayyoub might
have been lucky to sell one or two portraits of Nasrallah a
month. At a cost of $10 each, it wasn't a big money spinner.

But now, with no political rally complete without
Nasrallah's image being brandished aloft by the crowd or worn
on T-shirts, Ayyoub can hardly produce enough pictures of him.

In fact, he's taken to printing cheaper, more-quickly
produced posters of the Lebanese cleric, based on his
portraits, to make Nasrallah more readily available to the

On Tuesday alone, Ayyoub said he sold 1,000 posters of the
bearded and bespectacled cleric for $1 each.

But like many artists, it's not about the money. Ayyoub
says he doesn't intend to make a profit from his work and
instead plans to donate the proceeds to Lebanon's poor and

"As the war continues, I expect to sell even more," said
the artist, whose range of 100cm by 70cm portraits stretches
from Arafat and Nasser to Jesus and Fidel Castro.

As the three week conflict stretches on, with more than 640
Lebanese, most of them civilians, killed by Israeli
bombardments and 55 Israeli soldiers and civilians dead from
Hizbollah attacks, Nasrallah's popularity remains strong.

"I adore him because he is defending Lebanon," said
Mohammed Barakat, a 10-year-old who was buying a Nasrallah

For Ayyoub, it's a mixed blessing.

"I am happy because he is challenging Israel and he makes
good on his threats," the artist said of his subject.

"At the same time, I'm sad because Arab leaders are just
spectators as Israel commits massacres here and in Lebanon.

"Who knows, maybe Nasrallah will be our saviour."