During his daily walks in the mountains around Ramallah, Khaled Jarrar began collecting handfuls of soil. Stored in jars, these pieces of Palestinian land are now part of the artist’s first blockchain project, with two new works issued as NFTs (non-fungible tokens).
“I see that these lands are in danger of annexation sooner or later, so I’m taking the soil and putting them in these jars,” he says.
Jarrar's NFT is an animated image entitled If I don't steal your home, someone else will steal it, which shows a valley in the West Bank overtaken by Israeli settlement homes cascading across the screen. In reality, the valley, situated between the villages of Kobar and Jibiya, is controlled by Israeli settlers who moved from the nearby Halamish – also known as Neveh Tzuf – settlement and live under the protection of the Israeli army.
The limited edition NFT comes with a handful of soil that will be sent from Ramallah to the collector.
The fight for land rights is not new in Palestine, nor is it for the Palestinian artist, whose work centres on politics and power, specifically linked to the Israeli occupation.
The significance of the soil also references the ecological and agricultural violations inflicted on Palestinians by Israeli civilians, often with knowledge of the army, over the years. "They transform the soil. They burn the trees. They change the entire landscape," Jarrar says.
“They take the soil in these trucks and take it to the settlements. They’re not just stealing land, but soil as well ... they bring invasive trees and species. They don’t just change the demography, they also try to change nature and the land,” he says.
The artist is referring to incidents of topsoil stripping and the transfer of piles of fertile soil from Palestinian villages to Israeli settlements for horticultural use. He also decries the planting of non-native species on Palestinian land, including destroyed villages, resulting in biodiversity loss and what the artist calls “green-washing colonialism”. Reports of water and soil contamination, as well as the restriction of access to safe and clean water to the West Bank and Gaza by the Israeli government, have been cited by human rights groups for years.
Jarrar says that Palestinian youths are responding to this with “agricultural and farming-based activism” as a form of decolonisation, employing permaculture practices long established by their ancestors over centuries. A portion of the proceeds from his NFT sale will be used to plant indigenous seedlings and trees in the farmlands of Kobar.
His second work, State of Palestine Postage Stamp, is a unique NFT edition of his 2012 series, which featured the Palestine sunbird and the phrase "State of Palestine" in English, Arabic and Hebrew. The stamps were later produced and used by countries such as Germany, the Czech Republic, Belgium and Norway.
For the 2021 version, the artist traded in the sunny yellow background of the previous work with a blood-red splatter, and added a glitch, so that pixelated elements now cover the bird's body as it flies over a jasmine flower. The word "annexation" is written at the bottom of the image.
“It reflects what is happening in Palestine ever since the British occupation ... there have been divisions between people since 1947 until now,” he says. “When you go to one place, within years, you will see one house becomes 100 houses by settlers.”
With his entry into the world of NFTs, the artist acknowledges that he is still familiarising himself with the technology and is working closely with the blockchain-focused collective Strc prst skrz krk (SPSK) that minted his works on the Our Zora platform. The works will also be presented at the Crypto and Digital Art Fair in Paris, with the third edition taking place in June.
"I have concerns [about NFTs], but I don't want them to prevent me from my goal and fight for freedom," he says. "Travel is also not easy now ... and that is the good thing about this medium, is that it also will be available online."
He says that his focus continues to be on Palestinian freedom and that his latest project will highlight the political power of boycott and sanctions against Israel. "That's our strongest power as Palestinians. That's our weapon as Palestinians," he says.
"I hope that this project will highlight that we have a responsibility to the Earth, the people living here, to the trees and the water," he says. "What is happening in Palestine are crimes against humanity that is supported by normalisation and the buying of Israeli weapons.
"When it comes to Palestinian rights, we have nobody but ourselves and the people, not governments, who have goodwill.”