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Palestinian passport art cries freedom

By Atika Shubert and Kareem Khadder, CNN
The 'stamp' has a Palestine sun bird surrounded by flowers and the words "State of Palestine" in English and Arabic.
The 'stamp' has a Palestine sun bird surrounded by flowers and the words "State of Palestine" in English and Arabic.
  • Artist Khaled Jarrar has designed a "State of Palestine" passport stamp
  • As part of art-meets-politics project he offers to stamp international visitors' passports
  • His offer is met with mixed responses from visitors to the West Bank
  • Palestinian-American gets stamp on U.S. passport page featuring the Statue of Liberty

Ramallah, West Bank (CNN) -- When you pass through a country's borders, what does it mean to have immigration issue that authoritative stamp in your passport?

For Palestinian artist, Khaled Jarrar, it means a great deal because his country does not exist as a nation state.

Jarrar lives in the West Bank, whose borders are controlled by Israel. For him to travel out of the West Bank, he needs Israeli permission.

Overseas friends that came to visit him complained of being pulled aside by Israeli immigration authorities for intensive questioning on whether they would go to the West Bank.

That got Jarrar thinking: What if he were to create his own "State of Palestine" stamp for foreign visitors?

Artist's Palestinian passport stamp

He said: "In the beginning, I was not expecting to stamp one passport. When I start with the first one I had really such a nice feeling. I proved that I can express myself by art. We can deliver a very strong political message about our life -- that nobody can deny our existence as a Palestinian."

The stamp he created features a Palestine Sunbird surrounded by flowers and encircled with the words State of Palestine in English and Arabic. It is purely symbolic and has no authority but it has become an evolving art project.

On Wednesday, Jarrar waited at Ramallah bus station in the West Bank and approached visitors with his stamp in hand. His plan: To see how many would accept a State of Palestine stamp in their passport and then chart their journey when they leave through Israeli immigration.

For each visitor that agrees, Jarrar takes a photo of them with passport in hand then scribbles down their email address in his notebook so he can maintain contact when they leave.

He approached a Palestinian-American family whose reactions were mixed. The mother didn't want the stamp in her passport for fear of harassment by Israeli authorities. Her teenage son loudly disagreed. The father, Fouad Khoury, smiled as he opened up his U.S. passport to the page featuring the Statue of Liberty.

We can deliver a very strong political message about our life -- that nobody can deny our existence as a Palestinian
--Khaled Jarrar, artist
  • West Bank
  • Israel
  • Visual Arts

"Freedom!" he exclaimed as Jarrar obligingly stamped the page and took his photo. Khoury said: "I feel good about it. I feel Palestinians should be free and we should have a free Palestinian state."

So far, Jarrar has stamped more than 40 passports. His Facebook page Live and Work in Palestine showcases some of these photos.

But not everyone wants a State of Palestine stamp so prominently displayed in their passports.

A Canadian visitor politely declined his passport but offered up his arm instead. Jarrar gladly put a stamp on it.

"I like the symbol," said Stefan from Montreal. "I was a bit scared to have it stamped on my passport but I'm happy to have it on my arm."

An American visitor sporting sunglasses flat out refused, using some colorful language. Jarrar nodded sympathetically.

Jarrar says: "I don't want to push anybody. I just want to tell people it's their duty to do this. It's kind of volunteering, but it's risky a little bit. It shouldn't be. But it is. I think Israel has no right to make trouble for these people. Because it's not their passports, it's not their government. It's just a political statement about our right as a Palestinian to express our existence."

Jarrar's project is small but growing. He's now printing T-shirts with the State of Palestine logo. He has also recruited a handful of "ambassadors" overseas to stamp passports of would-be visitors to the Palestinian territories.

While Jarrar's project is wishful thinking for now, it's not too far fetched. The Palestinian Authority is pressing ahead with plans for a U.N. vote to recognize the independent state of Palestine in September.

The timing of Jarrar's project prompted one American visitor to open his passport to the page featuring the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

"It's definitely different. It's one of the nicer stamps I've gotten lately," the visitor said. On the upcoming U.N. vote, he added: "I don't know how that will go. I don't know what result will come of it. But it's nice to have this as a souvenir anyway."