It was the middle of the night when Taqi Spateen grabbed his carton of spray paint and set out for the Israeli Separation Wall on the northern end of the city of Bethlehem, in the southern occupied West Bank.
After days of watching protests and marches swell in the US over the police killing of George Floyd, the Bethlehem-based artist was struck with inspiration, and a sudden sense of urgency.
Under the close watch of Israeli soldiers stationed at the nearby military tower, Spateen hastily began painting a mural of Floyd. When he was finished two hours later, he packed up his things and went home.
In the days since Spateen painted the mural of Floyd, which now sits next to the larger than life mural of Palestinian teen activist Ahed Tamimi and slain medic Razan al-Najjar, photos of the painting have gone viral on social media, even featuring on CNN’s Instagram account.
When asked what he thought about the reception of his mural, Spateen told Mondoweiss he had no idea it had even blown up in the way it did. When we showed him the post on CNN’s Instagram page, he was shocked.
“The most important thing is that the people know this mural is a gift from Palestine,” Spateen said. “That’s all that matters.”
Spateen is a well known painter and graffiti artist in Palestine, with a number of murals strewn across the length of Israel’s Separation wall.
Walking along the length of the wall in Bethlehem, Spateen’s name can be seen in a handful of murals, scribbled in the corner of all of his paintings — all except for one.
“I made a conscious effort not to sign my name at the bottom of that mural,” he said. “I didn’t want it to be about me, because it’s not about me.”
Spateen told Mondoweiss that he was initially hesitant to even conduct this interview, saying he didn’t want to deter from the real issue.
“I want everyone who walks by this wall now to see this mural of George Floyd, and remember him and honor him,” he said. “I want the people in America who see this mural to know that we in Palestine are standing with them, because we know what it’s like to be strangled every day.”
For Spateen, it was important to paint the mural of Floyd on the Separation Wall for one major reason. “George Floyd was killed because they practically strangled him, and cut off his breathing,” Spateen said. “And every day, this wall strangles us and makes it hard for us to breathe.”
“We must remember that George Floyd didn’t die due to a lack of oxygen. He died because of a lack of justice.”
Following our interview with Spateen, he grabbed his paint brush and ladder and began working on his largest mural on the wall to date: another mural of George Floyd.
More than five hours later, the mural, spanning the entire height of the 25-foot tall wall, was completed. Next to George Floyd’s face, Spateen painted the words: “I can’t breathe. I want justice, not O2.”