At the intersection of art, culture, history and conflict, Palestinian Artist Yacoub "Jason" bin Khaled Al Ghussein’s 50 foot tall mural, "Welcome To Jaffa" depicts the famed "Jaffa Oranges" of his family's groves, in the Palestinian countryside of Wadi Hunein, which were once harvested and exported from the Port of Jaffa, and shipped across the Mediterranean Sea to cities and countries all throughout Europe.
His work provides valuable social commentary and perspective on today's geo-political and social issues and explores the beauty and culture amid the war, conflict, displacement and dispossession of the Palestinian people.
Born in Southern California to an American mother who had a traditional mid-western American upbringing in the Cincinnati, Ohio area, Jason's father was a Palestinian refugee from the Palestinian/Israeli war of 1948.
Jason grew up on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii and had unique upbringing consisting of a fusion of cultural influences between the Polynesian, Western and Arab worlds, traveling between Honolulu, Hawaii where his mother lived, and flying across oceans and continents to visit his father, Khaled, who resided in Cairo, Egypt.
The grief of his father's passing on Jason's 21st birthday prompted him to learn more deeply the tale of his father's childhood – being born into a politically influential and prominent landowning Palestinian family, who became homeless refugees amid the war and conflict, in what is known in Palestinian history as the "Nakba" or "Catastrophe" in Arabic.
Jason's grandfather, Yacoub Al Ghussein, was one of the Palestinian leaders exiled by the British Government to the Seychelles Islands during Arab revolt of 1936, and was one of the members of the Palestinian delegation to the London confrence of 1939, and was the last democratically elected Palestinian Governor of the city of Ramleh, before the 1948 Palestinian expulsion of Ramleh and Lydda Death March.
As I was brainstorming ideas and searching for inspiration of what to paint the mural of, I remembered the tales that my father, Khaled, would tell me about his childhood, and the orange groves in Palestine that my family owned before the Nakba. My father would tell me of the sweet scent of the orange blossoms wafting though their countryside home, and also how my grandfather would toss a handful of loose change into the groves to keep my father and his 10 brothers and sisters distracted and searching for the coins while my grandfather would try to get some work done.
These childhood stories of my father, his siblings and the orange groves my family once owned, were always a common and uniting element of my family as they became uprooted and scattered about the world in the Palestinian diaspora.
So I settled on painting a mural of the famed Jaffa oranges of my families groves in Wadi Hunein, and named the work, "Welcome to Jaffa."
The title "Welcome to Jaffa" is meant to be an extension of the salient tradition of Arab hospitality, and an invitation to all those who sought refuge and safety in Palestine in the wake of WWII, as well as an invitation for others to dig deeper and learn of the history, traditions, and culture of the Palestinian people, beyond the war and conflict.
Jason's mural is dedicated to his late father, Khaled Al Ghussein, and his late friend, Herbie Bass, who was a Jewish-American WWII veteran who served in the 104 Timberwolf infantry which liberated the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp from the German military rule during the Nazi Holocaust.
Herbie and Jason became good friends after Jason's mother met Herbie in an assisted living facility in Cincinnati, and invited Jason for lunch. Herbie was also seated at the table, and the two hit it off immediately. Herbie and Jason began having regular get-togethers for a traditional Cincinnati lunch of a Skyline chili three-way and discussions of history, politics, art, and culture.
Herbie encouraged Jason to speak out on behalf of the Palestinian people who live under conditions described as “Apartheid” by leading international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Herbie and Jason had one last Skyline dinner together on the evening before Herbie passed away.
When Herbie passed away, Jason was by his bedside, and played Herbie a video of his son, Dave’s Jazz music, and waited for his Daughter Bryna to arrive.
The Mural, "Welcome to Jaffa" is painted on a building just down the street from the Rothenburg Elementary school, where Herbie’s daughter, Bryna, was the head of the Rooftop Garden program and is now an intervention specialist, teaching in a multiple disability classroom.
To this day, Jason has hung onto the paper Skyline bag from their last meal together, as a memento of their friendship.