Why did the Tel Aviv Municipality remove a beloved mural commemorating Yitzhak Rabin’s murder?

A municipality worker erasing Yigal Shtayim's mural

It is the eve of Israel’s Memorial Day. This evening, and tomorrow, Israelis mourn fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism.  On Thursday, Israel will celebrate its 70th “birthday” with a particularly celebratory Independence Day. But it seems like there are some things someone in Tel Aviv’s Municipality would rather forget. A famous mural depicting Yitzhak Rabin’s murder, considered a key element of Florentin’s street art scene, was inexplicably painted over by a municipality worker this morning.

A piece of history

Yigal Shtayim, the man behind the painting, is a popular local artist and political activist. He painted the mural 22 years ago, a few months after Rabin was murdered.

“A production company was making a TV show about Florentin and I was commissioned to paint a mural in that location,” he explains. “This was done with the full knowledge of the municipality and by invitation. I was given free reign in terms of subject matter, and this is what I chose. The location was actually chosen by them, to cover an old piece that had faded.”

Since then, the mural has been a beloved feature of the neighbourhood’s street art landscape and a popular stop on graffiti and cultural tours, including, presumably, those run by the municipality.  “Every single graffiti tour goes through there,” says Shtayim. “It’s not even about me anymore. This mural belongs to the public and was taken away from the public.”

Erasing the Past

Shtayim's original mural, with the art piece designed to cover it
Shtayim’s original mural, with the art piece designed to cover it

Shtayim was surprised to receive a barrage of messages from friends and fans yesterday, letting him know that a worker had come and covered his mural with a different art piece.  At that point, it seemed like this was a temporary measure – the new piece was painted on a board, designs to fit exactly over Shyatim’s mural, which is part of a bigger graffiti wall. The rest of the wall was not covered.

Florentin residents were outraged and immediately took to social media (and more traditional forms of contact) to complain to the municipality about this move. The offending painting was promptly removed, with the municipality claiming the mural had been covered “in error”. So far so good, until this morning, when a different worker appeared and painted over the mural completely, ruining it forever.

“They got so many complaints, that they have now tried to remove the new paint with water pressure,” Shtayim explains, “but they don’t know what they’re doing. The mural is ruined forever now. The only way to fix it is to paint it again from scratch.”

A Comedy of Errors

A council worker in a failed attempt to undo the damage
A council worker in a failed attempt to undo the damage

The official line from the Tel Aviv municipality is that the mural was erased in error. But it seems like there is some disconnect between different departments and a lack of agreement about what should be done. Although Shtayim has received the official response, he’s still left wondering: who is responsible for deciding to erase the mural after 22 years and why? Was the mural removed because of political reasons? Rabin was murdered by a Jewish Israeli terrorist opposed to a peace process, after all. Maybe someone over there in the municipality office doesn’t like to be reminded of Jewish terrorism on the eve of Israel’s 70th Independence Day? Another option is that  the mural (which was, to be honest, a bit faded after 22 years) could have been deemed unattractive and in need of updating to make the city look “nicer”. If so, why wasn’t the artist consulted and invite to fix it? It seems the municipality has since bowed to local pressure and has gotten in touch with Shtayim so he can repaint the mural. Unfortunately, we’ll probably never know who gave the order to erase in the first place it and why.

DIY Tel Aviv has contacted the Tel Aviv municipality and this is the official response:

“Painting over the mural was done in error and we are sorry. Once the error was discovered, work was stopped and the new coat of paint was removed. In addition, the artist, Yigal Shtayim, has been contacted and has expressed willingness to repaint the mural.  He has passed us a list of necessary materials, which will be supplied on either Sunday or Monday. The mural will then be restored with full city support.”