JERUSALEM, September 3, 2009 -- After an outcry, the sponsors of an art exhibit in Tel Aviv, Israel, have decided to remove several controversial paintings that portray Palestinian female suicide bombers as the Virgin Mary.
The art exhibition opened Thursday at the headquarters of the Tel Aviv Journalists' Association. Yossi Bar-Moha, the secretary general of the group, says they decided to pull the paintings after families of victims expressed outrage and a majority of members in an informal poll said they were in favor of removing the art.
"On a personal level, the paintings bother me," Bar-Moha told Israel's Yediot Aharanot newspaper Thursday. "If I weigh freedom of expression against the outcry of the bereaved families, I prefer the terror victims," he said.
The exhibition is called Ferror – short for "female terrorism" – and features seven paintings of female Palestinian suicide bombers, each depicted as the Madonna holding the baby Jesus.
"The main problem was that the artist didn't tell us what the exhibition was about beforehand and simply presented it as an exhibition of pictures," Bar-Moha told the Israeli Web site haaretz.com.
Other related artworks in the show will remain on display, the association said.
Israeli organizations representing victims of suicide attacks have protested the paintings and are demanding that they be removed. They have been joined by politicians quick to condemn the art works.
Galina Bleich, one of the artists, was unapologetic. "I don't understand how this turned into an insult to bereaved families. We came actually to emphasize the exact opposite. The baby in Madonna's hands is in danger. This really needs to disturb people. It's not just an Israeli problem but a global one," she told the newspaper.
By each picture a small card explains what each suicide bomber did and how many Israeli victims her attack claimed:
One caption read:
"29 march 2002: An 18 yr old woman from Bethlehem. Engaged to a terrorist, presumed pregnant. By blowing herself up she murdered 2 and injured 28 at the supermarket in Kiryat Yovel in Jerusalem."
Although it has been several years since the scourge of suicide bombings plagued the streets of Israeli cities, the psychological after-effects are still keenly felt in Israeli society.
Paintings Depicting Palestinian Suicide Bombers as the Virgin Mary Removed
The row is another stark example of the difficult balance between freedom of expression and the sensitivities of the victims of violence in this war-torn part of the world.