Palestinian girl rises to fame as amateur reporter
Nabi Saleh, West Bank - When Jana Jihad cut the cake on her ninth birthday on April 10th, she made a wish to “see Neymar,” the Brazilian football star who plays for Spanish club FC Barcelona.
The wish was as far-fetched as the complexities in the life of the third-grader.
Dubbed the youngest amateur journalist in the Palestinian territories, Jana hopes to tell her story from the viewpoint of a Palestinian child: From Israeli tear-gas to stun grenades, night raids and even losing friends, Jana’s childhood is often interrupted with dramatic events in the village of Nabi Saleh, north of the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Home for 600 residents, Nabi Saleh is the site of weekly demonstrations against the Israeli occupation. Every Friday for five years villagers have protested the occupation that is manifested by a Jewish settlement built on the villagers’ lands.
The Israeli army, often present in a military watchtower at the entrance of the village, shuts the village’s entrance with a large metal bar. Tensions rise as local protesters and international peace activists hoist Palestinian flags and head towards the closed gate. The army often tries to disperse the protesters with tear gas, foul-smelling water, stun grenades and even live ammunition. Two young men have been killed in the demonstrations.
Whereas journalists are present for the demonstrations, Jana says she feels the media don’t show all injustices happening in her village. As soon as she hits the record button on her mother’s mobile phone, Jihad pans the camera while describing the atmosphere around her.
One to two minutes later, Jana switches the camera to show her face and signs off the report with her name like a professional.
“I want the world to know that we are not terrorists and to expose the army’s violence against us,” she told The Arab Weekly in an interview at her home.
Her videos, in which she talks about the plight of Palestinians as seen through a child’s eye, have gone viral on social media.
Her mother, Nawal Tamimi, said her daughter was traumatised after a young man in the village was shot dead by the Israeli army. “He was older than her but used to always be friendly and nice to her so that she became attached to him. When she saw his blood on the ground, she became frantic,” Tamimi said.
Her then-6-year-old daughter approached Israeli soldiers asking them, in English, why they killed her friend. “I miss him,” she shouted on a video, which is also popular on social media.
Going down a long staircase to Jana’s house, it is hard not to see the tension. Used tear-gas canisters with flowers in them hang on metal bars as a decoration resembling the peaceful resistance the village supports. The house’s windows are covered with wire fencing to prevent gas bombs from entering.
The young girl told The Arab Weekly she used to jot down her feelings in a locked journal every night but then decided to turn to documenting her activities and emotions on video. She carried her mobile camera to Jerusalem and Ramallah talking about freedom of prayers, arrests, suppression of protests and Jewish settlements.
Jana is often seen leading demonstrations. Carrying the Palestinian flag and chanting anti-occupation slogans, protesters repeat after her in Arabic and English.
In her videos, she says Israeli attempts to suppress the protest will not dissuade people, but will inspire them to fight for liberation. “If we stop protesting, they will take the rest of the lands,” she explained.
However, Jana’s mother says the girl is sometimes afraid, “I don’t push her one way or the other. She’s free to decide if she wants to participate in the protest,” Tamimi told The Arab Weekly.
Getting ready for the Friday protest, Jana wrapped a black and white keffiyeh around her neck to cover her nose from a faint-causing gas as her mother asked her about her plans, “I don’t know, we’ll see,” she replied.
Bassem Tamimi, a leader of the popular resistance movement in Nabi Saleh and a distant relative of Jana’s, said his group was subject to criticism for allowing children to protest. He told The Arab Weekly that there is no safe place for children in the village in the first place.
“A tear-gas canister broke my daughter’s arm while she was sitting at home. We care more about our children than anybody else,” he said.
Instead of teaching children how to hide from their problems, he said, they should learn to confront them.
Living in a conflict zone, Palestinian children have been subject to detention, collective punishment and human rights organisations accuse Israel of violating children’s rights, particularly the right to live.
Ayed Abu Eqtaish, accountability programme director at the non-governmental organisation, Defence for Children International-Palestine (DCIP), told The Arab Weekly that 2014 was the most difficult year for Palestinian children.
DCIP documented the death of 560 Palestinian children in 2014, including 547 in Gaza in the 50-day war between Israel and the militant parties last June. Eqtaish accused Israel of violating concepts of proportionality and distinction by targeting civilians in militant areas and locations protected under international law, such as schools, hospitals and shelters.
In the West Bank, Eqtaish said 11 children were killed by Israeli army gunfire. “Investigation was not requested to be open, except for one case that was pushed by media footage and the sentence didn’t match the crime,” he added.
Hundreds of Palestinian children are subject to detention and solitary confinement as well as physical and psychological violence. Eqtaish said 700 children were put on trial in Israeli military courts in 2014.
“Israel is the only state to prosecute children in military courts that lack basic standards of due process,” he added. Three-quarters of 107 children who were arrested said they were subject to physical violence when interviewed in 2014
Back in Nabi Saleh, Jana did not march with protesters on that Friday and was spotted wandering in nearby fields.
No report was made that day. Jana did not give any explanation why she was off.
“She’s only a child,” her mother said.