By Tasneem Adams (VOCfm news)
“We believe that the bullet that doesn’t kill you, will make you stronger. If you want to be a journalist you have to remember that your camera is your weapon. It’s stronger than a weapon as it tells the truth!”
You’d be woefully mistaken by thinking this is just another sound bite from a seasoned journalist with years of experience in the trenches. Instead, these resolute words are the mantra of 11 year old Janna Jihad, known as Palestine’s youngest journalist.
Despite her childlike innocence and sweet nature, Janna has a steely resolve and a fiery spirit that glows from her blue eyes. After all, this firebrand activist was moulded on the dusty streets of the West Bank.
Janna and four other Palestinian children are in South Africa to recount their experiences as child activists living under the brutality of Israeli Zionist occupation. They form of part of the Shamsaan Kids Tour, a South African born collaborative between young Palestinian human rights activists and various local South African organisations.
This passionate group of activists hope to dispel the notion that Palestinian youth are a threat to Israeli forces and instead highlight their true value as human rights activists and a source of hope, despite them being victims of daily injustices and dehumanisation. The mission is simple: they want to speak their truth.
“We are here to send the message from the Palestine people to South Africans and to tell them the truth. We also want to see and learn about South Africa’s history,” Janna told VOC News in an interview this week.
Life under occupation
Janna lives in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, about 19 kilometres northwest of Ramallah. Since 2009, this village has been a key point of non-violent resistance against the Zionist Occupation, a strategy that analysts say is winning increasing international support.
Palestinian residents have been demonstrating against the theft of a local spring by the nearby illegal Israeli settlement of Halamish, but it’s also part of a continued resistance against the Occupation in general. Israeli occupation forces are usually heavy handed, responding to protesters with tear gas, plastic-coated steel bullets, stun grenades, sometimes live ammunition and physical assaults. The merciless and harsh treatment of children is particularly worrying, and many youth have been arrested.
“In Nabi Saleh, there are checkpoints at the entrance and sometimes they [Israeli soldiers] don’t allow us to go to our schools for days,” she explains.
“I saw my uncle and cousins being killed before my eyes. We always see children being burnt by [Zionist] settlers. We see this daily apartheid and occupation of Palestinian people.”
“They [Zionist occupation] are trying to kill every Palestinian child but this generation might be the generation that could make Palestine free. We are trying to get our land back. We will continue to fight for it!”
Palestinian children live in constant state of fear and are exposed to immense trauma. Many youth have been affected psychologically and physically by a lifetime of violence.
“I am always scared to lose somebody I love. I am always scared to get killed, injured or arrested,” says Janna.
Five decades of occupation have turned military violence into the norm for Palestinian children. Janna says Palestinian children are forced to mature faster than other children.
“When children play, they [Israeli occupation soldiers] throw gas canisters and bullets on us. When we go to the mountain, we can hear everything. They forget that we are children!”
“Palestinian children have no childhood under occupation. Because Palestinian children always see martyrs and blood on the street, they have to fight. By fighting, they get more experience.”
Art therapy is an important tool for assisting traumatized children in conflict. Janna’s poignant artwork has been part of the 2017 Shamsaan Palestinian Children’s Art calendar, which was on display at the Palestine museum in Cape Town earlier this year. Through their artwork, photographic portraits and transcriptions, the project tells the stories of all the Palestinian youth involved in anti-occupation activism. She waxes lyrically about the project.
“I am so happy that there are people in the world that have humanity. It’s a good feeling!”
The power of journalism
Janna is a fearless young journalist, with a strong sense of activism. Her Facebook page includes several videos of her participating in demonstrations along with other children and confronting Israeli soldiers. Her reports are delivered in both Arabic and English and are forging paths of understanding and compassion in international solidarity. Her passion for journalism and story-telling was spurred on when she noticed a lack of journalists covering on the ground in occupied Palestine.
The intrepid reporter documents her stories on her iphone or camera by filming events and conducting live reporting. She then distributes her footage to her millions of followers.
“When my friend Mustafa and my uncle were killed, I decided I had to be a journalist to cover these things. I have to be the voice of Palestinian children who can send their message to the world.”
She also cites media mogul and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey as her inspiration, who she says “followed her dreams”, despite racial segregation and discrimination in the United States.
Janna knows being a journalist in a conflict zone is not easy and she has many fears of being targeted. At a demonstration in Nabi Saleh recently, she recalls being attacked by a Zionist settler.
“The settler started hitting and pushing me, and I couldn’t walk for a few days. Soldiers started to shoot at us with gas canisters and live ammunition. Some were trying to take us. And I was documenting everything. I was so afraid…”
“Of course everyone has a fear, but we have to not let fear control us. We have to control our fears.”
In March 2017, Janna was awarded an International Benevolence Award in Istanbul, Turkey. Her single mother, Nawal Tamimi, is the director of Womens Affairs in the Palestinian Ministry of Development.
She is an activist herself who encouraged her daughter’s participation in peaceful, popular resistance activities and says she is both scared for and proud of her young daughter.
As for her message to South Africans and to the world, Janna is devoted to the struggle for Palestinians and all occupied nations.
“Let’s put our hands together to make this a world of peace, love, equality, and justice. We want people to hear our story so that everyone can tell their friends and they can tell their friends. Then the whole community can know the truth,” she says.
“We want people to read more about what’s happening [in Palestine]. Those crazy people that love war and killing…we want them to go because our planet is for people who love equality and justice.”
Hopes and dreams
Despite being denied their right to freedom and human dignity, Jannah says the occupation will not deny Palestinian children their dreams. Janna remains fixed on two main goals; to see the realization of freedom for the Palestinian people and to promote a more equitable and just society. But like other children, she also has huge aspirations that hint at her greater emotional strength and resilience.
“When I become a journalist, of course Palestine will be free. But not all of the world will be free, so I will document the suffering of other children and help them,” she says with conviction.
“Secondly, I also want to become a football player so I can raise the name of Palestine and tell the whole world we can follow our dreams despite the occupation.
“Lastly, I want to become a fashion designer, to design more traditional Palestinian dresses and make it the new fashion. The occupation controls everything, but doesn’t control our dreams.”