Palestinian youth frame social problems through the camera’s lens
occupied Palestinian territory, 5 April 2012 - - Sixteen-year-old Malath Jaradat stands next to a photograph he took that is on display at Mahata Gallery in Ramallah.
“The subject should always evoke feelings,” he explains, describing why he chose the angle and scene for this shot. The photo shows two Palestinian men walking away, their backs facing the camera, from an overflowing trash bin and garbage strewn on the ground in Taanaq village, near Jenin.
“I live in this area and when I see this, it makes me sad. This is a beautiful village and could be a site for tourism,” he says. “If it bothers me, what about those who come from outside?”
Jaradat’s photo was one of 65 images chosen to be featured in three gallery shows in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. The images were taken as part of the Young Researchers project, supported by UNICEF in partnership with Al Nayzak Organization for Supportive Education and Scientific Innovation and funded by the German National Committee for UNICEF.
In the photography component of the Young Researchers’ project underway since 2006, 326 students were trained to use the camera to illustrate research projects completed by them and other young people. The subjects explored included environmental problems, local manufacturing and child labour, among other issues.
“Besides the technical aspects of taking a picture, we tried to focus on how they can use photography to tell a story,” says trainer and photographer Ahmad Daghlas. “When we started to photograph, they began to see how photography can be an even more powerful medium [than words].”
Ikhlas Nasser, 16, had five of her photographs chosen for the Ramallah show.
One of her favourite images is a photo of a boy cutting a plate of sweets for sale in a northern West Bank market.
“I asked him why he is working here,” she recalls, “and he said that his parents are divorced and he is doing this to help his mother pay the bills. I asked myself, ‘Here we are able to study and do research – why should they have to live like this?’”
Nasser said the photography training taught her to focus on the subject that she wanted to feature and make sure that there weren’t other children or people in the scene to distract from the image.
She hoped that those who saw the picture would put themselves in the shoes of this family and do something to help what she says are 35,000 children in the Palestinian labour market.
‘HOW WE SOLVE OUR PROBLEMS’
In Gaza, Ahmad Dhaher, 17, also photographed a group of seven or eight children at work, listening as he took pictures to their stories of why they had dropped out of school to support their families. He said that the project gave him a way to change the problems he sees around him.
Dhaher lives in the southern Gaza Strip area of Fukhari, an impoverished area where health and welfare are affected by open pools of sewage. The development of proper sanitation in Gaza has been stalled due to the nearly five-year-long Israeli blockade that prevents the import of cement and other building materials.
“We learned that we have a role in society, that there are people that we need to help in their lives,” Dhaher said of his participation in the Young Researchers.
Sometimes the young people in Gaza said they faced opposition from those who did not want to be photographed or did not want unpleasant scenes recorded on camera.
Asma Shamiya, 17, said that she felt she and other girls in the project had a harder time taking photographs and that it was less socially acceptable for them to be behind the camera than for the boys. To solve this problem, she said she visited sites more than once.
But when Asma was asked if she would participate again in a similar initiative despite the challenges, she gave a resounding “yes”.