The Beauty of Palestine in the Midst of Adversity

10399930_10207287576040650_2724086413947299816_nThere is so much beauty in Palestine; in the land, historical sites, the people and their lives. (picture of Bil’in)

What I find incredibly inspiring and deeply moving about the Palestinian people is their level of resilience and love of life, family, culture and rich heritage.  Most of all the people still smile, still laugh, even when there is much sorrow, challenge and adversity.  I believe this is just a few of the reasons why I am so drawn to Palestine and the Palestinian people.  I can relate to their lives on deeply, personal levels.

In communicating and speaking with more Palestinian people within Palestine, I am constantly humbled, impressed and in awe of their inner strengths, positive attitudes, hopes and ambitions for their futures.  Even in the most dire of circumstances, they find within themselves a joy for life, eager to talk with me and share their lives with me.

12391873_10207140420841862_6367682972143767518_nThere are many losses daily in Palestine; loss of land, homes, and lives.  The struggle never ends and the uncertainties are forever present, and yet the Palestinian people stand strong, with great dignity and humility, genuine grace and integrity.  They are a proud yet humble people, examples for the world to take note and follow.

I think the wisest comment I have heard is from my project partner, Haitham Khatib, when talking about resistance to oppression and the fight for freedom.  Haitham said to me, “the best way to fight is to stay alive to fight”, this comment is more profound than it seems on the surface.  It is easy to fight an enemy or government with force, but it is quite another to fight with intelligence, strength, honor and grace.  Some may think that unless you physically fight, you cannot fight strong, but I believe the best way to fight is choosing not to engage on the level of your oppressor, but instead by example.  Setting the example that life is worth something, that national pride runs deep with roots so deep that no bulldozer or bomb can uproot.

12592683_10207380116034092_8130824517245051477_nJust like the beautiful, ancient olive trees that blanket Palestine, nourishing her people and being a living reminder of strength and beauty, the Palestinian people strive to continue to live, grow and hold hope for their future, for a free Palestine.

This beautiful tree sits on Haitham’s land in Bil’in and Haitham describes her best “This old and elegant olive tree sits patiently and proudly on my family land. She gives us fruit faithfully and I admire and look after her. I will always cherish and protect this beautiful tree…for she holds the memories of my family’s past, is a witness to our present, and gives us strength and hope for the future!”

I cannot begin to explain how much I have and continue to learn from Haitham, not only about the history, culture and heritage of Palestine, but a wisdom he has and continues to impart that most surely has changed my life.

11406852_503481033141428_2842954878522085789_nMy other partner on this project is Fadi Thabet; like Haitham, Fadi is also a gifted photographer and what Fadi does not say in words, he speaks volumes through his amazing photography.

Through the lenses of both of these brave, strong and persevering men, we can glimpse into the lives of the Palestinians living in the West Bank and in Gaza.

Social Media is such an amazing tool, and an equally powerful weapon.  It draws the world closer together.  What I have found so amazing, is that Haitham and Fadi are good friends, but have never actually met face-to-face because of the restrictions imposed on Palestinian people by the Israeli government.  Haitham lives in the West Bank and Fadi lives in Gaza, but they both share the same passion and the same hopes.  Both showing the world the truth about Palestine and her people through their photography and videos.  I am so honored and feel so privileged to know and work with these two men.

The written word is also powerful and most effective when it reaches into the hearts and minds of the reader, provoking thought, emotion and question.  It is our hope that my writing and Haitham’s and Fadi’s photography, the message we bring about Palestine, the Palestinian people and the truth about their lives under occupation will bring greater awareness and spark positive change for a free Palestine.

12647068_590645524424978_4682047169581463836_nGaza is one of the most drastically affected areas of Palestine, but home to some of the most beautiful Palestinian people, some I have begun to get to know.

The children here in one of Fadi’s photos smile, and exude strength, embody everything that is Palestine.  To the outside world, this photo may seem playful and innocent.  What is underlying this innocence is the fact that these children are standing around an outdoor fire, not because they are camping like many of us in the west do, nor are they playing.  They are trying desperately to keep warm because Gaza is under continuous siege by Israel, a lot of the people in Gaza are living in under inhumane conditions, with tremendous shortages of heating fuel and gas to cook, they are forced to build fires to keep from freezing.

12359979_580168558806008_6629681144378964015_nIn the face of this adversity, of these daily struggles, the children still smile and a smile is worth a thousand words.

This inner strength is born from generations of Palestinians who have throughout history been a people who overcome great odds, and when all seems destroyed and where others would give up, the Palestinians remain forever strong, beautiful, dignified and hopeful for their future and the future of a free Palestine.

Palestinian Strong – Palestinian Proud

1359_990710824319345_5007116844199080076_nWhen I started this project, my book “Faces of Palestine” two months ago, all the knowledge I had about Palestine was from history, documentaries, news stories over the years and books written about Palestine.  Through all of this, I realized something was missing, the voice of Palestine from the people first hand, from their mouths, from their families, their individual histories and experiences, their perceptions of the world around them and the world that is Palestine under occupation and oppression.

It is not my intention to write my book about the complexities of politics, or the complexities of religion.  My intention is write about the humanity of Palestine, the Palestinian people who are and remain forever strong and proud.  About their losses, tragedies, and great triumphs in the face of adversities unimaginable. Rich in centuries of culture and heritage, uniquely their own, traditions and values that are passed down from one generation to the next.

Over the last two months, I have met and have the distinct pleasure of now knowing many Palestinians that live within Palestine and some who live throughout the world, but whose hearts and roots remain forever in Palestine.

1888612_10202934194408830_6174820751435918259_nMy closest partner on this project and dear friend, Haitham Khatib, has and continues to spend countless hours with me, teaching me more about the Palestinian people, their cause, their lives, what they feel, think and experience.  Haitham has and continues to teach me more than I have learned in my lifetime about Palestine.

I am also learning from others more about the beautiful lives of the Palestinians, the ones the news and mainstream media never shows, and rarely talks about, if they acknowledge at all.

The last two months and ongoing, serve to validate why I am doing this, why I am writing this book, their stories, showing their faces, giving voice to their truth – and I am more encouraged, dedicated and determined to see this project through, to see it a success.

I have actually been asked quite a lot recently a question by people reading this site, my articles and my posts on social media – “are you Palestinian? you must be, because you have the heart and courage of a Palestinian”, I take this question and comment as a distinguished compliment, one that I am honored by.  My answer has now become, in all sincerity, “my heart and soul are Palestinian most surely”.

Someone said to me recently, “Maria what you are doing is remarkable and good, and greatly appreciated by the Palestinian people, but please don’t be disappointed if your efforts do not bring about big and drastic change for Palestine, because the machine of what works against Palestinian freedom is huge”.

My response was one of great determination and I explained I have no delusions or unrealistic expectations about what my book will accomplish.  Then, reverting to my inner poet, I used the following analogy… I am one person, but one person can bring about change in lasting ways; when you look at a still pond of water, where nothing breaks the surface tension of that water, and you pick up stone, throwing it to the center of the still water; what happens is the surface tension of the perfectly still water is now forever changed, never to revert to exactly as it was before the stone fell.  Once the stone has landed and sunk deep to the bottom, what remains are hundreds of ripples that spread and grow, bringing change forever to the water and the land it touches.

12494996_10153888178442533_2887465968704746376_nThis is what I hope to achieve with this book.  To be the stone thrown into the still water of the pond.  To provoke the reader, to draw the reader into the real lives of the Palestinian people.  To invoke a need to seek the truth, the need to take a stand with the humanity of the Palestinian people, to create a compelling hunger in the reader that they may begin to question their own knowledge of Palestine, their own perceptions and misconceptions about Palestine.

Even if my book only affects a handful of readers in these ways, this project, this book will be a success and be the ripples of the pond that bring positive change for Palestine and the Palestinian people.

For me, this book is only the beginning of what will be a lifetime of ongoing support, advocacy, and activism for Palestine and the Palestinian people, to bring awareness to the world and be a voice, one of many, speaking for Palestine; for a free Palestine.

Risking Life to Show the Truth

12507178_933135893443899_6676129013396426122_nMany photographers and photojournalists in Palestine risk their lives everyday to document and show the world the truth of what is happening daily in Palestine, living under threat and occupation.

I have the absolute utmost respect for these men, some of whom I have the great honor and pleasure to know personally.

A picture is said to speak louder than words, and this could not be more true of the photographers and photojournalists living and working in Palestine.

Many have lost their lives and others have been gravely injured in the line of duty.  Forever present in some of the worst war zones, conflict zones, and displacement camps.  From the photos showing the beautiful side of Palestine and her people, to the harsh realities of life under occupation.

I write this article in remembrance of those who gave their lives to show the world the real faces of Palestine, the real, barbaric and traumatic events of life in Palestine under occupation and apartheid.

I write this article also to express my gratitude and respect to those photographers and photojournalists that continue to remain strong, striving for the world to know and see the real life of Palestinians, the good, the culture, the heritage, the people, and the vast contrast of all of this against a backdrop of bloodshed, martyrs, ongoing conflict and threat.

In this age of social media, digital photography and video, the world will continue to see the truth, to see the real Palestine.  Through the work of these brave men, it is their hope and my hope that you, the viewer, will be provoked to question mainstream media, your governments, and seek the truth for yourself about the real faces of Palestine.

 

Nights of Terror in Bil’in Palestine

sound bombs market incident.gifFour hours ago in the Palestinian Village of Bil’in, Israeli Defense Force Soldiers stormed through the streets of Bil’in in the dead of night while mothers, fathers, grandparents and children tried to sleep.

The entire village was awoken to the sounds of explosions.  Terrified, mothers, grandparents and children hid in their homes as the men of the village went out to see what danger there was, to see and try to understand what was happening.

They were met with the sights of Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Soldiers throwing and setting off sound bombs in the streets, in front of homes, for no other reason than to terrorize and intimidate the Palestinian people who slept.

These soldiers and their actions are nothing more than cowardliness at its finest and I say this sarcastically and with rage.  As they set off the bombs, they all ran to their trucks like cowards and drove off into the night.

The men of Bil’in rarely sleep at night, and when they do, it is never more than a few short hours.  Living in a constant state of heightened traumatic stress levels, leave them no choice.  Their families cannot sleep safely without the men remaining awake to keep watch, to protect them to the best of their abilities against acts of barbaric terrorism at the hands of IDF Soldiers.

276This is sadly a regular event in Bil’in and surrounding villages.  Often, IDF Soldiers indiscriminately storm Palestinian homes in the dead of night with no other reason than to intimidate, make their presence forever known, leaving the homes ransacked, and families terrorized.  There is no morality or humanitarian concern extended by IDF Soldiers, they have the free reign to conduct themselves at will under the guise of security checks.

In this video you will see my partner, Haitham Khatib, with camera, stepping out into the streets of Bil’in during one of these night terror activities.  You will hear Haitham’s voice greet the soldiers repeatedly with the word “Salaam”, it is Arabic for “the Peace”, this greeting is met with IDF Soldiers throwing sound bombs at Haitham.

 

 

Palestine…In Your Eyes I see

1282231687-the-secrets-behind-the-palestinian-flag-_414349Palestine…  In your eyes I see the beauty of Palestine looking back at me

In your voice I hear the roar of generations subjected to war

Beaten but not broken, tortured and outspoken

Strong and with dignity, you stand on what is rightfully your land

Martyrs held in mothers’ arms

Wrapped in flags of national pride

Israel may control, but Israel cannot hide

Together with Palestine’s mothers I have cried

My hand upon my chest and its Palestine’s heart I feel beating

Dreams will give way to realty and face-to-face we will be meeting

Demonstrations and protests

Until freedom is won, Palestine’s mind never rests

Taking a stand for what is right in the face of what is wrong

In my mind I hear the call of Palestine’s National song, Fida’i!

Living under the same skies, under the same sun,

Together we stand as one!

 

Translation of Lyrics

Palestine ~ Life in Constant Contrast

Life in Palestine is one of constant contrast between normal day-to-day things and conflict between resistance and Occupation Apartheid.  Both circumstances speak to the strength and resiliency of the Palestinian people.

12570873_951774111580541_1844476624_nThough there is no escaping the reality of life under Occupation Apartheid.  The efforts and fight to live a normal life is an inherent objective of every Palestinian.

Conflict in Palestine has become as routine as breathing.  But unlike breathing of our own free will, it is like breathing through a respirator, breaths we wish to take on own taken but instead with the aid of a machine and the machine is resistance.  Last Friday, January 16, 2016, these photos, taken by photo journalist, Ahmad Hasaballah in Gaza, of strong, young and determined Palestinian men, wanting only peace, wanting the same life and future we all want and some are lucky to have, were taken during a protest against Occupation Apartheid along the border of the Gaza Strip, Nahal Oz.

12576185_951774238247195_1253790341_n

When the outside world see these images in mainstream western media, they assume that the Palestinian youth are the aggressors; but such is mainstream, western media.  These young men cannot protest, in the most peaceful ways without being bombarded by occupation forces who shoot live rounds of ammunition, and launch gases, each with the intention of indiscriminate harm and is some cases death.  In an effort to counter affect these brutal attacks, Palestinian youth light fires to rubber, in the hope the smoke will shield them from attack.

12576249_951774181580534_1290131458_nArmed with nothing more than stones, they continue to protest, to demonstrate, in the hopes that the world take notice, not forget them, not forget that they live in the world’s largest open air prison, imposed by occupation apartheid.

It is scenes like this that occur all over Palestine daily.  The heartbeat of Palestine beats forever strong.  The hope and fight for freedom is undying.  What the Zionist Occupation Government strives to break in spirit, serves only to strengthen the resistance and continued resistance is how freedom is won.

1486702_10207231457037710_4323727660591484658_nResistance comes in many forms, determination, passion, and desire for freedom is humanity’s greatest desire and hope.

Here in the beautiful village of Bil’in, just outside of the city of Ramallah, my partner, Haitham Khatib plants young olive trees on his land.  The trees themselves are a testament to the strength and resiliency of the Palestinian spirit.  And like the green branches of these beautiful and fruitful trees, they bend, yet not break, only grow stronger, day by day, just as every Palestinian child, adolescent and adult does.

12400849_10207312459542722_3699667204299069361_n 12508948_10207312456702651_2758681669371870625_nTilling and caring for the land is a part of the rich heritage and culture that is Palestine.

Haitham takes great pleasure and pride in his land, as all Palestinians do.  But these images carry a power statement of a resistance to Zionist Occupation, a statement that Palestine will be free, that her people are strong, determined, strive to live with dignity and humanity.  Together Haitham and I strive to tell the world the truth about Palestine, her people, their lives, their hopes and dreams.  Together through word, images and videos, we will achieve this and the world will take notice, see the truth of what is happening daily in Palestine under Occupation Apartheid.