Five Palestinian child activists arrived in the country this week for to give their perspective of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and spread messages of peace and hope. The passionate and spirited youth are part of the Shamsaan kids Tour, South African born collaborative between young Palestinian human rights activists and various local South African contributors.
The children include 11 year old social media phenomenon Janna Jihad, considered to be Palestine’s youngest journalist, and the Tamimi children, who became internationally known after images of them surfaced defending one of their siblings from an Israeli soldier. The children are being hosted in the country by various organisations including the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, the Palestine Solidarity Alliance, South African Jews for a Free Palestine, and a range of other groups.
On Thursday, they visited the Hector Pieterson Memorial site, where they will met Pieterson’s sister, Antoinette Sithole. They also laid a wreath at the site in honour of young people fighting for freedom.
The inaugural project, the 2017 Shamsaan Palestinian Children’s Art calendar, through their artwork, photographic portraits and transcriptions, tells the stories of all the youth involved. 2017 marks 50 years of the illegal Zionist Israeli occupation of Palestine, despite its violation of international law and Palestinian human rights. Like many Palestinian children, the delegates are submerged in and in spite, inspired by this harsh reality daily. They are thus actively involved in anti-occupation activism.
The tour coincides with International Youth Day, for which this year’s theme is “Youth Building Peace”. The children comprising the delegation champion the values outlined this year, including conflict prevention, transformation, social justice and sustainable peace.
“Shamsaan”, which means “two suns” in Arabic, aptly describes the objective of this project- for young people to rise up in the fight against global injustice wherever in the world they may be. The tour aims to create awareness regarding the reality that Palestinians live daily in order to rally solidarity for their cause. It also seeks 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 calendar has rallied international support and includes messages from renowned struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada as well as UNHRC Commissioner Judge Navi Pillay. The group travelling comprises of three of the children featured in the calendar and the parents and two younger brothers of one of the children.
Ahed Tamimi, aged 16 lives in a small Palestinian farming village, Nabi Saleh, is engaged in non-violent protest action and according to NBC News, is the ‘poster child of the Palestinians’.. Ahed was awarded the Handala Courage Award by the Basaksehir Municipality in Turkey in 2013 and is the daughter of Nariman Tamimi and Bassem Tamimi who are prominent activists in the popular resistance. Her “fame” began in 2012 when a video went viral showing her confrontation with soldiers twice her size.
Ahed’s growing social media following has made her a target of pro-Israel activists who nick-named her “Shirley Temple” of ‘Pallywood’ (‘the Palestinian national film industry with ‘militant’ journalists and street actors produce staged news as propaganda’). A google search reveals over 23,000 results of powerful images of Ahed- including her being shot in the leg on January 22, 2016 with a rubber coated steel bullet, confirming the real nature of confronting the occupation forces.
Earlier this year she was invited to the USA for “No Child Behind Bars – Living Resistance Tour” but was denied a visa. Ahed’s father, Bassam Tamimi is also part of the delegation and is also involved in anti-occupation mvements in Nabi Saleh. He has been detained numerous times but remains committed to the fight for a free and just Palestine. Ahed’s younger brothers Muhammad and Salam are also travelling with the delegation.
Janna Ayyad ‘Jihad’ aged 11 is a foremost child’s voice of contemporary Palestine and is a social media star who receives global attention through her strong social media following. At just 8 years old she began recording videos of clashes that have always been a part of her life and is called Palestine’s youngest journalist. 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.
“My camera is my gun,” Janna explains. “But the camera is stronger than the gun… I can send my message to small people, and they can send it to others so the whole world can learn the truth about Palestine.” 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. Nawal joins her daughter on the Shamsaan Palestinian Children’s Tour.
Muhammad Nawajah is a 12 year old boy from the village of Sussiya in the South Hebron Hills where he lives with 55 other families in tents as their village was demolished. Repeated expulsions faced at the hands of Israeli authorities and settlers started in the 1980s, when they were first forcibly removed from their ancestral village, where Israel has set up an archaeological site and an Israeli settlement ironically called Sussiya.
They live under harsh conditions; having suffered repeated demolition orders of eviction without any infrastructure and are deprived of water and electricity. Mohammed’s grandfather is the chairman of the Village Council. Mohammed is determined to study at university and all his considerations for future careera are aimed at supporting his community- to be a translator, to explore languages that equip his communication with the international world; to be a doctor and save the lives of Palestinians in precarious circumstances; or a journalist so he can report on the fear, deprivation and the terrible injustice Palestinians endure.
The children will be visiting Cape Town in August. Details of their tour will be released soon. VOC