Janna did not remember if her parents ever explained it to her. She just always knew that her life is not like other children’s. Her life is different because she lives in Nabi Saleh, and Nabi Saleh is a small village in a country that has no freedom of its own.
Like other children, Janna goes to school. But for her, the journey is difficult. There is a checkpoint on the road on the way there. These checkpoints are where soldiers put big, concrete boxes to block parts of the road and take time to check each and every person going through. Sometimes, that means that the drive to school takes 3 hours!
And like other children, Janna likes to play outside with her friends. But the soldiers don’t allow anyone in the village to play outside after a certain time of day, so sometimes, when Janna and her friends lose track of time – the soldiers come and scare them away.
On one sweet July night, the center of the village was a celebration! The smell of citrus filled the air. The sound of women ululating and laughter echoed through the hills of the Nabi Saleh. There was a wedding, and everyone had gathered. The men were drinking their bitter coffee and the children were chasing each other.
Janna was one of these children, screaming in delight and trying not to trip over the bare earth. “Careful, Janna!” yelled her mother after her. “Don’t ruin your gown!”
Suddenly, her mother was interrupted by a loud BANG!
The sound rang between the hills, replacing the sound of the children and celebrations. The tanks had come.
Everyone rushed into their small homes, falling over the gravelly ground while the night was still young. This was not the first time the tanks had come, and when the tanks come, the soldiers come. Janna remembers the soldiers coming to their house often in the middle of the night. Last year, they came several times a week for months! Her mother and father told her to hide under the kitchen table or on the bathroom floor until they left and everything was okay.
But today, when they left, they took her uncle and her cousin away, too.
Nabi Saleh is hard to reach because of the checkpoints. After Janna’s uncle and cousin were taken, no one came to the village to learn and share their stories with the world. There was no news on TV, in the newspapers, or on the internet. “Does what happen here not matter?” Janna asked her mother. “The world does not know what our lives are like. They don’t know what happens to our people.” Then, her mother looked down, and she gave Janna a camera.
“What do I do with this?” asked Janna.
“Show the world what it is like.” Said her mother.
“But what good would that do for us?”
“Start telling the stories of what happens here and the world can help.”
Janna picked up the camera and turned it on.
She started to take pictures and record herself talking about what she saw. Neighbors sometimes yell at the soldiers. They tell them to leave them and their home alone. The children threw rocks at the tanks. Janna thought they were so brave.
Janna also traveled to other villages close to Nabi Saleh. The people there also fought for their freedom. She recorded herself standing up to the soldiers too. They wanted to take her camera away. They didn’t want the world to see what they do.
Many times, Janna was afraid. But she will not hide under the table anymore. Her mother would remind her: “We must control our fear, and not let it control us. If it does, we will not be able to live or to resist."
Even though the soldiers used tanks and carried the most powerful weapons, they could be defeated by the power of the camera. The world is watching, and the world has more people than the soldiers’ army. “My camera is my weapon of choice. By using my camera, I can send a message to small people, and they can share that message with others.”
Her mother started to upload Janna’s videos she took with her camera online. Now Janna has her own online page. Hundreds of thousands of people see the stories she records from around the world. “Under the occupation, if you want to dream, you have limits. We have to keep trying to cross those limits, and we have to keep trying to dream big.”
“From here, we are sending our message to the world that we will never give up. Signing off, this is Janna, from Nabi Salih, occupied Palestine.”