So many of us have dreams and aspirations that we never voice, we keep them in our hearts and minds. My story is about what happens when we do have the courage to give voice to these thoughts and how Allah (SWT) puts people in our path that support our aspirations and make dreams come true. When I visited Palestine in February 2012 to plant olive trees, I could never have imagined 18 months later I would be the first person to hold the photo book ‘Roots Run Deep – Life in Occupied Palestine’.
In November 2010, half way through watching Budrus – a documentary-film about the uprooting of olive trees to make way for the apartheid wall – I had a very strong feeling I wanted to visit Palestine. As I left the auditorium I met with a friend from school, she remembered my name and recognised me after so many years. On enquiring what I thought of the film, I shared with Salma my wish to visit Palestine. Salma handed me a leaflet on an olive planting project in Palestine in the West Bank. She assured me it was possible as she had taken the very journey and would guide me through all preparations. I was so glad that I had voiced my thoughts because that very night I registered my interest in the programme and three months later I was planting olives trees.
Whilst in Palestine I fulfilled my childhood dream of praying in Al Aqsa mosque – something I always thought impossible. However, it didn’t fill me with the joy I had hoped as upon entering the mosque I learnt Palestinians faced restrictions and were not allowed to pray in the mosque. Knowing this saddened me and was the first example I saw of life under occupation.
The experience was a huge learning curve. Apart from planting olive trees on Palestinian farms, we visited the historical cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem and witnessed the horrendous situation in Al Khalil (Hebron), as well as attending lectures and talks educating us on life in Palestine and its brutal occupation. I stayed with a Palestinian family which was such a special and memorable experience.
Towards the end of the trip we visited Bil’in for no more than half an hour. Bil’in is a village that has peacefully demonstrated against the apartheid wall and continuous expansion of settlements. That visit taught me much more about resilience, patience and determination. Bil’in was successful in claiming some of its land back and has continued to demonstrate every Friday for the last eight years.
Six months after my trip, I sat in the same auditorium watching the now Oscar-nominated film ‘5 Broken Cameras’ in which I thought that I spotted photographer and activist Hamde Abu Rahma, our guide that day in Bil’in. It bugged me all evening whether it was him or not, so I messaged him via Facebook to ask. He confirmed it was and we started to keep in touch.
Whilst speaking on Skype one day, Hamde shared his aspirations of wanting to make a photo book about living under the brutal Israeli apartheid. He expressed his dream of publishing a photo book illustrating the unjust and inhumane occupation. His objective was clear: to get the true message of his people out to the world. He continued to explain to me that he didn’t have a publisher, finances, designer, basic resources such as a bank or Paypal account, a postal service… the list continued. As Hamde described his dream, my mind was listing all the things that made this an impossible project. Since we were relative strangers I didn’t share my thoughts with him but promised to buy a copy if he was successful.
The next day I messaged my brother, who had experience in publishing and design, to get Hamde a quote for his photo book – a small gesture on my part. My brother guided us to what we needed to consider in design, cost and publishing before getting a quote. I forwarded the email to Hamde who replied that he was not clear what the email meant. We Skyped to get specifications and at the end of that conversation the book started to take shape. This started the journey of two strangers, living miles away and having no experience in publishing but a shared determination to get this pictorial message out to a wider world.
We raised the money for the book within three months through Facebook appeals and a small grant. During this time, Hamde was targeted and shot at on a number of occasions whilst covering news stories as a photojournalist. He was directly shot at with rubber coated steel bullets on two occasions on his shoulder and arm whilst covering demonstrations against the wall and a protest supporting prisoners on hunger strike. In addition, he was also injured in the leg by a teargas canister.
Meanwhile, Hamde and I started to write the supporting text for each photo and occasionally argued over his choice of photos. Whilst we compiled the book, Bil’in continued to experience night raids, Hamde along with many activists was arrested at the newly established village of Bab Al Shams, Gaza was brutally attacked and on a nicer note Hamde became an uncle again to a niece and two nephews.
Putting together a photo book over Skype and written e-mail messages holds many challenges and between our many exchanges much got lost in translation. Sometimes it was impossible to make decisions as for Hamde everything was seen through my eyes or the computer screen. There was unconditional trust between us, as I made many decisions on his behalf as well as managing Hamde’s finances and technical aspects of the project.
With guidance from my brother, we finished the book within seven months. This was a huge triumph for two people who had no experience in publishing! I was a witness to the successful unfolding of what I thought was an impossible task. We had many obstacles and challenges but continued to remain determined and committed. Month eight, it would be me that received Hamde’s books, being the first to hold the finished product. It was at that moment I remembered my long list of why this was not possible and I felt that Allah showed me that if He wills, anything is possible.
As I write this, Hamde’s book has been posted out all over the world as he had hoped it would be. As Palestinians don’t have a postal system, Hamde is yet to see his own book. For me the project will be successful the day he gets to hold his book and I do hope it is what he envisaged in his head. Some say ‘We don’t meet people by accident. They are meant to cross our path for a reason’; I now say the same too.
Roots Run Deep – Life in Occupied Palestine is available to buy at www.hamdeaburahma.com
*Since writing this article, Hamde was able to receive copies of his books through an Israeli activist .
Tazim is a substance misuse worker and a textile artist. One of her passions in life is to travel and she loves photography, at the same time she is inclined towards humanitarian situations. The tragedy of Palestine has a special place in Tazim’s heart.