Palestine through the eyes of its children
IN THE dusty streets of Al Walajeh, children play with discarded rocket launchers, like toys. The sights and sounds of political conflict are all too familiar to them.
Ipswich business woman Nicky Stafford is leading a campaign to bring hope to the young victims of war, robbed of their childhood innocence.
Together with Jerusalem-based organisation Image and Identity, Ms Stafford has launched a photography exhibition in Brisbane to see Palestine through the eyes of its children.
Ten children were given digital cameras to to tell the story of the changing fortunes of villages severely impacted by the Israeli occupation in Al Walejeh and Nabi Saleh.
The result is a candid collection of photographs taken by the children of their friends, family and surroundings that vividly reveals the poignant intricacies of life for youth in Palestine.
The images are expressly vacant and removed. They tell a story of a once thriving agricultural community where the people have been slowly turned into refugees and pushed from their land.
They also tell the story of the challenges of village life, where land is occupied by many settlements, the restrictions of the eight metre high separation wall, and Israeli soldiers who are constantly on patrol.
"What we hear on the news about suicide bombers and terror on the streets is quite different to what I saw," Ms Stafford said.
"I saw normal people with incredibly generous hearts. They were trying to live a life with their families under extraordinary circumstances ... they were just like you and me.
"The water is often turned off for days at a time, so many people spend their days filling water containers.
"They dont have freedom of movement, there is high unemployment, families are separated, and there's a constant tension.
"Parent's have given up hope and it rubs off on the children."
Al Walajeh was the second largest land area after Jerusalem, but was cut down to one third of its size when Israel declared statehood in 1948.
Today, the 2500-strong community faces severe restrictions on land use, due to Israel's separation wall which completely encircles the village.
Ms Stafford first visited Palestine six years ago when she trekked across the world to meet one of her sponsor childen in Palestine. Over the years she has sponsored some 38 children there.
"I was touched by the challenges they had to face each day," said the Your Money Matters financial advisor. "People can live without food, but living without hope is a whole different proposition.
"I couldn't walk away and do nothing. It's become a passion to highlight their plight and increase awareness about the need for a solution. I believe that solution begins with us."
By hosting the exhibition in Australia, Ms Stafford said her aim was to promote constructive dialogue around the challenges faced by Palestinian youth.
She has worked alongside established charities and community groups on projects to increase awareness about the need for a solution-focussed approach to the issue. She is currently shooting a documentary to foster constructive dialogue in Australian communities.
"The exhibition Be the Difference: Hope for Kids in Palestine challenges you to turn negative reactions of desolation and despair into a more positive outlook of hope and support," she said.
- Be the Difference: Hope for Kids in Palestine exhibition will be held at St John's Cathedral in Ann St, Brisbane until August 10.
Holy Land continues to struggle in conflict
ISRAEL has been embroiled in conflict with Palestine and neighbouring Arab countries since its formation in 1948 over ownership of land considered holy by Jews, Christians and Muslims.
The Zionist movement erupted following the division of the former Bristish mandate of Palestine and the creation of Israel at the end of the Second World War. The zionists called for a homeland for Jews scattered around the world. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced in 1948. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become the core of the wider Arab-Israeli conflict.
Palestinians in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem have lived under Israeli occupation since 1967.
Israel's settlement in the West Bank is home to half a million people and is said to be illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.
Polls in 2007 suggested a majority of Israelis and Palestinians would prefer a two-state solution to resolve the conflict. The West Bank and Gaza Strip are viewed by some as the acceptable location of a hypothetical Palestinian state. Since Israel evacuated its colony from the Gaza Strip in 2005, milatant Islamic group Hamas has seized control.