“I do not think of marriage at all. I want to educate myself and be socially and politically engaged. I do not need a man for that.”
Somoud is the arabic term for “resilience.” She was born in 2002, shortly after the “Battle of Jenin,” and her father gave her the name in recognition of the strong resistance carried out by the camp’s population.
Somoud has long curly hair and big brown eyes and is always dressed like a hip-hop artist. She forces her father to take her to Haifa or Nablus for shopping, because only there she finds clothes that suit her style, as she says.
Most young people in the camp know Somoud as the rebel girl who walks through the streets with the confidence of a Spice Girl.
She also is very clever. She loves reading, particularly criminal stories, and is a big fan of Sherlock Holmes. Somoud says, she has two big idols: Che Guevara and Saddam Hussein.
Somoud lives with her family; her parents, a brother and two sisters, in the centre of the camp. From the top of her house, one has a complete overview of the camp. That is why the snipers of the Israeli Army regularly use their house as a temporary military base. The walls of her house, the windows and even the black leather sofa in the living room are full of bullet holes.
Somoud’s father is a sports teacher and so is her older sister. Somoud loves sports as well and plays football in a girl’s team in Jenin. Sometimes she thinks she would like to become a sports teacher as well, but she is not sure yet.
Until last year Somoud was the only girl in Jenin Camp who refused to wear the hijab and she used to say, ”I will wear it when I am mentally ready.” But this year, due to a lot of pressure from her family members, she started to wear the hijab. Somoud said, ”I became tired of the way young people looked at me just because I am different.”
Mahmoud Abu Aita
“One single bullet could wipe away all my dreams.”
It was a rainy day in December when we first met Mahmoud who was playing football with his friends in the neighborhood. Once his eyes caught the camera, he approached us and began telling about his life in Jenin Camp.
Mahmoud then was ten years old. But the moment he started talking, he impressed us with his wisdom and maturity. His carefully selected words, the profoundness of his statements did not match the outer looks of this short boy with chubby cheeks.
In a later situation, when being asked where to do the interview, Mahmoud replied, “Let us do it in front of my house.” – “Why there?” – “Look. Do you see the distance between the two walls? I brought you here to show you that our life is as narrow as these two walls. We have no privacy, you hear everything and you are always close to everyone. That is how our hopes and dreams are – as narrow as the space between these two walls.”
Mahmoud’s father has a well-running electrical shop where he sells appliances. Everyday after school, Mahmoud goes there to work while his father goes home for lunch.
Despite his cleverness, Mahmoud was the first of the boys to drop out of school. When asked about the reasons for this step, he argues of the uselessness of school education when living in Jenin Camp, where one could never know if one would survive the next night. He gives examples of children who were successful students but got killed. Others had a higher education but still were selling coffee or working in restaurants in lack of proper jobs in the area.
“Instead of going to school, I would rather be working and save money to get married as soon as possible,” he says. For Mahmoud, this is the best thing a boy from the camp could achieve: to marry and build his own family.
Lately Mahmoud has discovered his passion for acting. He started attending theatre performances at the camp’s well-known, Freedom Theatre, and now dreams of becoming part of the theatre’s permanent cast. This year, Mahmoud started attending the theater’s acting school.
Sara and Yara Naghnaghiya
“We have no idea how we will feel when dad is back home. We have to wait.”
Sara and Yara are twins. They look so similar that one has to observe them closely in order to notice slight feature differences. Also, they always dress the same.
In public they seem to be very serious; they do not smile and avoid eye contact with strangers. This behavior is exactly what people in the camp expect from two teenage girls who live in the absence of their father.
The twin-girl’s father was arrested during the “Battle of Jenin” in 2002 and sentenced to 17-years of imprisonment. Sara and Yara were only a few months old at that time.
For years, Sara and Yara visited their father in prison every couple of months. But two years ago, the Israeli authorities informed them that due to “security reasons” future visits would not be permitted. Hence, the only contact they have to him now is through phone calls.
Sara and Yara are very sensible and try to avoid talking about their feelings. But the moment they start to talk about their father, one can see tears filling their eyes.
In March 2020, Sara’s and Yara’s father will be released from prison. This will be a decisive moment in their lives and the first time they will be able to hug their father. On the same day Yara will be engaged.
When Sara and Yara were younger, they were always playing with other kids in front of the house. But when they turned 13, they started wearing the hijab and a new phase of their lives began. Now, the girls leave the house only with the purpose of going to school or visiting family members.
Of all the ten kids, Sara and Yara are the ones who frequently question the meaning of making this film. They have always doubted the necessity of telling their story to an audience. They do not believe that a film could have any positive impact on their lives.
“All Palestinians and all Arabs have to unite in order to defeat Zionism. We must have the right to return to our homes.”
We first met Ahmad Nobani sitting at the cemetery of the camp. He told us that he visits his father’s grave every day. Ahmad’s father was killed during the “Battle of Jenin,” when Ahmad was only a few months old. Even though he can’t remember his father, Ahmad is very proud of him and knows all the details relating to his “heroic fight.” His father is known around the camp for the fact that he killed 12 Israeli soldiers at once.
Ahmad is a very thin and tall young boy with “jug” ears that his friends joke about. He is clever and political; from all of his friends he is the only one who still attends school and intends to reach a higher education. His plan is to be admitted to university and study electrical engineering. Ahmad has a strong personality and enjoys the respect of all people who know him in the camp.
Ahmad lives with his mother and two older brothers. Being aware of the heroic reputation of his father, Ahmad tries to do his best to be an adequate son of his father. Apart from being a good pupil, Ahmad is engaged in many social activities. He is one of the Palestinian scout leaders, he is engaged in an NGO that deals with the needs of Palestinian kids and he is a talented goalkeeper. He was the first kid who ever left the camp for a wrestling competition in Paris where he won a gold medal.
Right in the middle of his preparations for his final high school exams on the 2nd of January 2019, Ahmad was arrested by the Israeli Army. Now he is in custody, and nobody knows why and for how long he will stay in jail.
“I left school and started to work in order to support my father financially. But I will not allow my brother to quit school. I would sacrifice anything for my family.”
Everybody in the camp knows Quais. From the age of five, he started to stand at the side of his father who owns a coffee stand in the camp’s main square. They sell coffee to passersby and to shop owners in the area.
Although most of the people in Jenin Camp are poor, the situation of Quais’ family is much worse. Quais has to help his father every day after school until the late evening hours. He has no free time and never just hangs out with his friends. He considers himself as an outsider.
Quais’ life consists of sitting on the same chair next to his coffee stand, right next to a man selling cigarettes, surrounded by people who gather there for hours. Quais doesn’t talk much. He is an introvert and he envies his friends who seem to have a lot of fun together while he is not allowed to move from his plastic chair.
“There are many fitness clubs for men. One day I would love to manage a women’s fitness club.”
Ruáa’s nickname is Lulu. She is the Cinderella of Jenin Camp. Ruáá is fully aware of her beauty and enjoys presenting herself in front of the camera. Of all the other girls, she is the one who requests a lot of preparation time before she is ready to be filmed. Pink is her color, and pink dominates her room. The walls, her bed, her teddy bears are all in pink. And she is very proud of her lipstick collection.
In contrast to the other kids, Ruáa has the privilege of living in a house outside the camp. Her father and older brothers have worked hard for many years in order to realize this big dream: A home with a lot of space, far from the noises of the camp.
When we first meet Ruaa the construction of their house is in its early stages. Now the family has finally moved in. Meeting Ruáa every six months, we were able to document the development of her home as well.
Ruáa spends a lot of time in the camp not only because of her grandparents, but because of her uncles and cousins. She is therefore well informed about whatever happens in the camp.
Ruáa is lucky to have liberal parents. Compared to other girls at her age, she is the last one to put on the hijab.
In our first interviews, Ruaa says she would love to become a surgeon. A year later she wanted to become a lawyer. Today, she dreams of having her own women’s fitness club.
“I love singing, but I want to be a school teacher.”
Ashgan is the youngest of the ten protagonists. She is a very shy girl and finds it difficult to describe and talk about her feelings. Her big black eyes reflect mostly sadness. She hardly initiates any talk and her answers are always short. Having a conversation with her requires a lot of patience and sensibility.
We first meet Ashgan on her way back home from the girl’s school. Ashgan’s father died a couple of years ago and her sister is married to a young man from the camp who is wanted by the Israeli Army. Ashgan faced death more than once when heavily armed Israeli soldiers suddenly appeared in her bedroom.
A couple of years ago the Israeli Army surrounded Ashgan’s sister’s house and called Ashgan’s brother-in-law to surrender. When they didn’t receive an answer they gave Ashgan’s sister ten minutes to leave the house with her baby before they blew the house up. From that day on Ashgan’s sister moved back to her parent’s house.
A few months later the Israeli Army raided Ashgan’s home in the early hours of the morning to find Ashgan’s brother-in-law sleeping. To see how her brother-in-law was taken by the soldiers left deep sadness in Ashgan’s soul.
Her brother-in-law was sentenced to six years of imprisonment, shortly before her sister gave birth to another child. Ashgan feels sad for her sister who lost her home and her husband and she tries as much as she can to be there for her.
“I lost most of my best friends: Some of them were killed and some others are in jail. We used to be a group of ten friends, now only two are left.”
Ward lives with his three sisters and his parents in a house that was built after 2002. The old house of the family was destroyed during the invasion in 2002. His father does not have a steady job. In order to support the family he takes the risk of crossing the border to Israel illegally, where he does all kinds of construction jobs.
Ward is a rebellious boy and considers going to school “a waste of time.” He says he could not sit silently in the classroom and focus. The inability to concentrate is something Ward has in common with many young boys in the camp.
The fact that he is the only boy in the family makes him feel responsible for his sisters. His parents on the other hand fear losing their only son, who, together with many other boys, involves in frequent confrontations with the Israeli soldiers.
Ward’s passion is riding motor scooters and he spends every free minute riding a scooter through the alleys of the camp. He loves to show risky stunts and now and then joins other boys for races.
Lately, Ward feels bored and lonely because some of his closest friends were killed by Israeli soldiers, while others are in prison. Last time we met, he was in deep sadness due to the mysterious death of one of his best friends, who was found dead in his home hanging from the ceiling.
When he was younger, Ward wanted to become a physician. Now he is working in a barber shop. He dreams of having his own barber shop after having received the required qualification.
“Life is boring in the camp. There is nothing good or positive. We sleep all day and stay awake the whole night waiting for the Israeli soldiers to enter the camp. That is our only excitement.”
Tobassi has three brothers and three sisters. His father is a teacher at one of the schools in the camp.
Tobassi was a little boy when he witnessed the brutal killing of his cousin by Israeli soldiers. Big posters of his murdered cousin hang on most of the walls of the camp. Tobassi is proud of his cousin and with a lot of enthusiasm he recalls the details of his killing. For Tobassi and for all the inhabitants of Jenin Camp, the cousin is a big martyr. The stronger the fighter’s resistance and the more brutal his killing is, the bigger a martyr becomes and the more he will be celebrated.
Tobassi is known to everyone as the clown. Among his friends, he keeps telling jokes and he refuses to take anything seriously. He pretends to be untouchable and he would do anything to prevent becoming personal. But being alone with him, one can feel how vulnerable and sensible he is. The sadness in his eyes is visible. He seems to be lost, not knowing what to do or what to say.
Tobassi believes dying as a martyr is the best thing that could happen to anyone living in the camp. “To die as a martyr is more honorable than living a life of dogs.” He quit school and does occasional jobs to earn some pocket money, but has no future plans so far.
“Future plans are useless,” he repeats. “We keep awake the whole night waiting for the Israeli Army to come to the camp, so we could fight them with stones,” Tobassi says and explains why he spends most of the day in bed. “That is the only excitement we have: The fight with the soldiers.”