This is an excerpt from a Middle East Eye article I published in the summer reflecting on the social documentary project my dear friend Asala Salhab and I carried out on the West Bank, Palestine in the summer of 2014 :)
Despite the war in Gaza and the intense military operations carried out recently by Israeli soldiers throughout Hebron; the biggest city on the West Bank celebrated the holy month of Ramadan with fasting – and praying for peace and for change.
In times of great danger and insecurity, people reveal both their most raw and most humane faces. Ramadan, however, is a month dedicated to cherishing the community, the self and its relation to God.
Can religious and cultural traditions work to bring people together, sooth the disadvantaged and inspire good acts and brotherly love, even in times of war, injustice and death?
These questions and more drove my enthusiasm to be among the people in Hebron, in the midst of the happening, instead of hiding, as I entered into the second month of my student internship in Hebron.
When I first went out on the streets of Hebron (or “Khalil” as the Arabic name of the city reads) with a notebook, camera and a local friend in hand, I had no idea that the photos and interviews I would take would spark and exciting new project- and a social movement.
Three days after the discovery of the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli settlers in Halhul, just outside Hebron, sick of hearing about new clashes, dead and injured, my friend Asala Salhab and I went out after work to take some interviews.
Our task was to examine the pulse of the community, which was suffering through one of its most difficult times. In the beginning of both Ramadan and a new Israeli massacre in Gaza, was there any hope left? How were these contrasting events influencing each other?
Since the first afternoon we started to photograph and interview random passers-by at different locations around Hebron, including The Old City. People responded enthusiastically and we were able to capture the faces, stories and insights of Hebronites, which conveyed their hope, faith and integrity. The same evening, I started the “Khalil’s Faces of Ramadan” Facebook group to host the profiles of men and women, young and old. Every photo was accompanied by an English and Arabic translation, and in less than a week, the group received over 1,000 likes; the posts were shared and discussed both online and offline.
As we captured the faces of those who carry on their everyday lives, religious and spiritual practices, despite the dangers and insecurity that Hebron faces, media and community leaders shared their positive feedback about the project.
“This initiative is very important because it allows us to see the diversity of individuals and richness of points of view that we don’t often acknowledge otherwise,” Anas Sarabta, manager of the Hebron Youth Development Resource Center said.
Haya Abu Shkaidem, a student in Hebron sent a “thank you” message reading, “I really like this page. It reveals the pretty side of Hebron which people all around Palestine and all around the world should see. It is something I could share with my non-Hebronite friends to let them know more about Hebron.”
In the days to follow, the project gained momentum and was promoted by word of mouth: “I saw your page and I was hoping I could run into you.” Mustafa Abu Sbaih told us smilingly, calling us to visit his shoe stand from across the street.
As we walked through The Old City on a Friday afternoon after one of the major prayers, people were requesting that we take their photos and hear their stories. And, interestingly, they were not all about politics and war. Love, future plans and desire to make a change made some voices tremble with passion.
“We, Palestinians have always paid attention on the need to document our political struggle for freedom. There are many documents, articles and books written on that. But we have done almost nothing to document the social life, the individual, who may not be a martyr or a fighter, but who is still fighting in his own way- and that is not any less interesting.” Tareq Tamimi, founder of “Visit Hebron” told us in acknowledgement of the project’s impact on the community.
The project will continue beyond the month of Ramadan with the support of locals taking on the enjoyable task of unlocking secrets and capturing fellow Hebronites’ faces.