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‘A camera and not a gun’: photojournalism as my weapon for justice

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My life changed on a Friday in April, 2009. That was the day my cousin Bassem Abu Rahme was killed at a nonviolent protest in our home village of Bil’in. A tear gas canister fired by Israeli forces struck him in the chest, and he died. Hundreds of people he had inspired to confront oppression saw as he paid the price. Thousands more, around the world, wept.

I had always tried before to stay away from politics. I wanted to focus on my job and studies—even my hobby of photography. But when Bassem was killed, I realized I could hide no longer. Earlier that year my older brother was also shot in the head by the Israeli forces while participating in a nonviolent protest. He fell into a coma but was able to recover.

Hamde Abu Rahme, photo courtesy of the author

The tragedies my family faced due to the occupation of our land forced me to take up the task of alerting the world to injustice. But I chose a camera and not a gun. Photojournalism became my tool, to fight against the occupation and the injustices Palestinians face every day. I’m writing now to help Mondoweiss’s readers understand the risks of life as a journalist in Palestine—and to ask you to help Mondoweiss continue supporting journalists like me.

As a young man, I studied accounting in Ramallah. I also worked inside of Israel, but not legally. I used to leave for work early in the mornings and sometimes the only way I could enter Israel was to sneak through a weak point in the separation fence. At times I would get caught by the Israeli occupation army. They would beat me, interrogate me and strip search me.

After Bassem’s death, I left accounting and studied photography and journalism. My duty as a journalist is to cover daily events and transmit a truthful image to the world. I never expected that such a task would be so difficult. I am grateful for sites like Mondoweiss, which help me reach as many people as possible with the realities of life in Palestine.

[slideshow_deploy id=’177874′]My book Roots Run Deep, for example, seeks to show the world what Palestinians face every day by the hand of the Israeli occupation. The images I published are intended to reflect the truth of our lives from the joys to the sorrows.

During my work as a journalist, I have been injured several times, and detained, beaten and threatened directly by the military and also over the phone from Israeli security officials. Despite the constant fear caused by these attacks, I didn’t stop reporting. I once tried to leave and put journalism behind me, but my conscience wouldn’t let me.

I’ve met a lot of journalists from all over the world. When covering demonstrations in Bil’in, I was attacked with rubber bullets and tear gas fired by the Israeli army. And indeed a broad barrage of tear gas or bullets does not distinguish between Palestinian and foreign journalists. But there are always differences between my experience and that of international reporters.

For example, they can move freely around, but as a Palestinian, I am not allowed to enter certain areas and cities. There are other forms of harassment and force exerted upon Palestinian reporters as well. In one instance, I was arrested while covering nightly incursions by the Israeli army to arrest protesters. The army detained me for twelve hours and accused me of obstructing them by doing my job. Another time, Israeli security detained and questioned me for six hours straight when I was returning from a trip to Europe where I showed my photos of protests and injustice. On top of physical assaults, there is the relentless psychological impact of continuous humiliation, insults, and abuse.

Donate buttonA journalist is a messenger who shows the world the truth. Israel’s treatment of journalists aims to wear us down and make us abandon our vocation as messengers. But as long as we can publish our work through channels like Mondoweiss, they cannot destroy us.

Some news agencies buy my pictures and write captions or commentary totally out of context. They use my pictures for their own purposes—in the end, it‘s only about them. I am grateful that Mondoweiss gives its readers the whole story and shows fairly what I filmed. We need your help to keep Mondoweiss and its counterparts thriving and growing, to spread the facts to more and more people.

Palestinian journalists defy the continuous harassment and abuse, and thanks to the internet and outlets like Mondoweiss, we are succeeding. Using the web’s broad and rapid global reach, we are exercising our fundamental right to freedom of expression and challenging Israel’s constant portrayal of Palestinians as violent terrorists.

To practice journalism here, one must be whole-heartedly dedicated to the profession despite the constant threat to one’s life.  People tell me to be careful—but how can I be careful while living up to my responsibility to tell the world what goes on? I can’t sit at home and do nothing. And if I go to where the news requires my presence, I know the next casualty could be me.

If you are among those around the world who believe in what I do—in the value of journalism in exposing Israel’s crimes—please decide how you will give material impact  to that belief. You can buy my book. And you can donate to Mondoweiss, which supports the work of me and others seeking to spread the truth.

Please show where you stand by investing today in Mondoweiss and journalism that tells the truth about Palestine.

Israel fears us. Isn’t that a good reason to keep us going?

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Outrageously good photography.
Have a cigar.
Today I am smoking the Imilchil by Felipe Gregorio. It is made with tobacco from the Atlas mountains in central Morocco at over 2000 meters. It is naturally sweet.

The photo of the sledgehammer guy looks like he’s doing home renovation. There are no sections of the security barrier that utilize 4″ block construction, which as the picture demonstrates, would not hold up to even a regular framing hammer let alone the obvious overkill of using a 15-20lb sledge. Of course, it’s impossible that this shot was staged as publicity.