Nablus, Through the Photographic Eyes of Palestinian Children

Suwarna (Our Pictures) is an exhibition of images captured by Palestinian children from the West Bank city of Nablus; the project is led by Tomorrows Youth Organization.

A wall is covered with images. A little girl splashes in gray-scale puddles in the street, her image fuzzy in the moving shot. Framed nearby, a baker lifts hot flat bread out of the oven. A merry-go-round with three girls in headscarves swoops past the camera lens.

Welcome to the West Bank city of Nablus, as seen through the photographic lens of children.

Suwarna (Our Pictures) is an exhibition of images captured by the participants of a youth photography project led by Tomorrows Youth Organization (TYO), an American non-profit organization that operates a center in Nablus. The exhibit has been on display in Nablus and Ramallah for the last week.

The intention in holding the exhibition is to build a bridge to the outside world, said organizer Doris Carrion. We would like an outside audience to have a vision and understanding of children in Nablus.

Many of the children (ages 10 to 16) that took part in the project come from the three large refugee camps near Nablus - Balata, Askar and Al-Ayn. These poor, crowded areas saw some of the most intense violence of the second Intifada, in 2002. The Israel Defense Forces regularly raided the camps at night during that period and incursions still happen, although less frequently.

There is a psychological aspect to the project, said Carrion. Many of the children and their families are suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome from the violence they have witnessed or stress from the high unemployment that exists.

TYO aims to provide emotional support to these families through non-formal education and recreational activities.

The Suwarna exhibition draws on material gathered through Triple Exposure, a project fthat gave children cameras to take home and the freedom to free to photograph what they wanted.

Filling the white walls of an old Ottoman building in Ramallahs old city, the selection of photographs taken over the year includes the artistic close-up of a glowing lantern, images of children in classes or in the playground, the weathered complexion of an old Palestinian man, and snapshots of refugee camps.

The fact that few of the photos are related to the occupation was not a choice of mine, said Miss Carrion. They are fond of taking photos of photos of families who have died as a result of the occupation or martyr posters that are dotted around Nablus. But the majority will show the audience their daily lives.

It is interesting to see what the children have chosen to photograph, it shows the regular life of these children, said Krystina Tillova, a visitor browsing over the exhibit.

The exhibit also includes a short film produced by the children. The Furthest Journey is a mix of home-video acting and cartoons, formed from the drawings of the creators. It depicts the fictional endeavor of three Nablus children trying to reach the Al-Aqsa mosque.

After a long journey, they reach the barrier that separates Israel from the West Bank. With help from fellow Palestinians - including the use of doctors stethoscope as a climbing rope - they climb the wall.

I like it because it tells people outside of Palestine that we are good people, said 14 year old Mujahid who took part in making the movie. It helps to show that we are not terrorists.

Mujahid has never been to Jerusalem. As a young male Palestinian, it is especially difficult to get the required permit. They think that we will cause trouble, said Mujahid, referring to the Israeli authority that issues travel permits.

I focused on Israel – Palestine issues to highlight how bad it makes me feel. If I wanted I could make a happy story. But I would rather show people how much I want the freedom I dont feel I have, said Mujahid.

Carrion says the project gave children a chance to express themselves and think analytically about their futures. We dont want to focus on the technical detail of photography, but on creative thinking, how to convey information and tell a story through a still photo, she said.

Over the year I have seen a change in them - they have grasped concepts of photography, composition light and color. They are increasingly creative and through learning new forms of observation they are gaining the ability to think analytically.

Hanadi has framed her photo of the merry-go-round at Nablus amusement park in timeworn sepia – the snapshot will help her remember this happy moment in her childhood she said.