Scenes of My People’s Painful Fight for Freedom in the West Bank

4 minute read
Ideas
Photographs and Text by Maen Hammad

Hammad is a documentary photographer, based between Boston and Ramallah, West Bank. Hammad also works as a human rights researcher and campaigner.

I traveled from the U.S. to the West Bank on Oct. 2 to visit my Teta, my maternal grandmother, for a week. Instead, I stayed for one month to document my people's fight for freedom, and witness their pain.

Reflecting on my time, in arguably the “safest” part of the West Bank, 50 miles from the Gaza Strip, torments me. As Amnesty International has documented, Palestinians—whether in the West Bank, Gaza, or Israel, are subjected to the same system of apartheid. Still, it can feel insincere: Ramallah, the occupied city I reside in, is just one drop compared to the ocean of erasure taking place right now in Gaza. 

However, my elders always remind me that we are one. Though I am as old as the first Oslo Accord—which now lingers as an emblem for failed Palestinian statehood and peace—I resist envisioning freedom in fragmentation. 

A bedroom in the demolished home of the Nakhle family in the Jalazon Refugee Camp near the West Bank city of Ramallah, on Oct. 28. There were three generations of Palestinian refugees living in the home, who are now displaced, again.
A bedroom in the demolished home of the Nakhle family in the Jalazon Refugee Camp near the West Bank city of Ramallah, on Oct. 28. There were three generations of Palestinian refugees living in the home, who are now displaced—again.Maen Hammad
A young Palestinian man has his face shielded with a kuffiyeh during a confrontation with the Israeli occupation near the illegal Beit El settlement in the West Bank city of al-Bireh, on Oct. 13. The kuffiyeh, a traditional headdress, serves as a symbol of Palestinian identity.
A young Palestinian man has his face shielded with a kuffiyeh during a confrontation near Beit El, a settlement considered illegal under international law, in the West Bank city of al-Bireh, on Oct. 13. The kuffiyeh, a traditional headdress, serves as a symbol of Palestinian identity.Maen Hammad
A group of Palestinian workers from Gaza at the Sarriyeh sports club in the West Bank city of Ramallah watch an Al Jazeera news broadcast from a hospital in Gaza, Oct. 12.
A group of Palestinian workers from Gaza at the Sarriyeh sports club in the West Bank city of Ramallah watch an Al Jazeera news broadcast on Oct. 12. Maen Hammad

My photographs are what I witnessed in the 5 square miles around me in the West Bank, over the span of just three weeks, beginning two days after the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Unlawful killings of teenagers, collective punishment, and genocidal violence in my own backyard. 

On Oct.  8, I entered Qalandia refugee camp to have dinner with my paternal family. One hour after we washed the dishes, news broke that Yasser al-Kasba, 17, had been shot and killed near the Qalandia checkpoint by an Israeli sniper while his back was turned.

On Oct.  12, I visited the Sarriyeh sports club, where there were upwards of 400 Palestinian workers from Gaza who were stranded in Israel after Oct. 7. One man received news that three of his family members were killed by an Israeli airstrike. “What about the others?” he screamed to his relative on the phone in Gaza. “We are still picking up the rubble,” he replied.?

Over 400 Palestinians from Gaza find refuge on Oct. 12 at Ramallah’s Nadi al-Sarryieh, typically a sports club but transformed into a shelter for Gaza’s day laborers who were working inside Israel on Oct. 7.
Over 400 Palestinians from Gaza find refuge on Oct. 12 at Ramallah’s Nadi al-Sarryieh, a sports club that was transformed into a shelter. ??Workers were welcomed by Palestinian volunteers in Ramallah who tirelessly provide mattresses, food, medicine, a mobile salon, and unwavering solidarity. Thousands of other Palestinian workers from Gaza have also sought refuge in various locations within the West Bank. Maen Hammad
Ahmad Mutair, 17, is bid farewell by members of his family before being laid to rest on Oct. 25.
Ahmad Mutair, 17, is bid farewell by members of his family before being laid to rest on Oct. 25. Earlier that day, dozens of Israeli forces entered Qalandia camp in an early morning raid. Ahmad was shot by Israeli forces around 6:20 a.m. Ahmad was a fourth-generation refugee. After Ahmad was shot, his family spent over 30 minutes trying to take him to a nearby hospital outside Qalandia refugee camp. Israeli forces did not allow Ahmad’s family to leave. Eventually they found an ambulance on the outskirts of the camp which took Ahmad’s body to the Ramallah hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Maen Hammad
Palestinian workers from Gaza line up for registration at the Sarriyeh sports club in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Oct. 12.
Palestinian workers from Gaza line up for registration at the Sarriyeh sports club in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Oct. 12. Over 400 Palestinians from Gaza sought refuge at the sports club in October, before being moved to another facility in the West Bank city of Jericho. Many of the workers arrived in buses after being taken from their work sites inside Israel. Some recounted being interrogated, beaten, blindfolded, and forced into the buses by Israeli police. Many others arrived on their own, entering the West Bank in secret, out of fear of being taken by Israeli police. Maen Hammad

Days later, when I went to the Redanna sports club, chants from dozens of other Palestinian workers from Gaza could be heard: “We declare from Gaza: uprising and victory.” A protest by Palestinian refugees, inside a refuge, within occupied lands.

A 60-year-old worker told me: “I just want to hear the voice of my grandchildren. You think we are happy here? We don’t want food or water, we want to go back to Gaza. We would die for our land.”

A friend and photographer from Gaza, Majd Arandas, texted me to ask if I could check on his brother-in-law, who was one of the workers taking refuge in Ramallah.

On Oct. 25, tear gas and rifle fire woke me up while in Qalandia refugee camp. I closed the windows of our home as my 6-year-old cousin had done during the previous raid. I woke up an hour later to the mosque’s speakers. The imam was not making the morning call to prayer, but announcing another death, Ahmad Mutair—a high-school student and fourth-generation refugee was shot and killed by Israeli forces. The Israeli government has not issued a public statement on Mutair or al-Kasba.

Neighbors in the Jalazon Refugee Camp, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, help members of the Nakhle family retrieve valuables that could be salvaged following the punitive home demolition of the six family home, on Oct. 28.
Neighbors in the Jalazon Refugee Camp, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, help members of the Nakhle family retrieve valuables that could be salvaged following the punitive demolition of the six-family home on Oct. 28. The home was demolished under the pretext of construction without a permit. Human rights organizations have long documented how Palestinians are systematically subjected to home demolitions and forced evictions and live in constant fear of losing their homes.Maen Hammad
Palestinians in Qalandia refugee camp raise their fingers after mourners pray over the grave of Yasser al-Kebsa, 17.
Palestinians in Qalandia refugee camp raise their fingers after mourners pray over the grave of Yasser al-Kasba, 17. Yasser was shot through the chest by an Israeli sniper the night prior while his back was turned.Maen Hammad
The charging station at the Sarriyeh sports club in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Oct. 12. Most of the workers at the sports club spend their day trying to make contact with their families in Gaza.
The charging station at the Sarriyeh sports club in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Oct. 12. Most of the workers at the sports club spend their day trying to make contact with their families in Gaza. Maen Hammad
Clothes belonging to Gazan workers who were stuck inside Israel on Oct. 7th hang to dry on a soccer goal at the Redanna Sports Complex in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on Oct. 14.
Clothes belonging to Palestinian workers from Gaza hang to dry on a soccer goal at the Redanna Sports Complex in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Oct. 14. This sports complex has been transformed into a refuge for over 450 Palestinian laborers from Gaza who were trapped inside Israel on Oct. 7. Maen Hammad

On Oct. 28, I walked into the aftermath of a home demolition in the Jalazon refugee camp, hours after dozens of Israeli soldiers raided the camp alongside a bulldozer. Six Palestinian families and three generations of refugees lost their homes at sunrise. Their bread for the morning was still laid out on their dining room table. Israel’s punitive home demolitions are a form of unlawful collective punishment and a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.  

On Nov. 1, I returned to the U.S. for a few weeks to be with my partner. While on the plane, I could not bear to look out of the window. I felt nauseous sharing the same view as the drones, Apache helicopters, and F-16 jets; my tax dollars bombing Gaza.  

I connected to the wifi in the plane and received a message about my photographer friend.

“Majd was killed.” His neighborhood was hit by an Israeli airstrike.

Hammad is a documentary photographer, based between Boston and Ramallah, West Bank. Hammad also works as a human rights researcher and campaigner.

Dust settles as Yasser al-Kisba, 17, is laid to rest at Qalandia refugee camp on Oct. 9.
Dust settles as Yasser al-Kasba, 17, is laid to rest at Qalandia refugee camp on Oct. 9. Maen Hammad

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