Child psychologists are in agreement there’s a time when youngsters differentiate themselves from their surroundings, recognizing that their actions are theirs alone as they toddle into the first steps of empowered responsibility. Taking advantage of digital photography’s tech advancements, not to mention the diminishing costs associated with these ever-smaller image makers during the holiday season, my wife have put cameras under the Christmas tree for each of our kids as they step into this new dawn of awareness.
Maiden shots of themselves looking in the mirror have given way to those of the house cats, home articles and gradually on to captured images of the world. Nothing like a camera to facilitate a dawning awareness of what is around a child, define who they are, track the adventure of self-discovery.
Recently, my work took me deep in the land known as the Occupied Territory or what the people of the land call Palestine. I traveled with a group of church leaders to a community known as Nabi Saleh. Any quick internet search discloses why this particular location was an apt place to visit as we sought a poster child for so much of the unrest we hear about in this part of the world. The undisputed story is that in 2009, an Israeli settlement illegally took control of a natural spring named Ein Al Qaws (“the Bow Spring”). The spring was privately owned by Mr. Bashir Tamimi and supplied fresh water for most of the community inhabitants. When the new occupiers of the well prevented water access for the original owner’s home and farms, the Palestinian community enlisted a neighboring village in hosting weekly marches and non-violent demonstrations.
Given responsibility to protect Israeli citizens and property, no matter that those same occupants are squatting on another’s life-giving resource, the Israeli military stepped in with force and a questionable brand of psychological warfare targeting children. As a result of their demonstrations for the return of their well, the citizens of Nabi Saleh have been visited by over 1,000 canisters of tear gas; many shot directly into homes and green houses. Israeli military and police units have carried out midnight maneuvers, interrogating and photographing nearly every child in the community, some under 10 years of age. In some cases, the children have been taken away in vans without warrants or stated cause. Little wonder that nearly every child in this community wets the bed.
Parents, fearful of the impact of this psycho/social violence during their children’s formative years, have taken a novel approach in response. The impoverished farming families we visited have gifted their children with a camera to record what is happening around them. During our brief stay, we were treated to a child’s home movies and still images of Israeli soldiers launching a barrage of tear gas in and around the very home where we had just enjoyed lunch. The young photographers shared images of fully armed soldiers standing around the beds of children after midnight, multiple images chronicling the damage done to their homes and property.
Why a camera? What kind of parent actively participates in putting their child directly into harms way?
A mother of one of the young picture takers explained that without a voice, their children become victims. As members of the community we were informed, they have as much of a right to tell the truth and expose darkness as the adults do. “Besides,” enjoined one of the parents, “when he has his camera … he feels safe.”
A Pete Seeger protest song in our nation’s civil rights era promoted a hammer to hammer out justice, a bell to ring out warning and a song of love to promote harmony between brothers and sisters. In bringing light in an era of darkness, the children of Nabi Saleh have a camera.