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8 Aug, 2012

Palestine Refugee Girl’s Story Wins International Writing Award


1 August 2012, Jerusalem (www.unrwa.org) — When Israeli bulldozers arrived to demolish her home, 14-year-old Palestine refugee Salha Hamadin called on her pet Hantush to take her somewhere far away until they finished.

Hantush, a flying lamb, took Salha on an adventure to Spain, where she met with the Barcelona football team’s Lionel Messi, who then returned with Salha to her community and promised to fix their football field. Messi then offered Salha a position on the team, but she refused, saying that she had to go home and take care of her sheep. Because her father is in jail, Salha is the only one in the family who can take care of them.

This was the basis of a story written by Salha, winner of this year’s “Hans Christian Andersen – Fairytale Bay” prize. Salha lives and studies in Wadi Abu Hindi, and is part of the Arab Jahalin Bedouin community in the Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank.

Expressing ideas and hopes through literature

“As soon as I read the story, I knew it would win”, said Samah Tamimi from the Italian organisation Vento Di Terra. They worked in partnership with the Tamer Institute for Community Education, a pioneering organisation established in Jerusalem to respond to the needs of Palestinians for informal education under the harsh reality of life under Israeli occupation. The two organisations delivered a series of workshops funded by the European Union, encouraging Bedouin students to discover their traditional Jahalin legends. In addition to promoting Bedouin oral traditions, the project gave the students an opportunity to express their ideas and hopes for the future through literature.

“I am proud of this achievement because it benefits my school and community”, Salha explained. “I can be creative and distinguished, and overcome challenges, just like everyone else.”

Story combines childhood fantasy with reality of displacement

Salha’s story Hantush describes the reality of life for her Bedouin community in the occupied Palestinian territory: a life filled with demolitions, displacement and neglect, but also a girl’s dream of playing sports and having a good time. The story captured the imaginations of the jury, who bestowed an honourable mention on her after reviewing approximately 1,200 submissions.

“The Bedouin community is neglected in the mainstream”, Tamimi added. “But this prize is a small way to demonstrate that with the help of the local and international community, the reality can be different. Salha and her community’s confidence have increased as a result of this prize.” Salha agrees, and is now inspired to continue honing her craft. “I hope to continue to write about my rights, dreams, and ambitions.”