Speaking Truth to Empower

This ongoing project in the Active Memory program, “Speaking Truth to Empower”, a campaign to collect and publish inspirational experiences of Palestinians, of all ages, who have overcome all forms of marginalization, through individual and collective effort and resourcefulness. These experiences can help young Palestinians overcome the culture of helplessness, isolation and fatalism, towards a culture that builds on its creativity and vitality.

AL-JANA is disseminating some of these profound human experiences so that they can be shared with people around the world.

Ein El Helwat: Stories of Empowerment and Social Transformation-the Case of the Women of Ein al-Hilweh 1982-1984

Historical memory of exceptional community spirit and organizing can be a catalyst for positive change and hope.  With this idea in mind, AL-JANA embarked on a documentation and film project focusing on the struggle of women of Ein El Hilweh camp in southern Lebanon between the years 1982-1984.  During the Israeli invasion of 1982, men of the camp between the ages of 14 and 60 years were imprisoned in Ansar prison in the south of Lebanon.  The remaining refugees were forced out of the camp, the camp was destroyed, and families, who returned to the camp, were left without homes and many without any means of support.  The future of the camp and its people was unknown.  How did the women face this difficult situation?

In 2005, a group of women researchers were invited by at AL-JANA to discuss the idea of researching this period of history and agreed upon a methodology for the documentation. The documentation process stopped during the 2006 war and restarted in the summer of 2009. Several groups of women were interviewed including freed prisoners, widows who raised their children alone, women who were compelled to get jobs for the first time, teenage girls who had to work in construction and other non-traditional fields, and political activists who took up the leadership of the political parties and resistance groups in the absence of the male leaders. Women of various ages and backgrounds and from the different neighborhoods of the camp were interviewed to ensure a rich coverage of the experience of that period. In all, interviews with 29 women were recorded.

The interviews show that the women during this period challenged social and religious traditional roles in order to rebuild their community and resist occupation. This period is seen by the women as a turning point in their personal development. Women physically rebuilt the camp in the course of two-years’ time and kept their community functioning. The interviews conducted are archived and available researcher, and to the community.  We aim to build a multi-generational dialogue on the importance of community perseverance and on challenging traditional roles in society. Furthermore, we hope this discussion will lead to more examples of periods of empowerment and community solidarity.

Later, AL-JANA invited Palestinian filmmaker Dana Abu Rahmeh to turn this epic experience into a film.

The film “The Kingdom of Women: Ein El Hilweh,” came out of this documenting process. The seven women and their families that the documentary focuses on representing the different facets of the 1982-84 collective experience.

With the camera we worked on developing an intimate visual language to enter the personal and public spaces these women inhabit and nurture. We attempted to capture the subtle and not so subtle, the personal and communal ways in which women sustain their families and societies. Animation was used to visually recreate the image and spirit of the past. We worked from personal objects that the women brought in that told stories of the period 1982-84. These objects-photographs, clippings, drawings, letters, tatreez (embroidery), ornaments created in prison-began to create a visual language for the animation. It was also a way to play with imagination and reality: to reflect on the roles the women took on at that time and its present day implications.