A Photo and a Story: Sari

By Rich Wiles

I took this photograph last year, an image of three boys in their early teens dressed in silky yellow shirts and striped waistcoats, preparing for a Dabka performance. It is a candid image and the three boys are all looking in the same direction at something out of the image. I know the three boys well, they all seem comfortable and relaxed, and their Dabka outfits represent a celebration of their culture. Looking again at the image now, and knowing the children, it has taken on new meanings…

Sari is 14 years old and a member of the Dabka Troupe of Lajee Center (www.lajee.org), a creative childrens/youth centre in Aida Camp. He has been dancing again recently but for a while a year or so ago Sari’s life was in danger when he was hospitalised after doctors found a small tumour on his brain. Thankfully, after operations and intensive hospital treatment he was able to return to Aida, albeit with a huge scar and daily medication, and eventually to dance again. Last week Sari decided to take part in demonstrations in protest at the IOF massacres in Gaza. In Bethlehem these demonstrations have been mainly staged near the IOF military base that borders Aida Camp at Rachel’s Tomb, but across Palestine similar protests have taken place. A student was killed at a demonstration in Ramallah after daring to stand for Palestinian unity, in Al Khalil (Hebron) there was another death, this time a 14 year old boy. Dozens if not hundreds of people have been injured in these demonstrations, and dozens more have been arrested. Sari believed it was his duty to show his solidarity with those being bombed and killed in other parts of his country.

Looking at the photograph now my eyes are naturally drawn to the 14 year old boy in the corner of the image, his face is out of focus but his eyes etched into my mind. His name is Sari. Sari never came back to Aida Camp after he had taken part in one of the demonstrations last week. As IOF soldiers at Rachel’s Tomb fired at demonstrators more IOF jeeps came from the direction of Beit Jala and managed to corner a group of children, four were arrested including one who was unable to run fast to escape due to mobility problems brought on by last years’ brain surgery. Nobody has seen Sari since…

Sari has now been sentenced for taking part in a ‘hostile un-permitted demonstration against the Israeli Forces’. He is one of around 350 Palestinian children currently locked up by Israel.

-Rich Wiles is a socially-engaged artist who has worked extensively in Palestine since 2003. Working mainly with photography, but also with text and more recently film, Wiles has exhibited work from Palestine widely around the world including in the UK, Italy, Holland, Denmark, Australia, the US, and in Palestine itself. In Palestine, he is based in Aida Refugee Camp where he is Artist-in-Residence and Coordinator of International Relations at Lajee Center (www.lajee.org) – a creative cultural children’s and youth center. Wiles has been running photography projects with young Palestinian refugees since 2005 and these projects have also been exhibited widely internationally. In 2007 Wiles published two photography books with Lajee of work produced by the new generations of Aida Camp since 2005. He is currently touring Europe and Australia showing the Rich Wiles/Lajee Center ‘Al Nakba’ Photography Tour which includes his own long-term ‘Portraits of Palestine’ project and also the two new Lajee exhibitions produced in 2007. Wiles’ text-based project in Palestine – ‘Behind the Wall’ – will be published in book form in 2008. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com; contact him at: Richimages02@hotmail.com

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