Growing up under occupation, Palestinian journalist Janna Jihad is on a mission to hold Israel accountable

Palestinian activist and young reporter Janna Jihad
6 min read
18 March, 2024

Janna was just seven years old when she accompanied her mother on a demonstration in the Palestinian village of Nabi Salih, the beating heart of political activism in the occupied West Bank.

As the protesters inched toward an Israeli army base on the edge of her hometown, Janna grasped an iPhone from her mother's hands and panned around to catch the shimmer of Palestinian flags, juxtaposed by the olive green uniforms of a flank of Israeli soldiers.

"Journalism was my way of resistance and sending my message, which is the message of every other Palestinian child, to the world"

A Palestinian child's eye on occupation

On the next march she did the same, and again, capturing the raucous sounds and patriotic zeal of the crowds until some weeks later her mother scrolled through her phone and chanced upon a small cache of videos filmed by Janna, including fervent addresses to the camera.

As any proud parent would, she posted them on Facebook, and thus Janna Jihad was born, the Arab world’s youngest journalist, showing life under occupation through a child’s eyes.

Janna's regular video dispatches from Nabi Salih began to garner international attention, with media from Washington to Riyadh picking up on her unique approach to reporting.

When Janna passed through an Israeli checkpoint, she would bring her phone along to document the process. When Israeli forces raided Janna's village, she was there, the camera fixed on the soldiers, providing a live report to viewers across the world.

Palestinian activist and young reporter Janna Jihad
Palestinian activist and young reporter Janna Jihad [Source: Bilal Al-Tamimi/TNA]

Despite death threats and other intimidation, Janna continued with her dispatches, her way of articulating the struggles faced by all Palestinian children in the occupied territory.

“Journalism was my way of resistance and sending my message, which is the message of every other Palestinian child, to the world,” Janna told The New Arab.

"It showcased my reality, and talked about what’s truly happening, and the feelings I experienced on a daily basis."

Living in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, Janna Jihad began documenting her experience of Israeli occupation when she was seven [Getty Images]
Janna Jihad was seven when she began documenting her experience of Israeli occupation [Getty Images]

From citizen journalist to activist

Ten years later, Janna addressed delegates at the annual Labour Party conference in Liverpool, UK early in October, just as Israel began its siege and bombardment of Gaza.

She spoke of the unconscious biases Europeans often betray when commenting on the Palestinian issue, as well as a historic debt owed by the UK due to the country's past occupation of Palestine.

To help delegates understand this better, she put the situation of Palestinians in the context of another war on Europe’s doorstep, Ukraine, which dominated Western foreign policy for a year and a half before 7 October.

"There is always this inherited systematic racism, even in the back of [their] minds, so trying to treat Palestinians as human beings is really crucial, especially because almost the exact same situation is happening in Europe with the Russia-Ukrainian war," she said.

"We've seen amazing global mobilisation and support for Ukraine because they are facing military occupation by Russia. But when Palestinians go through exactly the same thing, over 75 years… then because we are Palestinians, not Europeans or white, we are not seen equally."

Janna's words appear particularly poignant five months later, given that what she predicted largely turned out true. The West, including the UK opposition Labour Party, has largely stood by or supported Israel as Gaza was turned into rubble and at least 12,800 children were killed in the bombardment. 

Janna had urged conference attendees to remember the true values of the Labour Party, which included known supporters of the Palestinian cause such as Tony Benn, Robin Cook, Margaret McKay, and most recently Jeremy Corbyn.

[Janna Jihad's] videos of life in occupied Nabi Salih were a prodrome for the Gaza war, bringing up issues largely ignored by the media and political mainstream until an irreconcilable situation was born in the void.

While it’s impossible to know what impact, if any, this had on the MPs and officials who heard her speeches, it’s a message worth remembering today.

"The values of the Labour Party are ones that cover equality and justice, and with the apartheid system still ongoing in Palestine, and war crimes being committed by the Israeli occupation without any accountability, then this does not meet these beliefs," she told The New Arab at the time.

"If these beliefs are strong enough, the Labour Party should take action to put an end to the systematic apartheid and settler colonial system in Palestine and hopefully hold Israel accountable. Are we Palestinians hopeful? Not exactly."

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On the main stage of the conference hall, Labour leader Keir Starmer spoke of Israel’s 'right to defend itself' after Hamas's 7 October attacks and in one interview appeared to bless the total siege on Gaza, when the enclave’s 2.3 million civilians were completely deprived of food, water, and power.

In the months that followed, Starmer repeatedly rebuffed calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza causing a schism within the broad church of the Labour Party.

As the death toll mounted, MPs were forced to confront their consciences and many chose to rebel, losing leading positions within the party but winning the respect of Labour members and Palestinian activists.

The singularity of Janna’s videos has undoubtedly sparked intrigue among new allies of Palestine across the globe, as well as contributed to the groundswell in opposition to Israel's actions in Gaza and the West Bank.

Janna's exposure to daily abuses and hardships over the past decade is seen now in the unimaginable suffering of hundreds of thousands of children in Gaza, many maimed, starved, orphaned, or shellshocked.

Her videos of life in occupied Nabi Salih were a prodrome for the Gaza war, bringing up issues largely ignored by the media and political mainstream until an irreconcilable situation was born in the void.

Helping to understand 'the root of the crisis'

Janna's citizen journalism is now mirrored in the heroic work of Palestinian reporters in Gaza, who, if they aren't the latest victim of the bloodiest war for media workers on record, have endured unbearable loss and hardship, such as the hardships witnessed by Wael Al-Dahdouh.

The detention of Janna’s cousin, activist Ahed Tamimi, visibly distressed on her release, highlights the conditions Palestinian detainees in the West Bank and Gaza have been subject to, where humiliation, torture, and ill-treatment are said to be the norm.

Janna has seen two close family members killed by Israeli forces over the years, tragedies played out on a colossal scale in Gaza, which has experienced the bloodiest first 100 days of any conflict of the 21st century.

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It was her own experiences as a Palestinian teenager that she told the conference, one that would help people understand the root cause of the crisis. It appeared to be ignored when the Labour leadership responded to the Gaza war in the months that followed, at best, with empty words of commiseration.

She wonders if her stories will strike a chord with officials likely drawing up foreign policy for a future Labour government as we speak, one, it is hoped, that will be more understanding of life under occupation than the current administration.

"We had a good discussion, I explained what's actually going on on the ground," she said about her discussions with one leading Labour official.

"Any human listening to the atrocities we have faced daily, and have done for the past 75 years, I believe, must shake a little bit inside them."

Paul McLoughlin is a senior news editor at The New Arab

Follow him on Twitter: @PaullMcLoughlin