‘Occupied Palestine Through My Lens’ is a visual chronicle of the West Bank village’s struggle against the Israeli separation barrier. ‘Children of Bil’in’ is a book of portraits of youngsters from the village, the proceeds of which will benefit Palestinian children with cancer.
When the bulldozers arrived in Bil’in for the first time, in February 2005, and the villagers went out to protect their lands from the separation barrier, Haitham Khatib decided that somebody has to start documenting the popular resistance. It couldn’t be that people are non-violently protesting against an army coming to steal their land (roughly 1,500 dunams — or 370 acres — of agricultural land) and nobody in the world sees it, he thought.
While his friends and family, residents of the small little-known Ramallah-area village, chained themselves to trees and clashed with soldiers, Khatib rushed to get a digital camera and simply started photographing. Within a few days he started uploading the photos to the Internet. He didn’t have any idea at the time that his photos would become the center of his life. In the 10 years that have since passed, during which the village became a symbol of Palestinian popular resistance, Khatib stopped working as an electrician, and became a professional video and stills photographer. Today, he makes his living from photojournalism and is publishing his first two books of his photography.
“I’ve wanted for a long time to publish a book about the story of Bil’in, and the story of Palestine, through the eyes of somebody who lives here,” Khatib says. “I’ve collected a ton of photos over the years, some of which I’ve sold to news outlets, but many of which are lying around waiting me to have an opportunity to publish them. Publishing these books is an opportunity for me, both to tell our story to the world, and also to make a living from the sales — so I can continue to photograph.”
Haitham Khatib’s two books — “Children of Bil’in” and “Occupied Palestine Through My Lens,” are being published this year by a London-based publisher specializing on Palestine, with the help of Tazim Hamid. “Occupied Palestine Through My Lens” is a chronicle of Khatib’s photos of the struggle against the separation barrier, and of day-to-day life in the West Bank, along with texts that he wrote with the help of international activists. The second book is shorter and only contains photographs of children from the village. The second book is dedicated to the memory of his Haitham’s son, Karma, who died of cancer three years ago at the age of five. He plans to donate the proceeds of the second book to a fund that helps Palestinian children with cancer. “That is the minimum I could do to honor his memory,” he says.
After Israeli soldiers killed activist Bassem Abu-Rahmah in Bil’in in 2009, Khatib started shooting video instead of still photos, and opened a YouTube channel, which has hundreds of thousands of views. Since then he says he has grown tired of the monotony of the protests and has started working primarily on higher quality stills photography, which is what led to the publication of the books.
WATCH: Haitham Khitab films Bil’in residents re-enact ‘Avatar’
Khatib is not the only photographer from the village to gain a bit of fame. Videographer from Bil’in, Imad Burnat, was nominated for an Oscar for his film, “5 Broken Cameras.” Another villager, Hamda Abu-Rahma, also works as a photojournalist and also published a book a year and a half ago. The three all say they suffer abuse from Israeli soldiers, who often break their cameras or detain them. Khatib was once shot in the head with a rubber-coated steel bullet and required hospitalization. Nevertheless, they continue photographing and filming.
“Once, 10 years ago, at the beginning, if Haitham even saw a soldier far away on the road he would have been frightened and gotten off the road,” recalls Abdullah Abu-Rahmah, an activist in the village’s Popular Committee. “He has overcome the fear over the years, his mind has been freed from the occupation, and now he has no problem to get up close to them all by himself, with his camera, to speak to them, to ask them questions. It’s part of the cultural change that we all underwent over the years, and Haitham is a great example of that.”
You can find Haitham in the field nearly every Friday in Bil’in, walking around with a big, friendly smile, chatting with his friends and visitors in Hebrew, English or Arabic. These days he works with a stills camera in in his hands and a video camera attached to his press helmet. That combination, he explains, allows him to dedicate his attention to quality stills photographs, while the helmet cam can document things for legal purposes relating to any shootings or arrests. Asked how long he will continue to document the weekly protests, he answers without thinking — as long as the wall still stands, and as long as the protests continue.
Haitham Khatib’s two books can be purchased on his website.
Read this article in Hebrew here.