Introducing Janna Jihad (she/her/hers)! At just 15 years old, this passionate, dedicated, and ambitious teen has devoted her life to advocating for her fellow Palestinians--and Palestinian children in particular-- against the treacherous conditions set by Israeli occupation. Originating from the small village of Nabi Saleh, Janna has grown up under the influential umbrella of a family and, by extension, an entire people rooted in true resilience. Janna has been a reporter since the age of 7, when she used her mother’s phone to record the brutality of Israeli Occupation Forces at a 2013 protest and posted it online, garnering attention worldwide.
While the systemic upholding of Palestinian genocide and displacement is an abysmal reality--one that is hardly acknowledged by the global community--people like Janna provide the necessary hope and means of working towards a truly free Palestine for future generations. We are honored to have gotten to know her and include her as the latest feature in our SWANA Women series!
Interview by @samaakhullar
Samaa: Hi, Janna! Sorry, I didn’t let you introduce yourself [laugh], so go ahead.
Janna: Yeah, no, that’s totally fine! My name is Janna Jihad, I am 15 years old, I live here in the village of Nabi Saleh in Palestine, and
I am a student journalist, and I am an advocate for Palestinian children’s rights around the world.
Samaa: Very nice! So the first question is just on identity. How do you identify both in terms of gender and ethnicity?
Janna: So I am female, my pronouns are she/her, and I am Palestinian.
Samaa: So you just mentioned this, but what part of Palestine do you currently live in?
Janna: I live in the village of Nabi Saleh, right next to Ramallah in the West Bank.
Samaa: And what has it been like growing up in Palestine? Have you always lived there, were you born there - what is your background?
Janna: I was born in the United States, but I’ve never lived there. I’ve been living my whole life here in Palestine. Both my parents are Palestinian, so yes, I’ve been living here my whole entire life.
Samaa: And what would you say is the biggest misconception about living in Palestine?
Janna: I mean, people don’t exactly know what’s actually going on, and the fact that we’re living under a very bad military occupation - which is the Israeli military occupation - and the way our childhoods are, the way our rights are violated, our daily lives under this occupation, I think a lot of people around the world don’t exactly know how we’re living under this occupation, how we suffer everyday, how abnormal our lives are...yeah, I think that’s one of the biggest misconceptions.
Samaa: And what motivated you to pursue a career in journalism? And how did you know so young that this was the work that you wanted to do?
Janna: So I started journalism at the age of 7 when I realized that there are not a lot of people that actually know what’s going on here in Palestine. As I’ve said, I’ve been living here in Nabi Saleh my whole entire life, and in 2009, when I was 3 years old here in Nabi Saleh, we started doing our weekly protests against occupation, colonization, and the settlements that were being built on our land and stealing most of our resources here in Nabi Saleh. So we started doing our weekly protests in 2009, and I was 3 years old at the time. And during that time and during the years where we were protesting the Israeli occupation forces who were raiding the village, they would kill people, arrest people, injure people...as a child, I have seen so many people get killed in front of me. People that I’ve loved. I’ve seen most of my family members get arrested - brutally arrested. I usually would wake up on the sounds of gas canisters bombing near my window. Every time I would want to go to school or to Ramallah, most of the times I would face checkpoints - maybe even several checkpoints - that would prevent me and restrict my movement. So I was trying to find a way to show the world what is actually going on and how our children are actually feeling when all these things are happening to them. We see our loved ones...we lose our loved ones. So I started recording and reporting during our weekly peaceful protests where we would march along our main street and the Israeli occupation forces would start shooting at us just because of us singing or holding flags or chanting. There would be children, women, men, old people. So I just took my mother’s phone at age 7 and started recording one of these protests, and a month later, my mom found 4 reports on her phone and posted them, and we realized how many people were actually interested in knowing more about what’s going on, and how people actually started getting more educated in knowing what is actually going on through these videos. So I continued doing that and, you know, I’m 15 now.
Samaa: Yes, and you’re so young now, but what do you envision for your future as a journalist?
Janna: I would love to continue my career in the field of trying to help people and raise people’s voices to the world - people that are being discriminated against, people that are facing racism, occupation, colonization just like our Palestinian people, our Palestinian children who are living an abnormal life. I’m going to 10th grade right now, so I think in college I’m probably going to study political science and hopefully, by then, Palestine will be free. But I would for sure continue and try to cover other people’s suffering and...yeah.
Samaa: I’m actually a journalist at NYU, so it’s very cool that you’re interested in the same field and I was wondering--you know, I’ve experienced a lot of racism in this field and just discrimination against Palestinians - at least in America. So what I’m wondering is what you think other journalists should be doing to help the Palestinian resistance?
Janna: I mean, the only thing that we ask the media to do is to actually deliver the truth to the other people, because, you know, the western media is so controlled by the Israeli occupation to the point where people are becoming brainwashed, especially in the western world and the western media. So what we ask the media to do is to literally just come to Palestine and film and try to deliver the truth - nothing else - to other people. And try to just concentrate on the lives of these children that are suffering, to concentrate on what is actually and truly going on here in Palestine.
Samaa: And what has been the hardest thing to overcome this year professionally?
Janna: This year, in specific?
Samaa: Yes, but you can talk about the past year - whatever is most relevant to you.
Janna: So as a Palestinian, the occupation literally affects our lives in every single aspect, you can literally imagine. So it’s very hard to overcome the obstacles that the occupation puts in our way. For example, in 2018, the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs made a secret report about me, stating that I am the next threat on their country, and one of the Israeli channels made a report and at the end said, like a message to the Israeli stream, like, “What are we going to do to this girl?” And I faced so many threats, I was interrogated on my way back from Jordan, I got so many messages, Israeli occupation forces when they stalk me on checkpoints they usually stalk us for hours. When I’m reporting and the Israeli occupation forces see me reporting they would try to break my camera, stop me from recording by putting their hands on the camera, surrounding me and you can see that that’s in multiple videos. These are some obstacles that we face, especially as journalists, because the Israeli occupation targets us directly because they don’t want the truth to be delivered and seen by other people around the world. And especially in 2021, I mean we’ve been facing so many things, you know, so many things have been going on in Sheikh Jarrah, in Silwan, in Bayt, and all around the West Bank and all over Palestine in general. And it’s been very hard since, you know, we’ve been living in a pandemic in the whole entire world but especially here in Palestine. We’ve been living in this pandemic and on top of that living under occupation, and occupation have even been putting so much pressure and trying to use the fact that we’re under a pandemic to expand their settlements, to arrest more people, scare more people, building more settlements knowing that we cannot exactly gather at certain times to protest. For example, the settlers would start raiding villages and spitting on ATM’s and door handles to scare people...arresting so many people, the Palestinian political prisoners in the Israeli jail, the Palestinian child prisoners, are all facing so many bad things because of this pandemic. The Israeli occupation doesn’t exactly care about them getting COVID, there are so many people in every single room. There were even things where the Israeli forces inside the prisons would have COVID and give it to other prisoners and the Israeli prison wouldn't put the prisoners who have COVID in a specific place and keep them with all the other people. They won’t allow them to buy sanitary products to sanitize themselves, so yeah we’ve been facing so many hard things and especially, as myself, and as every single Palestinian child because of this occupation. So yeah it’s been extremely hard lately.
Samaa: Yeah, so are you in school at the moment?
Janna: Less than a month ago we started our summer break
Samaa: Oh okay
Janna: So yeah I’m not at school at the moment, but I am in school, you know.
Samaa: Yeah so basically you’re still continuing your education at the moment.
Janna: Right yeah I’m going into 10th grade in a couple months.
Samaa: Yeah, so they just had a question here; tell me about your family background, I’ve heard the village you’re from is very small in that you’re all sort of one family.
Janna: Right, so I live in the village of Nabi Saleh, as I said, it’s one of the smallest villages in Palestine. Just over 500 people live here in Nabi Saleh, we’re all one family, the Tamimi family. And yeah I come from a very activist family. My grandparents were always part of, you know, the first intifada, the second intifada. My grandpa was a very, you know, he was very active and he was even deported to Jordan by the Israeli occupation. My grandma was also part of a lot of amazing things. So yeah I come from an activist family, which also helped me a lot to know more about what’s going on. When I was very young, I was raised on the truth and to know what is actually going on and try to concentrate on all these types of wrongful things that the Israeli occupation is doing to us. So yeah I come from that type of family.
Samaa: Yeah, so just sort of the last question: what is your hope moving forward for Palestine and journalists in Palestine?
Janna: I mean my hope for Palestine is for it to be liberated from the Israeli occupation and colonization to end. For us to be able to move freely, for us to be able to practice all of our rights without anyone violating any of these basic and fundamental human rights, for our children to not be arrested at the ages of 11 and 12, for our children to be able to go to the mediterranean sea that I can literally see from the rooftop of my house but I’ve never been to it because of the occupation. So that is my hope for Palestine, for us to gain our full freedom to be able to speak out, for us to be able to do everything we can just like normal people and normal children around the world. And my hopes for other journalists in Palestine is for them to be able to practice their journalism freely without restrictions without the Israeli occupation forces breaking their cameras or targeting them or trying to silence them, without any force in the world trying to silence them. And, yeah, I hope moving forward we can achieve our goals of full liberation and our full freedom in Palestine; because, you know, we’ve been under this Israeli occupation for over 73 years now, and it’s been brutal seeing so many people get killed, so many innocent people get arrested and injured just because of them trying to defend their lands, their houses, their rights, their freedoms, themselves. So yeah, all that we want is to live a normal life like every single person in the whole entire world, every human deserves.
Entering the 10th grade this fall, Jihad hopes to study political science in college and her main career goal is simply oriented towards helping people, “[those] that are being discriminated against, people that are facing racism, occupation, colonization just like our Palestinian people, our Palestinian children who are living an abnormal life.”
As for her requests for other journalists, particularly those living and reporting in the west, Jihad is clear: “the only thing that we ask the media to do is to actually deliver the truth... people are becoming brainwashed, especially in the western world and the western media. So what we ask the media to do is to literally just come to Palestine and film and try to deliver the truth, nothing else, to other people. And yeah try to just concentrate on the lives of these children that are suffering, to concentrate on what is actually and truly going on here in Palestine.” The world has a lot to learn from such a young, yet brave soul. Jihad is truly paving the way for authentic and respectable journalism both in the SWANA region, and abroad.