'I am here, I resist.'
Nisreen is an artist, using oil pastels to express her feelings about the occupation of Palestine and the violence that she sees around her. Some of her images are sad and some are celebratory, telling stories of women and children protesting the occupation.
Nisreen was born to Palestinian refugees from the 1948 nakba, or catastrophe, when Zionist militias forced 700,000 from their homes in historical Palestine. She met her husband Hashem in Jordan while she was studying art, and together they moved back to his home in Tel Rumeida, Hebron. Directly behind her house up the hill is the Tel Rumeida Israeli settlement, casting a long shadow over Nisreen and her family. Since the army closed the normal route to her house from the road, a rocky and uneasy path is the only way for Nisreen and her children to move to and from the house. Like other Palestinians living in occupied Hebron, she lives under several complex layers of the brutal occupation. Hebron is the only place in Palestine where Israeli settlers live within a Palestinian city, and since 1997 has been divided into two parts: H1, under Palestinian control, and H2, under Israeli control. The 35, 000 Palestinians living in the H2 area are subject to intense scrutiny and controls by the occupying Israeli forces, ostensibly there to protect the 500 or so Israeli settlers living in H2. Nisreen and her family, along with the other Palestinians in the H2 area of Hebron, experience the sharp end of the Israeli occupation, having to witness soldiers, checkpoints, border police and settler violence directed against them in a daily litany of militaristic abuse alongside the more mundane humiliations of occupation: being stopped and searched, having a numbered ID card or not being allowed to open shops.
Nisreen has always produced art, but started to focus on her oil paintings more seriously during the second intifada after 2000, when her neighbourhood became a closed military zone, and it was difficult for men to go to their jobs. With movement around the city so restricted, they had to spend a lot of time at home, always witnessing the violence of soldiers and settlers, with few distractions. During this time art became an escape for Nisreen, to channel her emotions into something productive, and a way of resisting. After encouragement by visitors to her home who saw her artworks, she began producing images for international buyers, and now sells her work all over the world for those looking to support a voice of resistance in Hebron.
Nisreen’s husband, Hashem, gave tours for international visitors to show them the difficulties caused by the occupation in Hebron, and was known and disliked by Israeli settlers and forces. He was suffering with an ongoing heart problem, and one day was badly affected by tear gas thrown by Israeli soldiers against protesters whilst he was taking a group of internationals on a tour of the city. He returned home having trouble breathing and fell unconscious on the sofa. Israeli soldiers prevented the ambulance that was called from getting through to Tel Rumeida from the Palestinian controlled H1 area, so his friends carried Hashem to the checkpoint to take him to the hospital. The Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint would not let them through for 10 minutes while Hashem was still unconscious. By the time he reached the hospital in the H1 area of the city, he could not be resuscitated.
Nisreen remains in her house with her four children. Selling her artwork is one of
the only ways she has to support her family after the death of Hashem.
She knows that the settlers nearby want to take the house and her land for
themselves, which is why they direct a tirade of abuse and violence against her
and her family.
She is worried for her children seeing soldiers every day and witnessing the violent
behaviour of the settlers. During heightened tensions in 2015, the area of
Tel Rumeida became a closed military zone for nine months, stopping all outsiders,
including journalists and human rights activists, from coming to the area.
Despite the settlers’ attempts to intimidate Palestinians like Nisreen, she refuses to give up her land to them. The soldiers come and invade the house a few times each year, checking the house, taking measurements and messing everything up in a deliberate provocation. She knows they are sizing the house up to support a settler invasion. They haven’t come yet in 2018 but she is prepared to be steadfast when they next come. She says, “I will not leave my house, I resist here. Hashem died but I live here. I am here, I resist.”
Her artworks encapsulate Nisreen’s quiet and determined resistance to the racist bullying of the nearby settlers, supported by the full force of the occupying Israeli army. Some are sad, some are hopeful, all are beautiful, and importantly, they are her voice to the world from her struggle here in Hebron, Palestine. It is a voice that refuses to be silenced.