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Postcards from Palestine

Few 24-year-olds can lay claim to having visited Palestine. Fewer still can claim to have juggled in the West Bank. Which is why Timira Gupta feels especially privileged.

india Updated: Jan 31, 2009 23:18 IST
Tasneem Nashrulla

Few 24-year-olds can lay claim to having visited Palestine. Fewer still can claim to have juggled in the West Bank. Which is why Timira Gupta feels especially privileged. In October last year, this professional juggler, social worker and journalist held a three-week photography workshop to help Palestinian children use a camera and express themselves through pictures.

Gupta volunteers as a juggler with Peatro Per Paso, an Italian NGO of performing artists, which conducts projects for underprivileged children in India once every year. On a holiday in Italy, Gupta met another volunteer — a photographer — who had recently been to Palestine and was deeply disturbed by the Israeli occupation of the region. Together, they discussed the possibility of a photography project with Palestinian children.

With sponsorship from an Italian cultural organisation and assistance from the International Palestinian Youth League, Gupta soon found herself on a flight to Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank and the second holiest city in Judaism. “It was intimidating at first,” says Gupta. “It’s hard to get used to everyone walking around with guns. I even saw children playing with real guns.”

But cameras replaced guns at the Palestinian Child Club where Gupta conducted the workshop for children between the ages of 11 and 16 as part of the Laboratory of Smiles project. “My main objective was to get them to tell the world their stories through photographs,” says Gupta. In her spare time she taught them to juggle. An overwhelming moment for her was accompanying them on their first visit to the Apartheid Wall in Bethlehem.

“Everyone thinks it’s a sad situation. Despite living with a history of violence, however, the children are happy,” she says. “Most of them carry mobile phones and even ten-year-olds smoke hookahs!” Among the many lessons Gupta picked up in war-torn Palestine was to look at the issue from a neutral perspective. “You start to see that both sides are justified in their own way,” she remarks.