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Escape Through Fiction: Salha and Her Flying Sheep

October 3, 2012

In the middle of the night, Salha Hamadin awoke to the overly familiar sound of Israeli military jeeps outside her home. They were back, once again, for yet another home demolition.

The soft spoken 14 year-old quietly exited her family’s tin shack, snuck over to their nearby animal pen and whispered into her pet lamb’s ear, “Okay Hantush, let’s get out here.” And off they went.

In Salha’s award winning fairy tale, she and her flying pet lamb Hantush escape the dangers of the Israeli army by soaring across the Mediterranean Sea to Spain, where they meet the famous Barcelona football star, Lionel Messi.

After declining Messi’s initial request that she and Hantush join the Barcelona football club, Salha convinces Messi to return with her to her home in the Bedouin village of Abu Hinde on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Messi ends up transforming the village’s derelict football pitch into a giant stadium, enabling the tiny village to play host to the 2014 World Cup in a couple of years. Moreover the football superstar decides to switch his allegiance to Salha’s new football team, appropriately entitled Hantush.

Hantush and the literary award

Such is the story that won this year’s Han Christian Andersen Fairy Tale Bay competition, which saw over 1,200 entries submitted from around the world by youngsters aged 11 to 16.

The competition, named after and dedicated to the famed 19th century Danish fabler, is held every year in Sestri Levante, Italy, and centers on children’s literature and untold stories.

“As soon as I read Salha’s story I knew she would win the competition,” says Samah Tamimi, a community worker for the Italian NGO Vento de Terra.

Vento de Terra, in partnership with the Tamer Institute for Community Education, designed and implemented a series of European Union funded workshops in the Bedouin villages surrounding Jerusalem. Working with children ages six through fourteen, the workshops were aimed at encouraging students to discover and relay their own traditional oral Bedouin legends as well as to enable them to express their own hopes and ideas for the future through literature.

After convening three times a week for two months this past spring, four or five of the most well written stories were submitted by Vento de Terra to the Hans Christian Andersen competition.

With all the odds against her, Salha and Hantush beat out the rest of the competition.

The outpouring of press interest in response to her achievement has been a bit overwhelming for the quiet 14 year-old, who has received visits from seemingly almost everyone, from the AFP to the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Salha’s father, Sulayman Hamadin, who was arrested during a night raid very similar to the one with which Salha opens her story, is currently serving the ninth year of a twenty-five year sentence in Israel’s Ramon prison.

Incredibly proud of her success, Sulayman has according to Salha’s mother, spent all day every day in front of the television hoping to get a glimpse of his daughter who he has not seen in over three months.

Running Away from Reality

“The story of Hantush,“ says Salha “reflects the realities of every day life in the village of Abu Hinde.”

Originally part of the Al-Jahalin Bedouin tribe, a larger clan from the Tel Arad area of the Naqab (Negev) desert, the families of Abu Hinde, along with the entirety of the Al-Jahalin tribe (over 2,700 members) were forcefully evicted in 1950 after the creation of the Jewish state.

The small village of Wadi Abu Hinde, located along the outskirts of Jerusalem, was created as result of the eviction. Targeted with home demolitions by the Israeli army since 1990 due to its location in an area designated for the eventual expansion of the city-like Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, the village’s land is steadily shrinking.

Their land area has been steadily shrinking ever since their move from the Naqab to the expansion of nearby Israeli settlements, the creation of closed military areas, the demolition of homes, and the building of a highway which cuts through and separates two Jahalin communities.

In addition to the frequent home demolitions, closed military areas, settlement expansions, as well as the creation of a new highway that has severed Abu Hinde from its sister village Khan Al-Ahmar, the village’s location in what appears to be the middle of a desert certainly does not make life any easier.

Life in Abu Hinde is rustic to say the least. There is no running water and no electricity. Students who wish to continue their studies past the ninth grade, such as Salha’s older sister Manar, must walk a staggering nine kilometers though the barren desert-like hills of the West Bank in order to reach the nearest secondary school.

“They must either go by foot or by donkey,” says Salha’s mother, as only large four-wheel-drive vehicles can make it down Abu Hinde’s sole craggy access road.

Below the village lies a training base for the Israeli army and, perched high upon a hill above the village, looms the Israeli settlement of Gidar. Strips of ‘protective’ landmines surrounding the two aforementioned areas pose real and definite dangers to Abu Hinde’s shepherd based community.

With little ability and opportunities for travel outside her small community, Salha used fiction in the form of Hantush to escape the harsh realities of her daily life in Abu Hinde and explore the outside world.

Although quiet and somewhat introverted, 14 year-old Salha is eager to get out and explore the world that surrounds her. “If you’re so eager to travel, why did you decline Messi’s invitiation to move to Barcelona?!” asks the girls mother.

“If it was real life,” replies Salha, “I would have never came back.”

Source: Palestine Monitor

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