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Palestinian child’s personal jihad is effective propaganda

  • JannaJihad
While most 12-year-olds focus on academics, sport or just having fun, Palestinian Janna Jihad is spreading her message of resistance in South Africa, calling on sympathisers to protest the Israeli occupation.
by JORDAN MOSHE | Jul 05, 2018

Dubbed “the world’s youngest registered journalist” by certain media outlets, this 12-year-old resident of the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh is in South Africa until 20 July to participate in Mandela centenary events. She is also scheduled to engage with South African human rights organisations.

Born in 2006, Janna Tamimi, more commonly known as Janna Jihad or Janna Jihad Ayyad, started “reporting” at the age of seven. After initially using her mother’s iPhone to capture videos of protests near her home, she claims she began her career when she realised that there was no one photographing events in “Palestine”.

Using her own camera, she films and reports protests, attacks, and everyday happenings in the region, and then posts the videos on social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and Facebook, on which she has more than 270 000 followers.

Hosted by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Jihad visited South Africa in 2017 to spread awareness about the violence in her home region as part of the Pals4Peace tour with the nongovernmental organisation Shamsaan Children of Palestine. Speaking to local media in Durban this past Monday as the ambassador for Shamsaan, Jihad spoke about her work in Palestine, sharing videos and stories about the conditions for children living there.

“I live in Palestine, and am the youngest journalist in the world,” she says in a recording of her address. Narrating a video being screened to her audience, Jihad points out the presence of Israeli civilians in one of the shots. “That’s our water spring. Those are Israeli occupation settlers who stole our land,” she says. “They are on their way to a spring under Israeli occupation protection. They stole houses and the land of our village.”

In many of her previous videos, the narrative Jihad uses is much the same. While she does frequently report on events as they unfold around her, she expresses views which are not supported by fact, and are often inflammatory. One recording shows her at a demonstration surrounded by dozens of other Arab protestors. Jihad explains that soldiers are firing teargas at them. However, she goes on to say that these soldiers have arrived to occupy more land, and to kill children. In another, she is filmed pointing out Israeli soldiers on a distant hilltop, and states that they have come with the sole purpose of killing children. Not reserving her vilification for soldiers, she goes as far as branding Israelis as, “terrorist people who come into our land trying to kill people”.

She often makes statements that are completely false. In one such video, Jihad is speaking from her home for Turkish news channel TRT World, explaining why she pursues her mission. “A lot of times, settlers will just come in and kill children with their cars. We have humanity and mercy, not like them.” She says this when car-ramming is part of the terrorist modus operandi against Israeli civilians, and no instances of the reverse have been recorded.

In another video, Jihad can be seen standing beside the body of a motionless child, whom she explains was the victim of Israeli violence. She claims, “He has been hit by a rocket.” However, the child does not appear to have any injuries, nor or is there any evident impact around him.

Jihad hails from an activist family which is well-known in the Western media as being a radical “Palestinian propaganda machine”. Its involvement in politics dates back to 1948. Her mother, activist Nawal Tamimi, accompanied her to South Africa.

Jihad is the niece of activist Bassem el-Tamimi, and the cousin of youth activist Ahed Tamimi. Bassem has organised protests against Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, has been arrested by the Israeli authorities more than a dozen times, and encourages the throwing of stones at Israeli soldiers by locals in his village. His daughter, 17-year-old Ahed, is best known for appearances in images and videos in which she confronts Israeli soldiers. Ahed was detained by Israeli authorities last year after she, her mother and cousin approached two soldiers outside the Tamimi home, and were filmed slapping, kicking, and shoving them.

A clip posted on Facebook by Bassem in August 2014 shows an eight-year-old Janna screaming in English at a group of Israeli soldiers, calling them “terrorists” and declaring confidently that “all the world” is with the Palestinians. She concludes by telling the soldiers “we will kill you”.

 “In a situation where conflict is asymmetrical, material provided by youngsters becomes potent,” says American political commentator Brooks Spector. “When a child is sharing their experiences, the message becomes compelling, and we are glued to it. This despite the fact that the report may not be balanced, comprehensive, or accurate. Material from a young woman like this is addictive. The question for audiences is less about its accuracy than about it being the testimony of a child.

“Unless the report is debunked as the product of specialist film makers, it will remain in vogue. The only way to address this is by sharing equally compelling stories from the other side. A press release from a prime minister simply won’t cut it. We need to ask how to put these reality reports into context, and address them for what they are.”

Nevertheless, others have expressed doubt as to the real impact Jihad has in promoting her cause. “Jihad is part of the Tamimi family clan, which is notorious for using its own children as props and propaganda tools,” says Shaun Sacks, an analyst at the NGO Monitor.

“While the anti-Israel cause may attract significant attention in South Africa, that is all they have to offer,” he says. “BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] and its friends use the same worn-out phrases and gimmicks to grab headlines and attention. Janna was here not long ago, and even though she got some media attention, her impact was minimal. In the long-term, it was insignificant beyond the BDS world in South Africa.”

He continues: “Her current trip will attempt to garner greater media attention. This will be done by co-opting any South African issue. She will make multiple references to Mandela, talk about her ‘experiences’ with apartheid and lack of access to quality schools. Ironically, her fame is due to her command of English and easy access to social media, a luxury that is unavailable to most south Africans her own age.”

Sacks also expressed scepticism about her being called a journalist. “How does this particular 12-year-old qualify as one of the world youngest journalists?” he asks. “Most teens have social media, and many have become gifted writers, but playing up this young girl who has no actual qualifications is an insult to an industry that has worked tirelessly to provide quality information from multiple angles.

“When you see the sources that support her, it’s clear that she is another example of children being manipulated as propaganda tools. These include Al Jazeera, IOL.za, Russian Television News, Turkish outlet TRT World and Vice Media. Not exactly a wide variety of opinions about her.”

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