''Actually, I have utmost respect from Jewish activists. I’ve learned so much from them like activist Miko Palid and Noam Chomsky helped me to learn more about the cause and Norman Finkelstein as well… I got lots of mail from my Facebook pages saying I am Jewish, but I follow Palestinian cause. Don’t think that all Jewish are like the people in Israel,'' says Lina Abojaradeh.
Lina Abojaradeh is a 21-year-old Palestinian artist and poet who grew up in the United States and moved to Jordan, where she studies architecture at Jordan University.
''It was when we first moved from the US to Jordan nine years ago. I was kind of a loner. For a while the only way that I expressed myself was through painting. It makes me feel better about myself,'' says Lina when we ask how she discovered her talent to paint. Lina gives women a leading role in her paintings.
Lina's grandfather and grandmother were born in Palestine's Yafa. Her grandfather Suleiman Dawood Abojaradeh was a refugee three times, migrating from his birthplace of Yafa to Nablus, then to Kuwait, followed by Jordan; where he was finally able to settle.
''My grandfather had 11 kids. They really suffered. Hearing about sometimes they have nothing to eat sending his kids to refugee schools… This is my blood… My grandfather had a farm. That was passed to him from generations. That was supposed to be mine. It was stolen from me. Because of the occupation. So, it really feels like 'I am Palestinian.' You know that is my land. You know it is love.''
Jordan was where she learnt more about her origin. Moving to Jordan, just a few kilometres away from Palestine, helped her passion for Palestine to grow. Here is our interview with Lina.
Do you remember what encouraged you to paint about Palestine for the first time?
The first time I painted about Palestine, my teacher told me there was a competition about Palestine. I tried to paint and I won second place in all of Jordan. So, it was like a whole new world opened up for me. And I could actually paint for a cause. It was not just about painting a beautiful scene or a person, but I felt as if I could actually inspire people and paint to express my thoughts. I’ve been painting to show my passion about Palestine, my passion for the cause.
What type of reactions did people express about your paintings?
First of all, being a successful artist takes a very long time. At first it was very normal, people complimented me and relatives pretended my art was nice, stuff like that. But when I started university, I started developing my talent and uploading my work on to Facebook. I received a lot of positive feedback, such as, “I love your paintings, it changes the way I think” and it felt really good. Facebook really helped me get my art out into the world, for it to reach people.
You have gained thousands of fans from around the world, who are attracted to your artwork. What about your family, were they supportive?
For me it’s a hobby. It’s a nice hobby. My mother, she didn’t want me to study art. But, when she saw people’s reactions to how successful my paintings became, she became a part of it. Yes, they really support me, they’re always there for me. Like, when there is an event, they’re first in line. But, as a society, people don’t want their children to become artists; they want doctors and engineers. “What are you going to do with art?” That’s the main reaction, my parents felt the same way in the beginning.
You have been able to sell some of your artwork, how many have you sold, so far?
I’ve sold some to relatives, but for the Palestinian cause. There was one man who contacted me from Facebook, he didn’t care about the cost and he just wanted my art work. He bought like, over eight paintings at once, to support the Palestinian cause. So I’m trying to sell more. I really need to establish a website. That’s one of my goals; establishing a website with all of my art work and trying to sell them.
Was he Palestinian?
He was American. However, he is interested in the Palestinian cause.
During your artistic journey, have any local or worldwide artists supported you?
The support I received from my relatives and people in Jordon was huge. Like, Doc Jazz, he is a Palestinian singer. He took me under his wings, he’s always sharing my work. For a young artist, just starting out that means so much. Knowing that someone believes in your work. Support is really important. If I find a young Palestinian artist, I will support them as much as I could, no matter what. In the beginning, you really don’t know if what you’re doing is right or if people will like it or not.
Do you follow any particular artists?
The first Palestinian-related art that I saw was Ismail Shammout. He was born in Palestine, but he also had to move. His paintings are so beautiful. His wife is also from Yafa and a painter. I enjoy their work, it’s very beautiful. In the paintings you feel the emotion, as if you’re there. His paintings all depict his experiences so you can feel the pain and suffering. It motivates you to paint. It’s very moving and inspiring. It gives you a sense of what Palestine is like.
Palestinians show their resistance in many different ways. Do you think that painting is a way of showing resistance?
Yes, definitely… I cannot do anything from here [Jordan]. I wish I could go to Palestine and be with those on the streets that are trying to defend the land. But I am here. What can I do, other than paint? Painting makes me feel alive and makes me feel as if I’m doing something for Palestine. I wish I could help them more, I wish I could give them more money, but I can’t. My paintbrush is my weapon in this regard.
Your paintings reflect different political topics related to Palestine. One of the most important was the Dawabshe family killed in an arson attack by far-right Israeli settlers. What did you want to express on the Dawabshe case?
I follow Palestinian news on a daily basis. When I see news [on Palestine] I start painting right away. Because it is still fresh on the international scene. When I heard about it in the news, it moved me so much, because it was an eight month old baby, so helpless and his mom, his dad… And, what moved me more was Ahmed Dawabshe… He is the survivor… He is what’s left over from the war. He is going to grow up without parents or a brother. The fact that they have to live with those [Israeli] settlers day by day. They have to live with that abuse and they are not safe from them. Actually, they don’t have to. Because, that was their land! They don’t have to share it with people who hate them. So, I really want to portray it from a humanitarian point of view, this child that lost his brother, his mother, his father… I want to move people in that regard. So they can know that it is not okay! The West Bank is occupied…
Some of your paintings have gotten over a million shares, which one was the most shared painting?
The baby Aylan… The Syrian baby who drowned.
You have also painted some street art.
Yes, actually my friends and I started a NGO called ArchiSmile, as architecture students. We paint poor schools, who cannot afford to get their buildings painted. We’ve done universities and poor schools around the Kingdom. We also painted an autistic girls bedroom for her, along with orphanages and a children’s centre. Being a volunteer is really important to me. I just want to give back to the community.
In your paintings, we see your interest in politics. What can you tell us about your political stance and how it is reflected in your paintings?
Yes, I am very interested in politics because politics is in all of our lives. Painting political paintings, as I do, shows how messed up the world is in a funny and cynical way. We have so much hypocrisy in the world. All the western countries claim freedom and democracy, but they’re the ones creating all the problems and conflicts in the Middle East. I like showing my political views through my art work, and I think it’s something positive.
We’ve seen your paintings on the “Palestinian Cause.” Do you think buying a painting on the “Palestinian Cause” and hanging it on the wall will bring the cause into people’s homes.
Yes, exactly. That’s amazing. Anyone who goes into a home where my paintings are hung will see my work. It really is a great feeling. That’s the whole point. We have to keep Palestine alive. We can’t let our children or the coming generations forget Palestine. That’s what Israel wants! We have to keep it alive through art, poetry, music… We have to keep the love for life alive… That’s one of my most important goals through art.
Being raised in the US as a Palestinian… What has that added to your personality?
The thing about me is I don’t just see the world from an Eastern or Western point of view. I have both. I have experienced both sides of the coin. In a way I think that it makes me more open minded to different views, I understand how Americans feel, but I also understand how Arabs feel. However, “We can achieve peace with Israel through agreements… through whatever.” Our children are dying, literally. So, I think resistance is something positive. We have the right to defend ourselves and to reclaim our land. Because there is no peace with the enemy who hates you and enemy who has always hated you! We will never coexist! The ideology of Zionism is a racist ideology that excludes Palestinians and Arabs. In the Arab world, people are losing their identity about being Palestinian. People don’t really care about Palestinians. Palestinian brothers are being killed and I feel like we have to revive Palestine in our hearts.
Jordan is known to host the highest number of Palestinians. What do the people of Jordan do for Palestinians?
At least show solidarity… When you see people doing something for Palestine, people react by saying "why you are acting like you’re an activist," it is so negative. That negative attitude is not great. We can help by sharing the news and donating money and time. We need to find ways to resist. Draw a sketch, write a song, participate in a peace protest and maybe push government to do something about the Palestinian cause. There are so many things that could be done. We just have to be organised and work together. We have to find new and creative ways to help them. Poetry is also a method of resistance, a new method. We have to find different methods to capture people’s attention.
You also write poetry, what can you tell us about your poems as a young Palestinian artist?
Actually, since I was a child, I loved reading. In the first grade I read the entire Harry Potter series. I think writing came from reading so much. I actually started writing before I started painting. I always loved to write. It’s a way of expressing myself. I also started writing poetry when I was in school. I believe you could create magic with words if you organise them in the right way, you can make people feel something. The more I wrote, the better I became. I started reading more poetry from Palestinian writers as well. Mahmoud Darwish affected me the most. His poems are amazing. By the way thank you for asking about poetry. Most people only ask me about my paintings.
You give women a leading role in your paintings, what inspired you to do this?
I see Palestine as a mother… A mother is the most important part of a family. Also, the one who gives you life. Palestine gives me my identity and a purpose. I also feel like Palestinian women suffer so much, but people don’t realise that. Maybe they see the man having the main role in resistance, but really it is Palestinian women because they are so strong. If their son is shot, they are still very proud and happy because they resisted. I wish I could have the same strength. Palestinian women can also be jailed, but they remain strong and they hold our cause, really. They make Arabs proud. Even if we don’t do anything they are the ones who carry all the weight of the Ummah (Muslim world).