Swedish journalist Lena Fredriksson's account of everyday life under Israel's West Bank occupation is informed and passionate. All Quiet on the West Bank? Living under prolonged occupation pulls no punches in its critique of Israeli policies, including the imprisonment of children in military prisons and checkpoints which restrict freedom of movement. The author also lays out Palestine's rich cultural heritage, which she enjoyed particularly at a Palestinian wedding, the celebrations for which stretched over a number of days.
"The one main purpose I want my photobook to serve is to educate the world that Palestinians are just ordinary people who could've been you and me," Fredriksson told me. "They're not crazy or violent terrorists, which is the odd way that they are portrayed constantly by the media where there's clear bias towards Israel."
The 63-year-old writer visited the region for the first time ten years ago after being recommended to do so by a friend. She was promised that the study trip would be the most interesting experience of her life. "She was right. I was hooked. Prior to that trip in 2011, I had no idea about how the Israeli authorities are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution."
She pointed out that she was under the impression that it was "too complex" and difficult to understand. "But when I got there and saw the oppressive circumstances the Palestinians are living under — like really horrible things — I understood how it isn't difficult to understand any longer. It's a nation suffering under a military occupation."
During her many subsequent trips to the occupied West Bank, Fredriksson would write articles on the lives of the Palestinians around her and the daily injustices to which they were subjected. On roads in Hebron, for example, where cars with Palestinian licence plates are not allowed to be driven— yes, Israeli apartheid has such restrictions — regardless of the identification documents held by the driver.
On those roads which Palestinians are allowed by Israel to use, she witnessed first-hand that even those cars with Palestinian licence plates have restricted access, face endless delays at checkpoints and are subject to regular road blocks. Cars with Israeli plates experience none of these difficulties.
"I don't understand how this is allowed to happen, it's so distressing. But the magazines and newspapers to which I would send my articles were not interested by the daily struggles under apartheid unless there were clashes and violence. Moreover, they have more ongoing stories of violence from Syria right now, and they have that part of the world covered, so they don't need it from Palestine."
This compelled the journalist to produce a book that is neither solely a history of Israel's outright annexation of Palestinian land, nor just a collection of recollections about daily life hemmed in by illegal Jewish settlements.
Published last year, All Quiet on the West Bank? Living under prolonged occupation delves into the unique ways in which Palestinians adapt and try to live decent and dignified lives, despite the stress and frustration they experience. "I wanted my readers to grasp the spectrum of daily life in Palestine and focus not only on the obstacles and violence that the occupation brings, but also to appreciate the culture of the Palestinians, who have history and traditions that are a major part of their life."
The children and elders were all very eager to speak to the author and share their stories so that she could pass them on to others. "They let me spend time with them, learn about them and just join in with whatever they were doing. Their hospitality was heart-warming."
Thanks to Fredriksson's book, we meet them too, including a Palestinian bride in traditional Palestinian dress with intricate tatreez stitching, representing different Palestinian cities through the designs and colours of the embroidery. The book includes glamorous photos from the night before her wedding when she gets Henna patterns on her hands, while family and friends dance and sing to welcome guests to the wedding. "I added photographs to get more readers interested in this because photos speak immediately to your feelings. And there are a lot of feelings and expressions in these images."
We also meet Malik, the son of the Baradaia family in Beit Ommar, in the occupied West Bank, who was arrested in 2013 at the age of 15. Israeli soldiers broke into his family home and arrested him without any charge. He was blindfolded and had his hands tied with three cable ties before being thrown to the floor of a military vehicle.
"They said they would hit me if I didn't confess," he explains. "At the second hearing, I confessed and signed a paper in Hebrew, even though I couldn't read it."
According to the children's rights organisation Defence for Children International, Malik's case is typical.
"I felt in my heart that this book needed to be written, especially for readers here in Sweden," explained Lena Fredriksson. "There aren't many books like this here."
The kindly, welcoming and hospitable Palestinians; young and old, happy, righteous, angry and bewildered just want to live their lives with dignity. "Just like you and I," she concluded. "Which is why I want the world to share this through my book."