BBC Extra: Jehan Helou & Nabeela Hassan (1st H)

Monday 10 February 2014


23rd November 2012,first hour

These are extracts from a two hours ‘BBC Extra’ interview, conducted in London November 23rd 2012 with Jehan Helou President of The International Board on Books for Young People (PBBY), who spoke about IBBY, books, Children in Crisis and other subjects and it included a direct interview from Gaza with Nabeela Hassan PBBY coordinator there.


Welcome to BBC Extra per a week


Abdel Samad Bin Joudeh: I welcome dear listeners of BBC EXTRA This Week, and I welcome our guest Jehan Helou, President of IBBY-Palestine .Welcome my Lady.

Jehan Helou: Thank you, and Thanks for BBC EXTRA for hosting me.

Abdel Samad: Welcome first let us have a quick look at your life: (…) First would you like to tell us about IBBY and its objectives?

Jehan: The International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) is an international Organization that celebrated it sixtieth birthday this year. IBBY was established after the Second World War because after the war children needed the books for reading learning and embedding new social values. IBBY has 72 branches all over the world; from the Arab countries there is Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Tunisia hoping that more new members will join us in the near future.

PBBY was established in 2002 and was faced with difficulties before becoming full member there was some kind of ignorance about Palestine. Are Palestinians a real people they do not have a state, but fortunately all the Arab and Western sections supported us and backed our participation by explaining that books play a significant and vital role in the life of children during wars. I became a member of the Executive Committee for 2 consecutive terms 2008-2012.

The objective of IBBY is to enhance the bondage between the child and the book, and the Child’s Right to Become a Reader. In addition reading promotes cultural exchange in the world.

Every two years, IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award is given to the best reading campaign in the world and the Hans Christian Andersen Awards for the best writer and Illustrator. In addition, each section nominates their honor list for the best writer, best illustrator and translator every two years. We in Palestine have been nominating writes, illustrators and translators since 2004. The chosen books are displayed in exhibitions around the world especially children books exhibition. After the Tsunami in Indonesia in 2004 IBBY launched a very vital project Children in Crisis Program. Children in natural or war crisis need books to distract them and allows them to forget their painful reality for a while.

(… Other subjects)

Abdel Samad: Now we move to Gaza Strip which was highlighted last week in the news pertaining to the cease fire between Israel and the Palestinian factions. The people of Gaza welcomed the cease fire although they are still suffering from the siege imposed on them (…)

Abdel Samad: Since we are talking about relief, Mandela’s wife has a famous saying “Reading is the fourth pillar for relief”. Do you think that reading is important to the children of Gaza especially in these difficult circumstances?

Jehan: Of course there is no doubt about that Education and Reading are important and basic for the children. I also respect the saying of Garcia Michael ‘that the fourth pillar of relief should be education and books’. Providing food, shelter, and medication is not enough, we have to give children hope and the future not only the present!

Abdel Samad: Do you think books can provide hope to children whose homes were destroyed by the war?

Jehan: We Palestinians consider education, reading books as best weapon for our steadfastness, resistance and struggle for freedom, and we even give it the first priority. Generally speaking, the child wants to forget his brutal reality for few moments; books attract his attention to different worlds (…)

Abdel Samad: PBBY established two libraries in Gaza one in al- Shawka area near the crossing borders of Rafah, the other in Beit Hanoun. These two libraries offer important services to children who live in the borderline area which is constantly bombarded, shelled and invaded by the Israeli army. We have on the line with us now direct from Gaza, Ms. Nabeela Yousef Hassan who volunteers to supervise the work in these libraries, and who is also a coordinator at Tamer Institute for Community Education.

Welcome. (…)

Nabeela: Yes the shelling targeted several libraries amongst them was PBBY al-‘Ata Library in Beit Hanoun, which lies on the borderline area at Eretz crossing path, of it was a contact and fire line for children. I mean most of the libraries were either destroyed or burnt.

Abdel Samad: Yes, and these are not the only libraries in the Gaza Strip for Children what makes them different?

Nabeela: In Gaza Strip there is a large number of libraries distributed geographically from Gaza to Rafah, but what distinguish these libraries is that they both lie on the borderline and in marginalized areas. Very few institutions offer their services in these areas and because they are situated in agricultural areas, therefore, there is urgent need for people living there to learn and be educated; children, parents and even the elderly.

Abdel Samad: Do you think children in those areas love reading more than other children living in different areas?

Nabeela (…) Children living in marginalized areas read more than children in other areas, because, libraries are their only outlet. For example in al “Shawka” area there was no library, until PBBY established it. The children had no place to do any activity except to play in the streets and this was very dangerous because it is a border line area in contact with the Occupation. Many children were killed when mines exploded and shattered them. When PBBY established the library everybody was relieved especially the parents, they were no more worried about their children playing outdoors. The children participate in several activities in the library; they read, play, meet and compete.


Abdel Samad: Nabeela are there any books that the children like read most?

Nabeela Hassan: Children like to read stories about heroes of their own age, they like supernatural books. As you may know Gaza lies always under difficult circumstances – the children like to change their reality (…)


Abdel Samad thank you Nabeela now return to Jehan

Abdel Samad: (…) we have one question to you from Rweida ‘Ali: What is the difference which we do not know between the Palestinian children and the children living in a more free and independent countries.’

Jehan Helou: The main difference is that the children of Palestine are deprived from most of their basic rights that are internationally recognized. Let’s remember that Gaza in Particular, is a place for Palestinian refugees who were uprooted from their homeland in 1948. People there live in a very difficult social and economic situation since then, and they still believe in the Right of Return. It is a series of years and years of deprivation, the 1967 occupation and then the siege and blockade that continued for seven or more years, all add up to the situation. I am amazed and wonder how children can express themselves and go on and on, and grow up naturally in such circumstances… they have hope and they know they have a just cause, but we have to appeal to the world to support the Palestinian children because this Injustice cannot go on all these long years and it is escalating every day and not receding!

Abdel Samad: Can one be wrong if he says that if there is literature for children in Palestine it is politicized?

Jehan: Not necessarily, for a while authors did not write about the cause. As if when you live the cause, you need to get away for a while and then start writing politicized literature. Part of the literature is politicized, the other is ordinary children literature with positive social values. The ones who write politicized literature are the children themselves. Tamer Institute was awarded the Astrid Lindgren Award, the most important award internationally recognized, for its successful reading in Palestine. We also published the book “Gardens of Hope” which had stories written by children. Children write about themselves, their stories and their reality, stories about their suffering; for example during the war on Gaza there were writings such as: “I do not want to sleep so as not dream” of course their dreams mean nightmares, another wrote “ I want to live without fear”.

Abdel Samad: I have now with me the book “Garden of Hope” the writing of the Palestinian children’s and the illustrations of children from Arab Emirates.

Jehan: They said let the children of Palestine write about their Pain and the children of Emirates illustrate the Hope and the cover is for a very famous Tunisian illustrator Raouf Karray. The book is in Arabic and English.

Abdel Samad: Also since we are talking about children literature do you agree that children literature have greatly improved during the past years? We still remember the old stories of Mohammad Attiyah al-Abrashi and the green library. Is there any change?

Jehan: Fortunately there is a qualitative change in the children’s literature in Palestine and in the some parts of the Arab world. The book has become very effective and important in facing illiteracy because illiteracy is widely spread in the Arab World. Moreover, the education systems are very bad and as Nabila said the reading improved the school performance of children. During those past year the text/writings and illustrations have greatly improved and this is manifested in the some Arab countries such as of course Egypt and Lebanon and In Emirates Dar al-Kalimat who is supporting reading and offering prizes for the best writers for children.

We shall overcome (Joan Baez)

Abdel Samad: Why did you choose this song?

Jehan: It is a beautiful song. It was sung during Vietnam War and by the revolutionaries for freedom in the late sixties and seventies. It is an expressive song and it became a song for solidarity International cooperation. It is a song the expresses the faith of people in achieving freedom and victory in spite of all difficulties. It also expresses my hope and confidence in the victory of our revolution to free our land.

Abdel Samad: It was also the official anthem for the movement for achieving civil rights of African American in the fifties and sixties.

Click to listen to "We shall overcome" (Joan Baez)


Abdel Samad: Now let us move to the articles that you have chosen for us including article from the “Daily Star” entitled” Children Pay the most expensive price in the war on Gaza” How is that?

Jehan: There is no doubt that wars in the 20th century and wars in general target civilians more than the military, which means that weapons of mass destruction in all kids affect children the most. That is why in the United Nations there is a special department for children in war zones, and they try to provide protection to them. Of course when it comes to Palestinians we are red line the United Nations ignores all the crimes that are committed against Palestinians. It is very strange that these Israeli attacks are precise they can pinpoint the exact target and yet they intentionally target civilians and mostly towards children; some dare to say that these children are ‘future terrorists’, and they give themselves the right to kill those children.

Abdel Samad: Isam on Facebook asks if Occupation affects the level of maturity and creativity of Palestinian children.

Jehan: No, occupation is a big challenge for children, mostly if the child lives in an environment that supports him and explains the situation to him. Occupation is clear explicit and it differs from any complicated civil war. However, the siege affected children in many ways due to malnutrition, children are not growing normally and they are becoming shorter. The siege has also affects the mental health of children.

Abdel Samad: Okay thanks Jehan President of PBBY.


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