Thursday, October 24, 2013

Faris Odeh: The Image of a Martyr

I find it fascinating that one photo can fuel the emotions of an entire nation of people. A single photograph taken by a photojournalist at precisely the right moment can create a martyr in a culture, and can spark a powerful movement.

This is a photo of Faris Odeh, a Palestinian boy who threw stones at Israeli Defense Forces occupying an area of Palestine near the Gaza Strip. A week or so after the photo was taken, Odeh was shot dead by Israeli Forces when he was throwing stones again. This photo was then published, and an immediate reaction burst from all different corners of the world. The reaction was so vast, in fact, that it prompted tens of thousands of people to attend his funeral. His image has become iconic, and through his image, he himself has become a martyr for Palestinian defiance.

And how could this image not spark a reaction? What we see is a young boy standing all alone, fighting the presence of an enormous tank with only stones. My first thought after finding the photo was that Faris Odeh almost seemed to be a modern day Tank Man, fighting for a strong cause by standing up to a tank. One of the many differences between these two situations, however, is the fact that with Odeh's picture, we know the name of the martyr. And since we know the name, we can add a story.

I believe the majority of photos lack a certain context. Just by looking at this image, we have no clue what the boy's story is, other than the fact that he was Palestinian and strongly against the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The picture serves its purpose by creating strong reactions in its viewers, but with his name in mind, I couldn't help but wonder Faris's story.

Faris was a daredevil. Once conflict arrived in his region, he skipped class to get in on the action, much to the dismay of his teachers and his parents. His parents would get calls from teachers and neighbors warning them that Faris was out again. On occasion, his father would beat him for getting involved in the conflict; for this reason, he avoided cameras and news reporters, fearing that his father would find out about him. What struck me the most was a statement from his mother, who said that Faris watched the Hezbollah channel called Al-Manar, a channel that held becoming a martyr in high regard. She says that he wanted to join them.

It's unreal how large of an effect media can have on us, and especially on children. Looking at Faris's backstory allowed me to gain an entirely new perspective on his photograph, especially regarding his ideals and his motivations. While a picture is incredibly powerful in and of itself, there is so much that it cannot tell.

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