Barbara Debeuckelaere and many women of Tel Rumeida, Hebron

Omm, Tel Rumeida, Hebron, 2023

‘Hebron is the only city in the West Bank in which Israeli settlers are living in the heart of a Palestinian city. Hebron is divided into two areas: H1, a Palestinian area, under the control of the Palestinian Authority, and H2, a military area, under the control of Israeli forces. All the women and girls I work with live in the neighbourhood of Tel Rumeida, one of the most complex areas in the West Bank with its explosive mix of Palestinians, settlers and soldiers (who are there for no other reason than to protect the Jewish settlers against the Palestinians). The Cave of the Patriarchs, holy for both Jews and Muslims, is situated in this neighbourhood, which makes it perhaps unsurprising that it houses some of the most radical settlers in the whole West Bank.

'My presence, just like that of many other Western photographers, video makers, activists and journalists, is vital to making the world aware and protecting the people who suffer under this system of apartheid.'

On top of the military occupation of their land, and the lack of control of their lives and bodies, Palestinians also face the immediate and constant threat of violent harassment from colonist-neighbours who are able to act with impunity. Both men and women suffer from this situation, but women are doubly impacted. In the rather traditional society of Tel Rumeida, many women and girls are confined to their houses and courtyards behind wire fences. When they do leave the house, to go to the store or to go to school or work, they fear for their safety and do not stay long on the streets to meet other women. News items or videos depicting settler action and violence show mostly Palestinian men, enduring violence or fighting back.’

For her project, OMM, which means mother in Arabic, Barbara Debeuckelaere photographed the surroundings of the women of Tel Rumeidaand then handed the camera to the women. Many women in the West Bank do not like to be pictured, for many reasons, so Debeuckelaere’s method allowed them to control their own image, and the ways that their lives were depicted. It gave them agency over what and who to photograph and how they did it. The results were photographs of their houses and immediate surroundings that show the outside world what their life is about. And they are remarkable lives – because raising a family in the West Bank is an act of defiance. Just by remaining in this incredibly violent place, which is always threatening, always pregnant with possible confrontations. and creating loving homes for their children and family members, these women and girls show extreme strength.

‘Love as the ultimate act of resistance.’

Barbara Debeuckelaere talked extensively about the situation with the women with the help of a friend translator, so every nuance would be clear. They discussed photography and its power, the reason Debeuckelaere chose only women and girls to participate, and why she gave them analogue, not digital, cameras. The digital camera is the tool of the context in the West Bank, used to capture the violence, the deadlocked politics, men, all the elements of Palestinian lives in Tel Rumeida For this reason, Debeuckelaere chose analogue photography as the sole medium for OMM, to convey something less tangible, less rational, more ambiguous and emotional.

‘The unpredictable character of the analogue – the light leaks, the mistakes, all that – corresponds with the fact that women especially do not control the politics of their situation.’

After setting up the project in February 2023, Barbara Debeuckelaere travelled to Hebron in September 2023. During her three-week stay, she met daily with the women chosen to take part in OMM. They spoke and shared food, checked cameras and changed films, photographed together and alone, and connected on many levels. The following is a small selection of the work created by Barbara Debeuckelaere and the women of Tel Rumeida.


Omm Abed

Omm Ahmad

Omm Emad

Omm Hazem

Omm Muntasser

Omm Tamer

Omm Yusuf

Omm Wasim


Shirihan Siline Ayla

Eman Nidaa Sundus

Janat Aysha Fatima

Zaina Qamar Jory

Hayam Aseel Doug

Dallal Kawthar Jana

Zainab Rahaf Lojain

Layan Lamar Houria

Maram Soundos Shahd

Awatif Abeer Ola Ahed

Aroub Sarah Ghani

Qais Sham Eylul Julia

Barbara Debeuckelaere is a Belgian visual artist and photographer. Her work is caught between the labels of documentary and conceptualism. She concentrates on systemic thinking, capitalism, normalisation, power and money; she can find truth only in ambiguity. She has travelled many times to the West Bank, first as a radio journalist, later for television, and now as a visual artist. The fate of the Palestinian people sits close to her heart.