Lena's articles include a vast number of topics and have been published in English, Danish and Spanish outlets.

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Animals suffer in Gaza's cash-strapped zoos

August 24, 2015 | Al Jazeera English

Amid a crippling Israeli blockade of the Palestinian territory, zoos in Gaza cannot properly care for their animals.

RAFAH, GAZA - On a dirt road, behind tall white walls decorated with faded paintings of zebras, giraffes and lions, lies Rafah Zoo.

It is hidden away from Rafah's busy streets, but inside, hundreds of colourful birds in cages tweet loudly - almost drowning out the sound of children playing in a pool nearby.

Opened in the late 1990s by the Jumaa family, Rafah Zoo was the first amusement and leisure park for communities in the Gaza Strip.

Jihad Jumaa, a zookeeper and son of the zoo's owner, told Al Jazeera that his father's original mission had been to provide a place for Gaza's families - small children, especially - to relax and enjoy themselves.

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Israel's Joint List faces challenging road ahead

Mar. 29, 2015 | Al Jazeera English

Coalition of Arab parties is now the Knesset's third-largest bloc, but success hinges on its ability to form alliances.

Though one week has passed since Israel's legislative elections, Ayman Odeh - the leader of the Joint List, an alliance of four predominantly Arab parties - has not yet had a quiet moment.

Even before the final votes were counted, Odeh was busy visiting his geographical constituency, the first stop being the impoverished, unrecognised Bedouin villages in the southern Negev region. He had vowed during his campaign that he would visit these villages after the election.

"We are the only party that talks about national and social rights for both Arabs and Jews," Odeh told Al Jazeera.

Although the Joint List estimates that the number of Jewish votes was only a few thousand, he nevertheless sees the alliance as representing a new era in Israeli politics - as a force that fights for the interests of all marginalized groups.

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West Bank Bedouins fear 'a second nakba'

Mar. 23, 2015 | Al Jazeera English

An Israeli plan to forcibly transfer Bedouins to nearby Palestinian villages has met with
staunch resistance.

Residents of Abu Dis erect a tent in 'Bawabet al-Quds' to signal that they want to decide who lives and builds in the village's land. Feb 16, 2015 ©Lena Odgaard

Residents of Abu Dis erect a tent in 'Bawabet al-Quds' to signal that they want to decide who lives and builds in the village's land. Feb 16, 2015 ©Lena Odgaard

ABU DIS, OCCUPIED WEST BANK - In the middle of a small campsite consisting of two tin shacks, a group of men and women huddled around a fire burning in a barrel - oblivious to the gathering rainclouds and the Israeli military jeeps and soldiers surrounding the camp.

On the side of one of the shacks, the words "Bawabet al-Quds" - Gateway to Jerusalem - were spray-painted in big red and green letters.

The camp was located on a hillside next to the Palestinian village of Abu Dis, about four kilometres south of Jerusalem. It overlooked neighbouring Palestinian villages, as well as the red-roofed Israeli settlement of Ma'ale Adumim and a number of Bedouin communities of the Jahalin tribe.

Adel Salah, the mayor of Abu Dis, explained that the camp was established at the beginning of February after villagers noticed Israeli authorities preparing the area for the relocation of the nearby Bedouins.

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'We have a circus in Palestine'

Jan. 4, 2015 | Al Jazeera English

Palestinian youth are combatting the occupation and conservative social values - through circus.

Screenshot of the article on the front page of Al Jazeera's website

Screenshot of the article on the front page of Al Jazeera's website

BIRZEIT - A group of young men carry large barrels down the stairs and roll them across the concrete surface of the courtyard into a large, grey circus tent.

It is the only circus tent in Palestine and belongs to the Palestinian Circus School, located in the small Christian village of Birzeit in the West Bank. The school recently launched its winter semester, with a significant increase in participants: 220 students this year compared with 160 last year. This is largely due to a new programme for 8- to 12-year-olds living in the neighbouring Al Jalazon refugee camp.

The school is based in a renovated old Ottoman style building with thick, yellow, stone walls and vaulted ceilings. In one room are trampolines and mattresses; in another hangs a trapeze, and in the adjacent storage room are shelves filled with colourful juggling clubs and rows of unicycles.

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Gaza farmers struggle in war aftermath

Oct. 7, 2014 | Al Jazeera English

Israel's war on Gaza has taken its toll on all economic sectors, with the agriculture industry hit especially hard.

Sept. 3, 2014 ©Lena Odgaard

Sept. 3, 2014 ©Lena Odgaard

DEIR AL-BALAH, GAZA - Only days after a ceasefire was declared in Gaza, ending a 51-day bombardment by Israel, hundreds of farmers showed up at a distribution centre in al-Zawayda outside Deir al-Balah in central Gaza to receive sacks of fodder.

"We are distributing fodder and barley for all the sheep and goats in Gaza," said Ciro Fiorillo, local head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), to the crowd of assembled farmers. "For every herding family, we will be able to give the fodder needed to feed each animal for a month and a half."

Funded by the Canadian government, the fodder distribution was aimed at sustaining the remaining livestock in the area. Two major Israeli military operations within the past three years have drastically reduced Gaza's number of sheep and goats: A census in 2010 registered 73,500 animals, while only 58,000 were enlisted for fodder distribution this summer.

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Palestinians reclaim Gaza 'buffer zone'

May 5, 2014 | Al Jazeera English

Despite threats to their safety, Palestinians are farming in Gaza buffer zone as a way to regain land and livelihoods.

UMM AN-NASER, GAZA STRIP - Last year, Mahmoud Abu Madek was not a farmer. Sitting on his knees between newly planted potatoes and beans, 27-year-old Abu Madek expertly ensured that water from the irrigation system reached the seedlings. He carefully selected these two types of crops so their harvest seasons would overlap, guaranteeing him an income for a longer period.

"I haven't had a job before. This is the first opportunity I've had to work on land," Abu Madek told Al Jazeera. "For me it's a way to make an income and cover the needs of my family."

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Umm An-Naser, Palestinians work in newly established fields in the buffer zone. Nov. 5, 2013  ©Lena Odgaard

Umm An-Naser, Palestinians work in newly established fields in the buffer zone. Nov. 5, 2013  ©Lena Odgaard

Palestinians hit the right notes in Gaza

Apr. 18, 2014 | Al Jazeera English

Music school helps relieve tensions in conflict-torn Gaza Strip, but access to instruments remains a challenge.

9-year old Joanna plays piano at Edward Said Music Academy in Gaza, Nov. 10, 2013 ©Lena Odgaard

9-year old Joanna plays piano at Edward Said Music Academy in Gaza, Nov. 10, 2013 ©Lena Odgaard

GAZA CATY - From the outside, Gaza’s only music school does not look like one.

A grey-and-white cement building, it could easily pass for an office or apartment complex. But for the approximately 200 children who attend, it is not about appearance; it is about sound.

In the hallway of the Gaza Music School, classical music mixes with Eastern tones. In one room, a nine-year-old girl has one of her first piano lessons, singing with her teacher as she carefully tests the keys. In another room, two teenage girls play the violin - but they rush to close the door, giggling, when they notice someone is listening.

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What happened to Gaza's Apollo statue?

April 8, 2014 | Al Jazeera English

A precious statue vanished after its discovery in Gaza last summer and many suspect it is now a hostage to politics.

DEIR AL-BALAH, GAZA: Last summer, a life-size bronze statue of Apollo, the ancient Greek god of light and music, miraculously surfaced in Gaza. The work of art, which is 1.7 metres tall and weighs 450 kilograms, could be worth as much as $340m, according to Gaza's antiquities authority.

But it has since vanished from the public eye - and experts fear that the roughly 2,500-year-old statue could be lost or damaged forever as it has become hostage to a political dispute.

"It was a Friday and I went to fish," said fisherman Jawdat Abu Ghrab of how he discovered the statue. Standing on a cliff near the Gaza town of Deir Al-Balah, he pointed to the sea beneath him. "I discovered the area was full of rocks. I thought I would try and explore it - maybe I could find fish. But suddenly I discovered something in the water. I saw something buried in sand - one arm was raised. I was shocked because it looked like a human."

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Upsurge in Palestinian 'honour killings'

Mar. 25, 2014 | Al Jazeera English

Rights groups demand new laws to protect women from family violence after a spate of deaths.

Gaza City, Palestine - Two teenage Palestinian girls were killed in separate incidents last month in so-called "honour killings", revenge attacks carried out most often by family members against women suspected of "immoral sexual conduct".

The deaths sparked protests with more than 100 people assembling outside the general attorney's office in Gaza on March 3, demanding violence against Palestinian women come to a halt. Five women died in honour killings in the Palestinian territories in 2011. That number rose to 13 in 2012 and doubled to 26 last year.

"For the past three years, the number of women killed have increased each year," said Mariam Abu al-Atta, coordinator of the Amal Coalition to Combat Violence Against Women, at the recent demonstration. "Today we are here to stop these crimes. Criminals should be punished by law."

Wasting away in the Gaza Strip

Nov. 20, 2013 | Al Jazeera English

Closure of 'lifeline' tunnels means fuel shortages, power cuts, and sewage on the streets.

AL-SABRA, GAZA STRIP - Sami Haddad waded through ankle-deep sewage after a lack of electricity caused pumps at a wastewater treatment plant to break down. Around him there was a sense of panic with men shouting at each other and children crying.

The streets were dark and people edged along the walls covering their noses with one hand and holding their mobile phones in the other, using them as torch lights to find a dry spot to step.

"We're covered in filth from the sewage. The children are scared and we do not know what to do," Haddad told Al Jazeera.

"We have asked the government to do something, but they say there is no more fuel. We ask for help from anywhere. If the pumps don't start again, the sewage seeps into people's homes and their lives are in danger."

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Gay Pride Parade in Holy Jerusalem

July 31, 2013 | Al-Monitor


JERUSALEM - In a sparkling, beaded black dress and stilettos, 30-year-old "Gallina Port des Bras" bid welcome from the stage of "Mikveh" — the self-proclaimed "one and only lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and straight-friendly club in Jerusalem." Smacking her strawberry red lips and flipping her long blond wig, Port des Bras — whose offstage name is Gil Naveh — told Al-Monitor that though Jerusalem has bred the country’s most famous drag queens, the city is no easy place to be a drag queen, or for that matter gay.

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Israeli Wall Creates Limbo for Seam Zone Palestinians

July 2, 2013 | Al-Monitor

The land between the 1967 armistice line, the so-called Green Line, and the separation barrier being built by Israel in and around the West Bank is referred to as the seam zone. Many of the Palestinians living there hold West Bank ID cards, but their homes are on the western, or "Israeli side," of the barrier. While some have received Jerusalem identification cards allowing them to stay in their homes and move freely in Israel and the West Bank, others have only the West Bank permit, making them technically illegal in their own homes.

Two such people are Ruqayya and her mother Kefayah. When the wall was built through the village of Hizma, north of Jerusalem, their family’s three houses were separated from the rest of the village. 

“We are stuck here. We live disconnected from the world because no one can visit [our homes] without getting a permit to cross the checkpoint,” Kefayah told Al-Monitor at her daughter’s house. She added that when she had to go to the hospital urgently last year, she had to be carried to the Hizma checkpoint because Palestinian cars and ambulances are not allowed in the seam zone.

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Gaza Women Raise Voices Online

June 18, 2013 | Al-Monitor

Female activists in Gaza have turned to social media to air their thoughts, but on-the-ground activism is still constrained by a largely male-dominated society.

Sitting in an armchair with her feet tugged up under her and a laptop in front of her, blogger Malaka Mohammed typed 140 characters and clicked "tweet." She scrolled through the most recent tweets, then went to her blog where she reviewed a post she is working on before moving on to her Facebook page, checking recent comments from her more than 5,000 followers. The 22-year-old recent English literature graduate is one of Gaza’s most prominent online activists.

"I started with Facebook, because there is no house here without Facebook. Then, a teacher told me I should start a blog because I’m a good writer. I now have thousands of readers,” Mohammed told Al-Monitor at her home in Al-Shejaia in Gaza. "Whenever I write, reply or share I always think of the result and effect. The Palestinian issue is important. When you write something as a Palestinian, the entire world will think of you as representing Palestinian women."

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An Unusual Window on Palestinian Politics

May 22, 2013 | The Arab Review

When Palestinian TV station Maan News called for participants for a new reality TV show, an overwhelming 1,200 Palestinians ages 20 to 35 signed up. They were not dreaming of a record deal, or of getting a contract with a model agency, or even of marrying a millionaire or of managing a high-class restaurant. Instead their ambitions were nothing less than to become “The President”.

And though the winner might not become the “real” president of Palestine, the message is still clear: “Through this programme we create new young leaders and send a message to our current leaders that we need change and we need democracy,” said Raed Othman, Director of Maan News.

“And we send a message to the world that we are ready for democracy and [that we] deserve a country.”

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Gaza Rappers Persevere Despite Hamas Ban

May 20, 2013 | Al-Monitor

The Gazan hip-hop group Palestinian Unit has been traveling across Europe, performing for a growing fan base. Although their popularity is on the rise in Spain, France and Denmark, in Gaza they are banned. According to one of the group’s members, rapper Ayman Jamal Mghames, the official excuse of the Hamas-led government is that hip-hop is too “Western.” He has no doubt, however, that it is the messages in the group's songs that the authorities find problematic.

“We are political rappers. We talk about our daily life, and since we live a daily political life, political issues are part of our music,” Mghames told Al-Monitor in Gaza City. “We criticize the government’s actions, whether here or in the West Bank. We disagree with most of the politicians’ actions, not forgetting to mention the Israeli occupation.”

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Arab Youths Find Their Voices in International Debate Program

Apr. 11, 2013 | Al-Monitor

As young people in the Middle East learn to enjoy the newfound freedom to express themselves, a project called Young Arab Voices is training youths to articulate their opinions and debate on a competitive level.

After the fall of regimes that for decades had cracked down on anyone who dared speak out against them, citizens of countries such as Tunisia, Libya and Egypt found themselves suddenly free to speak their minds. But especially for the youth who had grown up without a memory of a time before Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Moammar Gadhafi or Hosni Mubarak, it turned out not to be easy to figure out what to say.

“We had no right to think, to talk, to do what you wanted,” 23-year-old Tunisian Asma Hriz told Al-Monitor. “Even when talking in your home, your mom would say; ‘hush, they will hear us.’ And if you talked to close friends, there was the fear that he or she would talk to the regime and your whole family would be in danger.”

But now, Hriz explained, Tunisians are talking about politics, the economic situation and religion everywhere. But as the freedom to express oneself is a new thing, it also causes frustration about what to actually say and how.

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EU Trade with Settlements Undermines Palestinian Economy

April 2, 2013 | Al-Monitor

NGOs are calling on the EU to stop trade relations with Israeli settlements, which undermined Palestinians' ability to create a viable economy.

Newly planted date trees, only a meter high, are lined up in close rows in the hot desert outskirts of the ancient city of Jericho. They surround the offices of Nakheel Palestine, an agricultural company exporting Medjool dates from the West Bank's Jordan Valley. Like its trees, the company is still young and struggling to survive in a hot and hostile environment.

“In regards to farming, the main challenge is securing the land and finding the water to keep the trees alive and producing,” Maisa Manasrah, sales manager at Nakheel Palestine told Al-Monitor while walking in the fields of small date trees. She added that demolition orders on water wells and houses used by their farmers, threats of confiscation of land, lack of access to harbors and airports and reliance on Israel for importing fertilizer and chemicals make it difficult to establish a competitive business.

By contrast, the conditions for their competitors in Israeli settlements also located in the Jordan Valley are quite different.

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Palestinians Prepare to Capture Obama's Attention

Mar. 19, 2013 | Al-Monitor

Some Palestinians are planning creative protests for President Barack Obama's visit to the West Bank.

Along the road to Ramallah from the Qalandia checkpoint separating the West Bank from east Jerusalem hang posters with the American stars and stripes and the iconic red-and-blue picture of President Barack Obama.

“President Obama, don’t bring your smart phone to Ramallah. You won’t have mobile access to Internet — we have no 3G in Palestine!” Another sign gives the message: “President Obama, come early to your meeting in Ramallah. It may take you two hours to cross Qalandia checkpoint.”

The posters are designed by young Palestinian web consultant Mahir Alawneh, who decided along with a couple of friends to send a different kind of message to the American president.

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Bahrain Marks Anniversary of Uprising With Dialogue, Deadlock

Feb. 14, 2013 | Al-Monitor

MANAMA - In the countless huge malls in the Bahraini capital of Manama, families drink Starbucks coffee and peruse Western designer brands. At outdoor cafes and parks, women — some in long black abayas others in jeans and T-shirts — enjoy the early spring weather while chatting and watching their kids play.

On the surface there seems to be little concern over the ongoing uprising which erupted almost two years ago. But as people return home in big shining convertibles and SUVs on one of Manama’s main highways, burning tires disrupt the rush-hour traffic and show that below the shiny surface, political tensions and ongoing unrest still simmer in the small kingdom.

As the situation seemed stagnant, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa called for dialogue meetings, which were launched Sunday, Feb. 10, and continued Wednesday. Representatives from opposition groups, pro-government parties and the national assembly attended these meetings, the first in 18 months.

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PA Seeks UNESCO Protection for Threatened Village

Jan. 25, 2013 | Al-Monitor

Battir, a small Palestinian village unique for its ancient stone terraces, springs and irrigation systems, is under threat as Israel plans to expand the separation barrier through the landscape.

BATTIR, WEST BANK - The village is located on the so-called Green Line from the armistice agreement after the war in 1948, and over half of the Battiri people’s fields are located on the Israeli side. The villagers argue that the barrier will damage the area and cut them off from their fields and sources of income. Now the Palestinian Authority is preparing an application to UNESCO, hoping to get the area added to its World Heritage list and thereby save the historical landscape.

“Battir was a Roman city. Before that, the Canaanites used to settle here,” said Hassan Muamer from the Battir Eco-Museum, talking to Al-Monitor in Battir, surrounded by lettuce and squash plants and avocado trees.

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