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

See more on her Pinterest board

For articles in Danish

Gaza teenager runs for Palestine

May 6, 2016 | Al Jazeera

Inas Nofal aims to win medals for Palestine at international competitions, but training in Gaza presents a challenge.

MAGHAZI, GAZA - Tying the shoelaces of her bright green trainers, Inas Nofal prepares for her daily morning run. As Gaza's first and only competitive female runner, the 15-year-old makes heads turn when she races down the streets.

"Running is my life," Nofal told Al Jazeera. "Before I go to sleep, I think about which routes I'll run the next day."

Nofal started running last year with the support of a local coach, Sami Nateel al-Balad. Nofal's father, Mahmoud, tirelessly follows the two in his car, ready to intervene if his daughter faces harassment from authorities or the community. 

"Some people object to girls running and say bad things. It upsets me, but I try to hide it from Inas, because I don't want it to discourage her from her dream," Mahmoud said, noting he hopes she will help to change how society views girls and women.

Nofal hopes to win medals for Palestine at international competitions, but facilities for professional athletes are limited in Gaza. Three wars with Israel in less than a decade have caused major destruction in the small coastal enclave, leaving limited resources for sports and recreational activities.

Last month, Nofal suffered a further setback when she and dozens of other runners from Gaza were denied permits by Israel to travel to Bethlehem for the Palestine Marathon, which aims to shed light on Israeli-imposed restrictions on movement for Palestinians. 

For the full photo essay see here

In Palestine, women run for their rights

May 3, 2016 | Play the Game

As the fourth annual Palestine Marathon was held this year, it highlighted again Palestinians’ lack of right to movement, as over 100 runners from Gaza were not allowed to participate. Still, its rapid growth and popularity among especially Palestinian women also tell a different story.

BETHLEHEM - When the sun rose over Bethlehem on April first, the streets were already buzzing with life. Families lined up along the sidewalks and police officers tried to direct a few confused drivers off the main roads. In the meantime, thousands of people in white t-shirts with ‘Right to Movement’ written over the chest flocked to the ancient Manger Square in front of one the world’s most famous Christian sites, the Church of Nativity. But though the holy city is often associated with its religious roots, it has for the past four years also become linked to one of the world’s most politically sensitive sporting events, the Palestine International Marathon.

Starting only four years ago with 650 runners, the annual race has grown significantly with a total of 4,300 runners registered this year including one thousand foreigners from 64 different countries. Despite the fact that running is yet not widely common in Palestine the vast majority –and an increasing number – of the runners were Palestinians. They had made the trip from all corners of the West Bank passing Israeli settlements and military checkpoints along the way to run for their own right to movement.

Read more

PA police given more jurisdiction in occupied West Bank

May 1, 2015 | Al Jazeera English

An increase in unemployment due to life under occupation has given rise to crime in some Jerusalem suburbs.

For the first time since the second intifada, uniformed and armed police could patrol the streets of Abu Dis.

For the first time since the second intifada, uniformed and armed police could patrol the streets of Abu Dis.

ABU DIS, OCCUPIED WEST BANK - For the first time in more than a decade, the Palestinian Authority has been allowed to deploy police forces in Palestinian villages in areas controlled by Israel.

Years under occupation and a lack of proper law enforcement have transformed these once-thriving suburbs of Jerusalem into hubs for car thieves and drug and weapons dealers. Many residents are happy to see the police officers, even if their presence, so far, has been mainly symbolic.

Read more

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.

Read more

'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.

Read more

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."

Read more

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

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."

Read More

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.

Read more

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."

Read more

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.”

Read more

Gaza As Seen Through the Lenses Of Gaza's Cameras

May 3, 2013 | Al Monitor

The Palestine Photo-Marathon gives Gaza photographers "a chance to show how they see Palestine

Thousands of journalists and photographers from all over the world have tried to capture Gaza over the years — often showing images of war such as militants, rockets and injured or dead people. But on Wednesday, May 1, the people of Gaza got a chance to portray what Gaza looks like through their own eyes.

Around 50 Gaza men and women — mainly youths — participated in the Palestine Photo-Marathon, a photo competition arranged by Danish House in Palestine.

Looking through the lens of her digital single-lens reflex camera, 16-year-old Asmaa Alkhaldi saw birds in cages, piles of coal, shops abounding with fruits and vegetables and a horse pulling a carriage. She was standing at the entrance to the old market in Gaza City trying to capture a good scene. Alkhaldi was the first of 150 people who had signed up for the competition, which also took place in Ramallah and Nablus in the West Bank as well as in Jerusalem.

“I love to compete with others and I want to win,” she confidently told Al-Monitor, explaining that she uses photography as a way of expressing her feelings and particularly likes taking pictures of everyday street life.

But though the noisy street market could have been a typical scene from any Middle Eastern souk, Gaza is nowhere close to being a normal place. Spread around the city are huge piles of rubble from buildings bombed by Israeli rockets in November. There are bullet holes in buildings from “Operation Cast Lead” and posters of “martyrs” — people killed in the conflict with Israel — hanging everywhere. These were among the images Alkhaldi and her peers saw through the lenses of their cameras. These are images that also need to be captured, she said.

“Sometimes the conditions force you toward the subject. If you are in a war, you have to show the war: The conflict, the injured, and the dead people — it’s a part of Gaza. But on a sunny day, a normal day, I like to shoot pictures of kids and nature,” she said.

And since it was a sunny day and also a public holiday, families were flocking to the beach where women sat in groups talking while children played in the water. But being also the day after the targeted assassination of Haitham Al-Mishal, a part of this “normal” day was also seeing the Israeli navy patrolling a few miles from shore and the occasional sounds of drones and sonic booms.

At a beach cafeteria, the professional Palestinian press photographer, Mohammed Baba, was enjoying the weather with his family. He said young photographers have been reflecting the day-to-day reality of the ongoing conflict with Israel.

“Can you imagine how it affects a child who sees dead people, funerals, and their family crying? Or see a targeted assassination from the window of their school bus?” he asked. Baba said the sadness seen by Gaza youth is reflected in the pictures they take and share on social media, which are often militant or gory. He said he therefore tries to encourage young journalists to also focus their cameras on other aspects of daily activity, such as culture, the environment and social life.

Baba said young photographers also face other restrictions. The political divide between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank often leads to problems if they take pictures that shed a critical light on the Hamas government. And for female photographers, the conservative norms of society mean that they will typically not be allowed to walk around alone after dark or be in places that have many men.

Alkhaldi agreed that being both a young and female photographer in Gaza is not easy. She said she has been harassed by police and usually prefers to have her father by her side. But on this day she decided to go only with her 13-year-old brother and a girlfriend; both also took part in the competition. Alkhaldi said she didn’t face any problems that day, but others were not as lucky.

A group of men and women were stopped by authorities who took a camera memory card away from one of them, Karen Nordemann of Danish House in Palestine told Al-Monitor. She spoke at the French Institute, which was headquarters for the event in Gaza. Nordemann said that despite that incident, the day had gone well. She added that people had been genuinely enthusiastic and happy and that the event seemed to have fulfilled its purpose.

“There are so many pictures taken of Palestine — mainly by people who are not from Palestine — and they often focus on violence and conflict. With this Photo-Marathon we wanted to give Palestinians a chance to show how they see Palestine,” she said.

The event was launched last year in Jerusalem and  Ramallah. Due to its popularity, the Ramallah-based organization decided to double the number of cities, which also led to there being twice as many participants. According to Nordemann, almost an equal amount of men and women registered; they ranged from age 8 to 76. After receiving a list of either six or 12 themes, such as “noise,” “decay” and “yesterday,” they had the equivalent number of hours to capture images representing their interpretation.

Nordemann emphasized the importance of including Gaza, explaining that it is often overlooked for such events due to the difficulties in getting there. But not least for Gaza residents is that the image they have of themselves and of Palestine is quite different than that presented by the international media. Nordemann explained that she was surprised to see how small a role war seemed to play.

In the coming days, a jury of professional Danish and Palestinian photographers will select the best pictures from the Photo-Marathon. The winners will be announced May 19. Until then, Alkhaldi must wait patiently and keep her fingers crossed, hoping that her pictures will stand out

For the original article see Al Monitor

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

World Bank: Israel Hurting Palestine Economy Long Term

March 15, 2013 | Al Monitor

A World Bank report released Tuesday, March 12 warns that the Palestinian economy is now suffering so much from the political stalemate and Israeli restrictions that it is losing its “long-term competitiveness.” This sends a signal to donors to Palestine that without political action, they are pouring their money down the drain, according to Palestinian businessman Sam Bahour.

Checkpoints and military searches, fees and hold-ups on goods going in or out through Israeli ports and restrictions in movement and access to basic necessities such as water and land are just some of the obstacles faced by the Palestinian private sector, leading to a downward-spiraling economy.

A statement issued by the World Bank noted that the “Israeli-imposed economic restrictions continue to constrain [Palestinian] sustainable economic growth,” which is “unlikely to change as long as political progress remains absent.” While this message is similar to that of the World Bank’s report from September 2012, the new report includes an analysis of the impact of the deteriorating fiscal situation and concludes that it is bound to cause long-term structural damage.

Bahour explained that this is the first time the World Bank has looked at long-term effects and boldly called on donor countries to put political action behind their money.

“The report is saying that as long as you are investing in status quo, you are allowing Israel to cause permanent structural damage to the Palestinian economy,” said Bahour. “That’s a message to third states to get off their asses and do something,” he added.

Read more

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.

Read more



Head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad Praises Relationship with Iran

Nov. 30, 2012 | Al-Monitor

In an exclusive Al-Monitor interview by Lena Odgaard, Ramadan Shallah, the head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, discusses Israel's Gaza operation and his own relationship with Iran.

Head of Islamic Jihad, Ramadan Shallah ©Lena Odgaard

Head of Islamic Jihad, Ramadan Shallah ©Lena Odgaard

CAIRO — Resistance, not politics, remains the main road to achieve Palestinian independence and rights, said the head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Ramadan Shallah, in an exclusive interview to Al-Monitor. Though stating that he would respect the recent cease-fire deal with Israel, he predicted another intifada, or uprising, in response to the deadlocked peace talks.

“In Palestinian history, resistance was always a source of inspiration for our people to continue the struggle in order to get back our rights and homeland, Palestine,” Ramadan Shallah said in his suite at an elegant, five-star hotel in Cairo.

Though the final details of the Israel-Gaza cease-fire, including in particular the issue of border crossings, are still being discussed through Egyptian mediators, both parties have claimed victory. While Netanyahu said Hamas and other militant groups suffered a severe military blow, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the main political Gazaan factions, celebrated the cease-fire agreement, pointing to achievements such as stopping Israeli incursions and the so-called “targeted killings” of hardline militants. According to Shallah, his party — known for its radical-militant tactics and hence labelled a terrorist organization by most Western countries — will respect the new cease-fire but not rule out another round of fighting.

Read more

Palestinian Village Faces Demolition for Third Time

Nov. 15, 2012 | Al-Monitor

As the conflict escalates in Gaza, a dispute rages over Susiya, a small Palestinian village and herding community in the Hebron hills of the West Bank. 

SUSIYA, WEST BANK - In June 2012, Palestinian residents received more than 50 demolition orders from the Israeli Civil Administration, Israel’s governing body in the West Bank.

The Israeli human rights organization Rabbis for Human Rights appealed the order on behalf of the villagers. But if the demolitions are carried out, it will be the third time that the residents have been expelled and seen their homes destroyed.

Since the early 1980s Susiya residents and Jewish settlers have been locked in a legal battle over the land. Three years after Jewish settlers began inhabiting the land in 1983 — also calling their new settlement "Susiya" after an old Judean village — Israel declared the area an archaeological site and ordered the evacuation of the Palestinian village to make room for a national park.

Read more

Palestinian Street Artists Take to Walls With New Zeal

Aug. 27, 2012 | Al-Monitor

RAMALLAH — The streets of Ramallah, on the West Bank, have seen a significant increase in graffiti over the past year, including drawings of Palestinians in Israeli jails, social media-inspired tags such as #OccupyWallStNotPalestine and religious symbols. While Palestinian graffiti had always been political and reflected the Palestinian struggle against Israel’s occupation, street art now puts a greater emphasis on aesthetics and originality, said Palestinian artist Majd Abdel Hamid. He attributes this recent development to what he describes as an "art explosion" following a wave of popular uprisings that swept through the Arab world, though not in the Palestinian territories.

Read more

Conflict sensitive journalism in Palestine a challenge

Jan. 16, 2012 | International Media Support (IMS)

A few wary looks were exchanged as Canadian journalist and trainer in conflict sensitive journalism, John Keating, conducted a two-week training course for Palestinian journalists in the West Bank and Gaza. After more than 60 years of conflict, some journalists are unsure their words can make much of a difference, says Keating

“How much do average Palestinians know about average Israelis?”, John Keating asks the dozen young Palestinian journalists and journalism students attending a training course in conflict sensitive journalism hosted by the Media Development Center at Birzeit University on the West Bank.

Not much, the crowd admits and Keating elaborates: “It’s difficult to resolve a conflict if the one side doesn’t know what the other is thinking.”

Having conducted similar trainings all over the world, including an IMS-supported mission to Kenya in 2008, Keating usually finds that journalists are relieved to be introduced to conflict sensitive journalistic tools. In Palestine however, he found a different mindset among some participants.

“It was very interesting and challenging here because there was not already an acceptance that something has to be done like in Kenya and Nepal”, says Keating.

Read more

Attacks on Palestinian journalists doubled in 2011

Jan. 2, 2012 | International Media Support (IMS)

Violations of press freedoms in the occupied Palestinian territories skyrocketed during the months of the Arab spring uprisings and during its UN bid for statehood

Incidents of arrests, summoning, confiscation of equipment and not least beatings of Palestinian journalists close to doubled in 2011 according to the Palestinian Center for Development & Media Freedoms, MADA. MADA registers violations of press freedoms and registered 170 cases in the months from January to October this year. For comparison, 99 cases were registered in all of 2010. But contrary to earlier years, the majority of the violations this year were carried out by Palestinian authorities.

“There are attacks from both the Israeli and Palestinian side”, says General Secretary of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), Salah Badawi Masharqa, but expresses particular disappointment with the restrictions of press freedom imposed by Palestinian security forces.

Read more