It was the trauma of seeing Israeli troops raze homes in the Bedouin community where she lives that inspired 14-year-old Salha Hamadin to write an award-winning fairy tale.
Earlier this year, Salha, who comes from an impoverished Palestinian Bedouin community near Jerusalem, was crowned winner of the teenage category of the Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tale Bay competition, which saw 1,200 entries from around the world by youngsters aged 11 to 16.
The competition, which is dedicated to the 19th century Danish author famed for his stories and fables, takes place every year in the Italian town of Sestri Levante, with a focus on children’s literature and unpublished tales.
Called “Hantush,” the story reflects the tough realities of daily life in the occupied West Bank, and starts when an army bulldozer comes to demolish her family home, prompting Salha to call on her pet lamb Hantush to take her away.
The lamb, who can fly, takes her on an adventure to Spain, where the youngster meets Barcelona football icon Lionel Messi.
The Barcelona striker ends up returning to the West Bank with her and promises to mend the community’s local football pitch.
He also offers her a place on his team, but she refuses, saying she is the only one who can look after the family’s flock of sheep because her father is in prison.
“The reality I live in inspired me to write this story,” Salha told AFP on the barren rocky hillside known as Wadi Abu Hindi.
“I used to always think and dream about living a better life here.”
Salha and her family are members of the Jahalin Bedouin community who live in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli military and civilian control.
Around 300 Bedouin live in Wadi Abu Hindi which is made up of tin shacks and where there is no running water or electricity.
Salha says she heard about Messi through watching television and reading the newspaper when she visited family in the northern city of Nablus.
The pitch which he promises to fix in her story is a small, sandy play area where local kids kick a ball around.
Her father Suleiman, 44, is currently serving a 25-year sentence in an Israeli prison, and Salha says she cannot wait to visit him and tell him about the award.
Figures published by the UN humanitarian agency OCHA show there are around 2,300 Bedouin living in 20 communities in the hills to the east of Jerusalem, more than two thirds of whom are children.
Although more than 80 percent of them are refugees, most have demolition orders pending against their homes, schools and animal shelters due to an inability to obtain Israeli building permits, OCHA says.
Despite her success, Salha has no interest in moving away from her home in the hope that one day, “fantasy can become reality, that this place would become recognized and that the children would have somewhere to play.”
For the time being, the makeshift playground serves a useful purposes, says her uncle, Mukhtar Mohammed Hamadin.
“It shows people that human beings actually live in this area,” he told AFP.
“In the beginning, we had no idea how important it was for my niece to win this award, but when we found out she had beaten 1,200 kids from all over the world, we couldn’t help but be proud.”