UK refuses Palestinian photographer visa for exhibition at major festival

One of the photographs from Hamde Abu Rahma’s exhibition in Edinburgh. 

Hamde Abu Rahma

Hamde Abu Rahma, a photographer from the occupied West Bank, has been denied a visa by the UK Border Agency, just days before his exhibition is due to open at a major Scottish festival.

Abu Rahma’s powerful images of Palestinian life and protest were initially inspired by the popular protest movement in his home village, Bilin, where lives and livelihoods have been threatened by Israel’s apartheid wall.

Two of Abu Rahme’s cousins — Bassem and Jawaher — have been killed by Israeli forces during their community’s demonstrations, which were made internationally famous through the Oscar-nominated film 5 Broken Cameras.

Abu Rahma told The Electronic Intifada that he is “motivated to show the world what life is like in the occupied West Bank … to bring awareness to the cause locally and internationally.”

As well as appearing in exhibitions, magazines and websites, Abu Rahma’s images have been collected in a book.

Abu Rahma’s visa refusal from the UK Border Agency came, he said, as a complete surprise.

“I have traveled to many countries in Europe, like Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Holland, to speak publicly about Palestine,” he said. 

“None of these countries have given me a difficult time entering and the visa applications were all accepted without any issues. My sponsors will now be appealing this refusal.”

Phil Chetwynd of the Network of Photographers for Palestine confirmed that Abu Rahma’s trip to the UK — which was meant to include an exhibition opening in Edinburgh and a tour of the photography collection around Scotland — was to be fully funded and met other eligibility criteria for obtaining a visa.

Funding for the trip was raised through an online appeal, and Chetwynd would have provided accommodation.

“Hamde’s papers were all submitted well in time,” Chetwynd said.

“If we cannot appeal the decision in time, we will be showing Hamde’s photographs anyway, and I’ve asked him to send me a copy of the talk he was to have given,” Chetwynd added.

In Edinburgh, Abu Rahma’s images are to appear as part of Welcome to the Fringe, a day-long celebration of Palestinian music, comedy, drama, performance art and dance which will see a number of Palestinian artists visiting Scotland. The program is part of an annual festival known as the Edinburgh Fringe. 

The denial of Abu Rahma’s visa is not an isolated example. A number of artists from Palestine and the wider Middle East — including writers Ali Abukhattab and Samah al-Sheikh and Nabil al-Raee of the Jenin Freedom Theatre — have been denied entry to the UK in recent years.




This is absurd. How many Israelis have been denied. That murderer Netanyahu is going to visit there soon. Are they going to deny him? Of course not!


Its not only outrageous but it stinks of racism and the small minded colonialism of the British Govt, who created this whole vicious apartheid mess in the first place. Hamde is a great guy and deserves to be able to travel the world and show his photographs and tell his story. This is his world too. It could just be some dumb ignorant visa worker or it could be a larger attempt at a gag order for all Palestinians on British soil. We all know that the british are in the pocket of the Imperialist nation USA. Who strive for world corporate domination, using Israel as its pawn in the middle east, its imperial profit making, lining Netanyahus pockets as it goes. Stop this absurdity, and allow Hamde to travel as a free man, wherever he chooses to go.


This kind of thing also happens regularly in academia - conference participants from Palestine are refused visas to the US or Europe, often at the last minute (e.g. at Ben Gurion airport, Tel Aviv...).


The UK Border Agency are notorious for their abrupt and callous behaviour. But I would have thought that even they were required to supply a reason for such a refusal. If they offered none, that fact should be included in the article. If the "justification" is available on record, we need to hear it. Either way, this is a typically petty, shameful exercise of arbitrary power by an agency known for its meanness and bigotry.


A similar refusal occurred to a respected speaking visitor to Liverpool and North Wales in June. No justified reason was given. One questions who is influencing these decisions ? The sad Palestinian case needs to be heard in this country.

Sarah Irving

Sarah Irving's picture

Sarah is a freelance writer and editor, author of a biography of Leila Khaled and of the Bradt Guide to Palestine, co-editor of A Bird is Not a Stone (a volume of Palestinian poetry translated into the languages of Scotland), and a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh. She has worked and traveled in Palestine since 2001.