Ahmad Sabra, Shaheed Loving Photographer

Earlier this year, an Arab Australian by the name of Ahmad Sabra was one of 53 finalists for the National Portrait Gallery’s national photographic portrait prize.

The photo he entered for the competition was that of a child who “has lived in an orphanage since his father was killed in Gaza after an Israeli air strike in 2008.”

An interview with Sabra is found on the National Portrait Gallery website (hat tip: James).

ahmad sabraHow do you define your practice?
Portrait photographer

Do you have a website or are you represented on a website?
My personal website issabraimagery.com.au and lahza.com.au

How would you describe your relationship to the subject/s?
I would describe myself as an observer or visitor. Growing up in the Middle East I remember the Palestinian refugee camps and I’m sympathetic to their hardship.

Was the photograph a result of a constructed, fabricated or candid encounter? Please describe.
We were in Gaza shooting a documentary and we had heard about the orphanages and wanted to visit and document some of the children who had lost parents during the wars in Gaza. Nearly all orphanages in the Gaza strip rely on foreign donors and we wanted to try and raise some awareness or money. We were taken on a tour of the orphanage and introduced to a few of the children. We were shown their room and given background stories of some of the boys. Each room contained four beds and the window caught my eye and I’m OCD about lines in symmetry. I asked Mohammed to stand at the foot of his bed and took his photo.

What are the ideas or themes underpinning your portrait?
Mohammed is a son of a martyr (shaheed). His father died fighting for his country. The word shaheed gives me goose bumps when I hear it. We’re brought up believing that one of the most honourable ways to die is to die as a shaheed. In general the family of the shaheed will get congratulated for the martyrs sacrifice and conceal their grief and only show pride. ‘Think not of those who are slain in the way of Allah as dead. Nay, they are alive finding their sustenance from their Lord.’ (Quran 3:169)

Please describe the technical aspects of your photograph?
I used a Rolleiflex SL66 medium format camera for this portrait. I used some natural light and an LED light panel to light up Mohammed.

How was the final print made? Is this print one of an edition?
Silver gelatin print on Ilford FB warm tone paper. I have only made two prints.

Describe your consideration of scale, mounting and framing in the presentation of your portrait?
I usually like to print 10 inch by 10 inch prints but for this portrait I wanted the viewer to see the details in Mohammed’s face so I chose to make the print larger.

Who would you nominate as your influences?
Larry Fink

Do you have any advice for young photographers (eg. students)?
Shoot film, shoot lots and stress less about your gear.

Notice how Sabra’s disturbing support and glorification of terrorism is printed alongside mundane things like the technical aspects of his photography.

Nothing to see here, move along.

According to this article, Sabra was also one of 13 finalists for the Qantas spirit of youth awards. His entrant page can be seen here. And while he did not win, it is troubling someone who so openly supports terrorism would be considered for the award at all (as an aside, the photography category of the award contains the following blurb: “This is the first category for SOYA 2013 and it went off like a rocket.” Appropriate wording, considering Sabra’s inclusion).

Update: According to this post on Sabra’s Facebook page, he does some work for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

And in this post, Sabara displays some humor.


Kind of not funny, considering his admiration for shaheeds.

About Aussie Dave

An Aussie immigrant to Israel, Aussie Dave is founder and managing editor of Israellycool, one of the world's most popular pro-Israel blogs (and the one you are currently reading) He is a happy family man, and a lover of steak, Australian sports and girlie drinks

Facebook Comments

  • Dafna Yee

    If I didn’t know that someone who is considered a shaheed has to have killed at least one “infidel” (I.e. Israeli/Jew), I would not know it from this article. That in itself is very frightening.

    • http://richie.sevrinsky.com Richie Sevrinsky

      Do you have a source for this?

      Otherwise, the highlighted section does not indicate terrorism in any way. If anything, “shaheed” in that section is the Islamic equivalent of “al kiddush Hashem”.

      • http://www.israellycool.com/ Aussie Dave

        Which part of the highlighted section does not indicate terrorism? Are we reading the same English words?

        Mohammed is a son of a MARTYR (shaheed). His father died FIGHTING for his country.

        His father was actively fighting Israel. We all know what this entails. He was not a non-combatant minding his business.

        Do you consider such “fighting”to be “resistance”, Richie?

        I am also fully aware the word “Shaheed” means “witness”, not “martyr” in the Quran. But clearly this is NOT the meaning here. It is clear from Sabra’s words what he means.

        • Theo

          Nothing wrong with fighting for your country, the country you actually live in..
          Contrast that with all those nice Jewish Australian families who send/allow their kids to go spend time in Israel, including with the IDF?? What drives a sane person to do that? What would they say if the kid got hurt in some demonstration, such as against house demolition..
          Can you imagine the rending of garments, the shedding of tears??
          Oi vey, why do they hate us???

      • walt kovacs

        muzzies have no concept of “kiddush hashem” so dont be so obtuse

  • Norman B.

    If he feels it is an honor to die a “martyr,” then let’s give him some wish fulfillment the next time he is in the neighborhood.

  • J

    Another disturbing aspect is that the government has put this together as an educational resource for high school & uni students. I hope they’re only accidentally publishing terrorist propaganda.

  • Jim_from_Iowa

    Actions speak louder than words for me. When I think of the Palestinians’ armed struggle against Israel, I think of terrorism. Bus bombings, rockets fired into population centers, families murdered in their homes are all examples of armed struggle/terrorism.

    • Theo

      When I think of the Palestinian struggle I think of land theft, death and dispossession, which continues to this day.
      When I think of terrorism I think of those who invented it and carry it out to this day, high tech terrorism launched again and again against the population of the world’s largest prison.


    5 August 2013
    Tamerlan Tsarnaev ‘had right-wing extremist literature’
    By Hilary Andersson BBC News, Washington

  • Ahmad Sabra

    Wow I’m shocked to see this… Not sure how I can be perceived as a supporter of terrorism by the images I capture.

    BTW when asked “Who would you nominate as your influences?” I said Larry Fink, he’s a Jew.

    • http://www.israellycool.com/ Aussie Dave

      Ahmad, I never accused you of being antisemitic. The words highlighted in my post indicate you glorify terrorism. You are welcome to counter my opinion.

      • Khaled

        How do you equate “shaheed” with terrorism? Obviously you think the word means suicide bomber. It doesn’t. It simply means martyr. What do you call an Israeli soldier who fights and dies in defense of Israel?

        • http://www.israellycool.com/ Aussie Dave

          No, terrorists are not always suicide bombers. They can also be those who launch rockets at Israeli civilians, for example. Chances are, a man from Gaza “fighting Israel” was doing something of the kind.

          • Dafna Yee

            The fact that every “suicide bomber” was referred to as a “shaheed” or “martyr” by the Palestinians, is reason enough to accept that “resistance fighters” that were also called “shaheeds” or “martyrs” were also terrorists.

          • Theo

            What would you call an F16 pilot who launches his bombs an missiles at Gaza??
            The father could well have been one of those who died fighting the invading IDF, defending his tiny piece of land, during Cast Lead.

      • Ahmad Sabra

        Do you have evidence that the boys father is a terrorist? The answer is no.

        Julia Gillard our prime minister at the time opened the exhibition and saw the orphans portrait and read his story. She had no objections. She obviously didn’t think I was supporting terrorism, otherwise the image would’ve been taken down along with the info about the boys father.

        • http://www.israellycool.com/ Aussie Dave

          You said the father died fighting for his country. Please inform us as to what he was doing. Was he a member of Hamas or another such organization? Did he fire rockets into Israel? What did you mean by fighting?

          • Ahmad Sabra

            You have no understanding of photojournalism.

            • http://www.israellycool.com/ Aussie Dave

              I am responding to your statements, not just photos. Making a blanket statement like “You have no understanding of photojournalism” really does not answer my question.

          • Ahmad Sabra

            He might’ve been protecting his family from the IDF, repelling the Israeli attack on Gaza etc etc 295–720 Palestinian civilians were killed in the 2008 conflict, the likelihood of him dying defending himself/family is high.

            I’m glad people in Australia don’t hold your views.

            • http://www.israellycool.com/ Aussie Dave

              “Might’ve”? You mean you do not know the backstory? Hmm…

              Regarding casualties in 2008, where do you get your statistics from?! In the 2008 Operation hot Winter, even according to the B’tselem, there were 54 civilian casualties.

              • Ahmad Sabra

                Can you provide evidence that he was a terrorist? No… you’re article is based on silly assumptions. Do you have the backstory? You don’t.

                I’ll say it again, I’m glad that Australians (including our previous PM) don’t share your views.

                • http://www.israellycool.com/ Aussie Dave

                  I am sure you are glad many Australian do not pay attention to the word “Shaheed” like I do, nor know how to rebut false casualty statistics like i do.

                  Now back to my question: what was the father doing? Did he belong to Hamas or any other such group?

                  • Ahmad Sabra

                    I wrote”son of a martyr (shaheed)”, thats clear enough.

                    I’ve answered you’re question already.

                    I feel fortunate that in Australia I’m able to show case my photojourno work without people like you.

                    • http://www.israellycool.com/ Aussie Dave

                      Yes, “son of a shaheed” is clear enough. Thank you for confirming my thoughts about where you stand on terrorism.

                      I worry about Australia’s future with people like you.

                    • Hasan

                      Give a dog a bone…

                      He left Australia to live in Israel…no point arguing with him lol.

                    • Khaled

                      Exactly, Hasan.

  • Jamal

    Any country that is at war glorify those who died ‘fighting for their country’. Should Australians be condemned for a moment of silence on Anzac Day? You want to deny Palestinians and those who support the cause the right of honoring their dead, known as ‘Shaheed’? By the way, a shaheed is anyone who dies at the hands of their oppressor, so the child’s father wasn’t necessarily armed and if he was, it was surely in defense to protect his family from the horrific 2008 attacks on Gaza.

    • Dafna Yee

      See my reply to Aussie Dave above.

  • Kody

    Excuse me, but the German Nazis took practically all their ideas from Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays, and Eastern European Slavo-Turks have been propagandizing against native ME populations at least as far back as the 1880s.Here is an example from Herzl’s Altneuland (1902)Kingscourt und Friedrich beeilten sich auch fortzukommen. Sie fuhren auf der schlechten Eisenbahn nach Jerusalem. Auch auf diesem Wege Bilder tiefster Verkommenheit. Das flache Land fast nur Sand und Sumpf. Die mageren Äcker wie verbrannt. Schwärzliche Dörfer von Arabern. Die Bewohner hatten ein räuberhaftes Aussehen. Die Kinder spielten nackt in Straßenstaube.Kingscourt and Friedrich hurried to get away. They traveled on the miserable railroad to Jerusalem. Even on this route scenes of the deepest depravity. Flat land almost only sand and swamp. The spare cultivated fields as if scorched. Colorless villages of Arabs. The inhabitants looked like robbers. The children played naked in the street dust.”Verkommenheit” is something rotten, neglected, ruined; “sand und sumpf,” an infertile land, not cultivated by “civilized” people; scorched fields and the neglected, colorless villages reminds us of a country devastated by war; the inhabitants are either second-class human beings or not human at all; they are criminals, homeless, dishonest, not trustworthy.Altneuland is racist colonialist literature, which serves the purpose of justifying the rule of colonizers over savage people. The book is a legitimization narrative, whose content has little connection to the reality of early twentieth century Palestine.

    • Dafna Yee

      Actually, the vast majority, if not almost all, of the Arabs that lived on the land in the Palestinian TERRITORY (“Palestine” has NEVER been a sovereign country/nation!!) were serfs and were quite as uncivilized as they were portrayed. The land was barren up until the JEWS RECLAIMED IT! Just look at any photos of Arab villages in the 19th up to the mid-20th centuries and you can see the evidence for yourself. BTW, none of the Arabs before 1948 called themselves “Palestinians”; all Arabs referred to themselves as “Southern Syrians” (I don’t remember the Arabic word). ONLY JEWS CALLED THEMSELVES Palestinians right up until they became Israelis in May 1948!! Most of the Arabs in this area emigrated there from other Arab countries after it became the Palestine Mandate under the control of the British because the standard of living was so much better there. Arabs did not call themselves “Palestinians” until Haj Amin al Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, called this disparate group of Arabs “Palestinians” for the purpose of using them to expel the British and KILL THE JEWS! The Arab riots between 1936-1939 was one of the results of this grouping (and these riots were decades before any “Israeli occupation”) but they did not become a political entity until 1967 when Arafat (an Egyptian) took over the three year old PLO and the terrorist activities came oftener. It was when the Israelis reclaimed the land from the JORDANIANS (NOT THE “PALESTINIANS”!) who named the land “West Bank” when they conquered the land FROM THE ISRAELIS, that Arab villages and land they acquired, were brought into the 20th and 21st centuries. A big point to remember is that at no time during the 19 years that Jordan controlled the land, there was never any talk from either Jordan or the “palestinians” to create a separate, sovereign country for them!!!

      • Theo

        Joan Peters has been roundly discredited. Get with the program.
        Israel was not a “sovereign” country until was declared into existence…
        So what?
        “..The land was barren..” This is just not true.
        The land was not barren and much irrigation was in fact already established before the Jewish seizure. .. “Married to another..” the phrase was, I believe..

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