In Gaza, young people’s lives are not their own. At any point they could be taken by lethal force, and every day is defined by restrictions of their basic needs and control over their plans and aspirations. By withdrawing its funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (Unrwa), the United States is making that future even more uncertain.
Young people with Christian Aid’s partner, the Culture and Free Thought Association, recently felt compelled to take action and share their experience of not being able to leave Gaza. They spoke of the fact that being cut off not just from basic amenities, but from so many opportunities, means that they “cannot dream or even think about our future”.
A few weeks ago, the third paramedic was killed by Israeli Forces during the “Great March of Return”, a series of demonstrations attended by as many as 30,000 people over the past few months, spanning the length of the Gaza Strip in front of the “no-go zone” which cuts the population off from access and opportunity. Abdallah al-Qutati was a 22-year-old psychology student dedicated to treating people injured during the demonstrations, whose plans and aspirations have been stolen and whose potential has been denied.
This follows the death of Razan Al Najjar, a 21-year-old paramedic who volunteered with Christian Aid’s partner organisation Palestinian Medical Relief Society, and who, like al-Qutati, was shot by Israeli forces as she provided vital medical assistance to demonstrators who had been hit with live ammunition, tear gas canisters and rubber bullets. Najjar believed that “without weapons, we can do anything” and was committed to fighting the devastating effects of weapons with lifesaving care.
Razan had continued to volunteer at the demonstrations every week, despite being shot in the foot with a rubber bullet on one occasion and being hit in the chest with a tear gas canister on another. The courage that she and al-Qutati showed in the face of such violence and their dedication to assisting others are distinctive of the spirit and determination shown by so many medical responders and people in Gaza.
Taking the lives of two young people because of their compassion and bravery, shows how any choice, even with the best motivation, can be fatal in Gaza, and how young people are being prevented from determining their own fate. Razan dreamed of becoming a nurse, but the economic situation caused by the blockade on Gaza meant that she was not able to pursue this. The lack of control over their own lives experienced by youth imprisoned in Gaza every day, is something that they themselves may not have the power to change. However, they are able to share this with the world.
With this in mind, 60 young people worked with the Culture and Free Thought Association over several months to film and edit their own content, in an attempt to challenge the dominant perspective shown in the media of violence and destruction and show instead how people are forced to continue living with the impact. This video they produced is the result of a series of discussions with people young and old, whose experiences and aspirations may differ, but whose challenges caused by the occupation are resoundingly similar and acute.
The occupation of Gaza intensified 11 years ago when a land, sea and air blockade – which continues to prevent people from leaving or entering the small strip of land – was imposed by Israel and Egypt. The blockade heavily restricts imports and exports, which has decimated the economy and severely reduced the jobs and goods available for the population of around 2 million people. The blockade also cuts the population off from the natural resources and amenities that people require to live and work, severely reducing the capacity of local services, compounded further by the management of these services by the Palestinian Authority and the de facto authorities in Gaza.
Demonstrators were protesting against the conditions under which they are forced to live and as part of their mission to create alternative content, young people – in collaboration with the Culture and Free Thought Association – decided to document the positive, inspiring atmosphere they found at the demonstrations, something largely absent from much of the media coverage.
Through their photographs, they reveal how the overwhelming sense was a celebration of Palestinian culture and a recognition of history. Children who have never known anywhere except Gaza learnt about the homes their families lost and the villages they came from.
In this video showing plants being grown in the remnants of tear gas cannisters, the young people have captured how individuals trapped in Gaza continue to nuture life and hope for a future in which they do not struggle to survive, but are able to flourish. The US withdrawal of funding to Unwra and the life-threatening deprivation it will cause if the situation persists, makes it even more urgent for the rest of the world to campaign for the blockade to be lifted, and for individuals in Gaza to be given a level of control back to their lives.