2023 Yearender: The inspiring heroes of Gaza

Gihan Shahine , Friday 29 Dec 2023

The resilience of the Gazan people under Israeli attack has changed the hearts and minds of many across the globe.

Gaza

 

Every time I surf Facebook, the enchanting sound of a video that has become a trend and gained the likes of more than three million people since the outbreak of the war on Gaza on 7 October immediately brings tears to my eyes.

Shedo baadkom ya ahl falestine, shedo baadkom, it says, meaning “rally together Palestinians, rally together.”

The heart-breaking voice of an old Palestinian woman also bespeaks deep pain and inner strength while her smile seems to defeat her wrinkles. The story of 85-year-old Halima Al-Kiswani, dubbed Um Al-Abd, whose age is longer than the Israeli occupation, dates back to the Deir Yassin massacres in 1948 when she was deported at the age of 10 with her family from a small village in Palestine to the Al-Zarqa Refugee Camp in Jordan where she lived for the rest of her life.

The massacres carried out during the Israeli war on Gaza since 7 October have been very much reminiscent of Deir Yassin, helping to make Om Al-Abd’s memories so authentic. She passed away during the recent war. But the passion behind her memories has been reborn.

“Thank you, Gazan People.” “Your resilience has taught us a lot.” “We’ve forever changed.” “Our children are learning a lot.” These are just a few of the comments posted on Facebook that have been circulating on social media since the outbreak of the war.

Such pro-Palestinian sentiments have grown up by the minute, and particularly when Israeli allegations of the “40 beheaded babies” by the Palestinian resistance were shown to be totally unfounded.

Israeli allegations about hospitals in the Gaza Strip hiding weapons have also been shown to be untrue, and Israeli prisoners released during the truce were later seen to be in very good health, with some even attesting to how kindly they had been treated in captivity.

Such incidents have changed public opinion throughout the world. Strong pro-Gazan sentiments are now no longer confined to Muslim and Arab families, and instead they have crossed cultural borders and been reiterated by social-media users, influencers, artists and athletes all over the world.

However, it is the faith and strength of the people in Gaza that seem to have won the hearts of most.

The deep sorrow I felt when I listened to Um Al-Abd’s voice soon faded when I talked to a Palestinian activist who has three sons in Gaza and was still very much in control and even was expressing hope.

We were on the 30th day of the Gaza bombing, and when asked about his sons he said, “we are fine, hamdolillah [thank God]” But how the Gazans can really be fine in the face of genocide remains an open question. Are the Gazans part of a nation that can never be defeated? Are they like seeds — the more you try to bury them, the more you find them growing?

“The Gazans have taught me a lot about how faith can help us to go on,” said one Irish pro-Palestinian protester wearing a Palestinian scarf when asked if she had learned anything from the Gazan plight. “They have also inspired me with nationalist sentiments because Ireland has also suffered occupation, and all the free people in the world should support their call for freedom.”

The people in Gaza are facing inhumane conditions. They are not only facing death every single minute, but they are also bearing hunger, thirst, and displacement in what are acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing.

News footage shows tens of thousands of mothers and fathers showing patience in the face of death and at receiving the news of the deaths of their children and, in many cases, their whole families. This has undoubtedly sent strong messages of rare power that are stunning the whole world.

Images of women hugging the cold bodies of their dead children, and those lying beside coffins awaiting their burial due to being under siege, can hardly be put into words. The videos of children showing resilience in the face of the assault and the loss of their loved ones have left many of us speechless.

Views of medical staff working around the clock and refusing to leave hospitals despite imminent danger, singing national songs and praising the Prophet Mohamed, have also been inspiring to many.

“We will remain here until the pain is gone and in spite of the calamities,” sang the staff of the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza before it was blasted by the Israeli bombing.

Such resilience could perhaps explain why the nurse activity manager for the NGO Doctors Without Borders, Emily Callahan, had earlier told the US network CNN that she would go back to Gaza “in an absolute heartbeat” after the inspiring experience she had had there during the war.

“My heart is in Gaza, and it will stay in Gaza,” she insisted. “The Palestinian people I’ve worked with, both our national staff in my office as well as my staff at the Indonesia Hospital, were some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met in my life,” Callahan said.

Callahan, who had been working in Gaza since August and evacuated in early November, said some of her colleagues had chosen to “stay in the besieged territory despite knowing they could be killed.”

When asking her colleagues whether they would move south, “the only answers I got was, ‘this is our community. This is our family. These are our friends, if they are going to kill us, we are going to die saving as many people as we can,’” Callahan told CNN.

“And I said, if I can ever have an ounce of the heart that you have, I will die a happy person.”

WORLD PUBLIC OPINION

Callahan’s testimony was soon corroborated when 50 Israeli captives were released during the four-day truce and some attested to how they had been well-treated by the Palestinian resistance.

It was noticeable how the captives were released in good health and good psychological condition, smiling and waving heartily at their escorting captivators. A mother even thanked Hamas for the well-being of her daughter, saying that her daughter had not needed any psychological rehabilitation after her release, thanks to the kindness she had received in captivity.

But even before the truce, there had been massive rallies across the world, particularly in the UK and the US, protesting against the Israeli atrocities and demanding an immediate ceasefire and the stopping of the killing of children.

Thousands of people across different US states and in European cities like London, Brussels, Berlin, Madrid, Paris, and Dublin have protested against the Israeli genocide in Gaza.

There have also been protests in Canada and New Zealand that strongly condemned the Israeli atrocities against children and civilians and demanded an immediate ceasefire.

The fact that the people of Gaza have stood alone in the face of the US-supported Israeli war and the fact that the Israeli bombing has been targeting children, babies, and hospitals has no doubt reduced Western support for Israel and turned world public opinion in favour of the Palestinian issue and the Palestinians’ right to liberate their land.

“What we are seeing today is that there is a major shift in many capitals around the world, particularly among young people, rejecting this Zionist apartheid regime and the ethnic cleansing that is taking place today in Palestine,” US-Palestinian professor Sami Al-Arian told the Turkish TRT World magazine.

For Al-Arian, that is a hopeful sign. “Despite the continuation of Western support for Israel’s aggression and the ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians, a move towards a pro-Palestinian global sentiment signals that Israel, under its embattled hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, might be losing the bigger picture and the war of ideas,” he added.

Ireland’s Sinn Fein Party leader Mary Lou McDonald may be a living example of how Israel is losing its global image. The Irish government has recently decided to embrace the Palestinian cause and shun Israel in response to the Israeli atrocities and violations of international law.

 “Where is the protection of international law for every child killed in Gaza,” McDonald queried in a public address to a huge crowd. “For every Gazan mother holding the cold body of their dead child, Israel cannot be allowed to commit atrocities without impunity. The government says that Israel’s actions cannot be without consequences. I agree. That is why the Irish government must take the lead and refer Israel to the International Criminal Court and send the Israeli ambassador home,” she said.

Only a few hours later, Israel’s ambassador to Ireland, Dana Erlich, was expelled. Belgium soon followed suite.

In a commentary titled “Israel loses much of the support it gained after Hamas’ attack” published on the website of the Brookings Institution in the US, Shibley Telhami elaborated how Brookings’ “latest polls taken four weeks after the attack, during a period when national and international attention had shifted to Israel’s subsequent attacks in the Gaza Strip, show that Israel has lost much of that early support [gained in the two weeks after Hamas’ 7 October attacks on Israel], especially among Democrats.”

According to the poll, “the percentage of those who wanted the United States to take the Palestinians’ side increased from 16.2 per cent in October to 23.2 per cent in November,” she said.

In the same vein, many Western influencers have decided to challenge pressures to disseminate false news about the Palestinians, and many have been vocal in expressing admiration for the way the Gazan people have coped with their losses.

A video of Al-Jazeera journalist Wael Al-Dahdouh going back to work immediately after burying his whole family targeted by Israeli missiles was one of many messages of perseverance. His famous statement that “they wanted to punish us by killing our children, maalish [never mind],” soon went viral on social media as perhaps a message of strength.

“Palestine never fails to teach us daily lessons,” noted Jule Al-Saleh, a senior community manager, in a post on the professional site LinkedIn. “Palestine once again sent a resounding message to the world. They reminded us of some key life lessons that are worth reflecting on in our daily lives.”

Among those lessons, Al-Saleh said, was determination despite limited resources, being able to survive and achieve success under immense pressure, resilience that helps us to bounce back stronger after setbacks, and patience and unity.

“Palestine’s journey is a stirring reminder of the emotional depth of patience: sometimes the biggest victories come to those who keep going, even when things are uncertain,” Al-Saleh elaborated. “Sometimes the biggest victories come to those who keep going, even when things are uncertain.”

“The solidarity among the Palestinian people, despite their differences, was a powerful force in their successful defence,” Al-Saleh added. “This underscores the importance of unity in achieving common goals, both in our personal and professional lives.”

Many global celebrities and influencers seem to have been equally impressed.

US influencer John Flynn has appeared in a short video on TikTok saying that “Israel is paying influencers on social media $1,000 a video to put out reports about Hamas being evil and savage and beheading babies… and defending Israel’s right to defend themselves in this genocide.”

The same video has shown testimonies of other Western influencers saying they had been under pressure to disseminate false information about the Gazan people, which they say they had refused for moral reasons.

Famous American TikToker Megan Rice went even further to announce her conversion to Islam in a live broadcast, saying she had been inspired by the patience of the Gazan people. Rice has recently become popular in the Middle East for her passionate support for the Palestinian people.

She said that the resilience of the people in Gaza had inspired to read about Islam and to convert.

BEAUTIFUL FACES OF GAZA

Shoaa (a ray of light) definitely bears up to her name. She has been providing free meals to those moving south in Gaza despite the dangers and lack of resources she has been suffering from under the war’s atrocities.

The challenges had been growing by the minute, but Shoaa struggled all along to continue serving meals as the founder of the Palestinian Food Bank, which had already been providing free meals to the impoverished besieged nation of the Gaza Strip for years.

“The situation is extremely hard,” Shoaa told Al-Ahram Weekly. It was day 34 of the war when we first talked, and everyone was exhausted under such inhumane living conditions. “Things are going from bad to worse,” Shoaa said, when the bombing was already very close and she would have to cut the conversation and hide for fear of getting bombed.

“We have no electricity, no supplies, no water, just no basic needs of life,” she said. “And our organisation has no official support from any big organisation or government. We just depend on family and friends to provide resources that are literally running out.”

Living under such inhumane conditions did not stop the volunteers from keeping on trying, however. “We struggle to provide meals, but we have to cook them on wood fires because the stoves no longer work,” she said.

Challenges remained after the ceasefire. The price of food had soared, and the amount of aid trickling into the Strip did not satisfy the needs of all inhabitants. But the Gazans keep on struggling and refuse to leave despite such calamities.  

“All the people in Gaza support each other like an extended family,” Shoaa said. “So, those who have extra wheat for instance may help or give it in return for another foodstuff they need.”

Shoaa and her husband were offered the possibility of leaving for Canada during the war, but they refused to leave their homeland.

“It’s either victory or victory,” Shoaa said in a confident tone. “We live under siege and constant fire, and the amount of killing and bloodshed is frightening. We, as women, are up to our ears bearing the brunt of the war. For a moment, I would think of leaving, but my three children would refuse, and we would not go without our children. So, we decided to stay and never abandon our homeland.”

Shoaa is not the only one refusing to leave. Many have made the same decision, and many have already lost their lives because of it.

Hammam Alloh, a Palestinian physician who refused to leave his patients at the Al-Shifa Hospital, lost his life to Israeli bombs as he was trying to save more lives.

“And if I go, who treats my patients,” exclaimed Alloh in his last interview with the Express Tribune a few days before he was killed in the Israeli bombing. “We are not animals. We have the right to receive proper healthcare,” he said.

“Do you think I went to medical school and did my postgraduate degree for a total of 14 years to think only about my life and not my patients? I’m asking you, do you think this is the reason I went to medical school, to think only about my life? This is not the reason I became a doctor.”

Hundreds of such heroes, including doctors, nurses, taxi drivers and journalists, have played memorable roles during the war.

“Doctors working 21 hours a day, journalists doubling up as rescue teams, taxis serving as wartime ambulances — Gaza professionals who refuse to quit in the face of conflict have become lifelines for residents of the besieged Strip,” said a recent report titled “Faces of Heroism in Gaza” published by the US Christian Science Monitor.

“As Gaza residents face an Israeli military offensive… these professionals say their duty to provide services to their community outweighs the increasing risk to their own lives, even as they suffer personal losses.”

NEW GAZA GENERATIONS

The new generations seem to have even more resilience than their parents as “they have grown up in very difficult conditions, seeing their parents and grandparents killed and imprisoned every day,” said a 24-year-old Gazan woman who moved to Cairo after marrying an Egyptian spouse.

She spoke to the Weekly on condition of anonymity.

“The new generations in Gaza have been raised in war, and they would never leave their homeland. It’s either victory or death,” she said. “I dream of going back to Gaza despite the war and destruction. My heart is there.”

“Those who criticise the resistance for having launched the 7 October attacks simply don’t get the whole picture,” she went on. “The news you get is nothing compared to our daily suffering. We have been subject to all sorts of inhumane conditions, and every single home has a martyr or a captive in addition to living under siege. We have dreams, and we have the right to live in a free country like all human beings.”

But it’s not just war that has created new generations of resilience. The new generations of the Palestinians are also well educated. This was particularly evident in their skillful use of social media to deliver their messages to the world in both English and Arabic and defeat fabricated stories.

Their management of the media war has been seen as professional despite the social-media restrictions that have attempted to silence any criticisms of the Israeli atrocities.

“All parents in Gaza give priority to education and would perhaps sacrifice other basic needs for its sake,” Shoaa said. “Our schools give priority to language and technology, and every single home in Gaza teaches their children the Quran and religion. Faith is very important, and this is what helps us fight for life. Faith is what keeps us going, and we know we will win in the end.”

Veteran US correspondent Janine di Giovanni, who revisited Gaza in 2022, has written a piece describing how she found “resilience and hope among its [Gaza’s] two million Palestinian residents, two thirds of whom are under the age of 25.”

“Gaza’s 20- and 30-somethings, it so happens, tend to be highly educated, multilingual, and jobless,” Giovanni said. “Sixty-four per cent of the youth labour force is unemployed, largely due to the occupation. Nonetheless, years after years, they have proved indefatigable.”

The nature of the new generations of Palestinians may further explain “why dismantling Hamas won’t end the Palestinian armed resistance,” according to an article by journalist Dario Sabaghi published by the New Arab on 18 October.

The analysis suggests that “even if Hamas were to disappear, new Palestinian armed groups would likely continue to emerge to fight Israel’s occupation, with an emerging consensus among rights groups that Israel’s rule is classified as ‘apartheid.’”

Tahani Mustafa, a senior Palestine analyst at the NGO the International Crisis Group (ICG), concurs. “And even before Hamas and after Hamas, Palestinians will continue to resist the occupation in all its forms,” she insisted.

REVIVING THE CAUSE

How has the war changed us? Are we the same people we were before 7 October? These questions are becoming more and more popular among Palestinians and others.   

“I don’t think I will ever be back to normal; we’ve changed forever,” said a 45-year-old friend who asked to have her name withheld.

“I’ve been addicted to the news and spent whole nights sleepless and crying because of the amount of grief the Gazan people are going through. This woke me up to the truth that we have to stop being engaged in our lives alone. We have to prepare ourselves for what the world is facing. We have to get prepared for worst-case scenarios,” she said.

Psychologist Mustafa Al-Roziqi, who works as a child and teen therapist and a parenting coach, told the Weekly that “the amount of grief and pain that Egypt’s parents, teens, and children have been through due to watching horrible images of the Palestinian genocide, where infants and children have been constantly killed, initially caused them severe anxiety and sometimes apathy due to feeling helpless in the face of such calamities.

“But this sense of helplessness and grief soon turned into an immense power for change at the sight of how the Palestinians themselves coped with their huge losses, armed with strong faith and a sense of total submission to God’s will. They were seen saying Al-Hamdolillah [thank God] and insisting that they would never abandon their homeland. This has been inspiring to many,” he said.

This change, according to Al-Roziqi, has been particularly evident in “the new Generation Z that is exposed to social media as perhaps a more credible alternative to biased media outlets.”

Abu Obaida, spokesman for the Ezzeddin Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, has been turned into an iconic public figure, featuring heavily on social media, in graffiti, and even in popular songs. His speeches grab the attention of young people and children even more than football matches, music festivals, and cartoon episodes.

“Social media has no doubt played an instrumental role in this change,” Al-Roziqi went on. “Children are now allowed to tap into the news through social media. When we have allowed children to express themselves through art, they have drawn themselves as warriors killing an occupying opponent, calling the occupiers names and teaching them lessons.”

Calls for boycotting Western products have been popular, and Facebook has been inundated with lists of products from companies that support the Israeli occupation. The boycotts have become the talk of the day since people feel heartbroken and helpless; for them, an economic boycott is the only way to deliver their message.

“We are not simply boycotting. We have become self-sufficient.” This was a popular message reiterated by many, including famous Egyptian TV talk-show presenter Radwa Al-Sherbini on her X account.

Although boycotts have long been an economic weapon used to deliver a message to aggressors, what is characteristic about the boycotts this time is the deep involvement of children who can hardly tolerate the amount of bloodshed that their fellow children in Gaza are exposed to.

“Now you can see children boycotting their favourite treats for fear that their money will end up funding the killing of their brothers in Gaza,” Al-Roziqi said. “The same generation of teens that we have seen as superficial for wasting time on social media and games is now more aware than ever of the Palestinian cause and even more vocal in supporting the Palestinian cause.”

 “This sentiment has caught on among all Arab, Muslim, non-Muslim and non-Arab youths.”

UK film director Ken Loach has summed it up. “I think people used to say that there are no great causes left,” he said. “Well, there is a great cause left. And that is the cause of the Palestinians, and I think we should all support the Palestinians in the way that the Palestinians ask.”


* A version of this article appears in print in the 21 December, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

Search Keywords:
Short link: