The story behind a front-page photo

By : Al-Orjwan Shurrab

On March 30, unarmed Gazan Palestinians marched to the border. Until 1948, the land on the other side had been their families’ home. Then, came the Nakba—“catastrophe”—when Israel was created and they were pushed off their land—many of them forced to settle in the densely packed Gaza Strip. Seventy years have passed and today, about 70 percent of Gaza residents are refugees. On that Friday, more than a quarter of a million Palestinians congregated to march nonviolently to remind the world of their right to return.
Fares Reqeb is shown in the lead, helping to carry out the injured. Later, he too was killed.
One of them was Fares al-Reqeb, 26. He also was one of 22 Palestinian protesters who died from injuries received that day. He was shot in the stomach by one of about 100 Israeli snipers. Doctors believe he was hit by either by an “exploding bullet” or high-velocity munitions normally used for targets a long distance away. He remained anesthetized and unconscious until he died of his wounds three days later, at 7 a.m. April 2 in Khan Younis’ European Hospital.
“We aren’t the terrorists; those who killed Fares are the terrorists,” says Fareed, Fares’ older brother. “We witnessed the Israeli occupation forces shoot an old woman at the border, just before Fares was injured.”
Fares, who lived in a community in the Khan Younis area, in southern Gaza, left school at 17 to try to find work, earning income in construction, supermarkets and restaurants. Nevertheless, despite his hard life, Fareed says Fares was always smiling and loved to play with children. He married his wife, Bader, and had two boys, 3 and 5 years old. Bader is five months pregnant with their third child. Although Fares joined the Islamic Jihad movement in 2015, frequently helping to guard the Gaza borders at night, his family says he participated in the demonstration in a spirit of nonviolent unity. All political factions have come together for the march.
“Fares went to protest peacefully against the occupation of our land,” Bader says. “The martyrdom of Fares shows to the world that Israel is willing to kill Palestinians even if they are peacefully asking for their rights.”
To date, 29 Palestinian protesters have been killed, and 2,850—including 24 women and 81 minors—have been injured. Seventy-nine are in serious condition, according to Ashraf al-Qedra, spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry. In addition, Israeli authorities confirmed they are holding the bodies of two Palestinians who were killed while trying to cross the border March 30.
Fares and his family grilled lunch at the demonstration
The al-Reqeb family, like many others in the Gaza Strip, was displaced from Jaffa by Israeli occupation forces in 1948. Sixty-eight percent of Gaza residents are refugees, according to the Wafa Information Center. They were forced to move to the Gaza Strip, while others were massacred.
Fares went to the border to protest with a large number of his relatives, including women and children, early Friday morning, March 30. They took a grill and some meat, since they were planning to spend the whole day there. In a photo taken of him and featured on the front page of the U.S. newspaper The Washington Post, Fares is seen helping nurses carry the injured to ambulances.
“He told me he thought he would be killed there, but I thought he was joking,” his nephew, Mohammed, recalls sadly. “My uncle was shot about 60 meters away from the separation fence. Nothing was in his hands; he was not even holding a stone!”
Ismail Haniyeh, the senior political leader of Hamas, which governs Gaza, said in a written statement that the Palestinian right of return to their homeland must be more than a motto.
“Since [U.S. President Donald] Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, many other country leaders have started to support normalization with Israel. Gazan Palestinians are sending a message to the world that for us, there is no alternative than a return to our homeland, Palestine,” Haniyeh said.
Despite the grief of losing her son, Fares’ mother agrees: “We have a right to our land, and we all will sacrifice our souls for the sake of this land. Israel must know that Palestine is ours.”
This story was originally published by We Are Not Numbers
Mentor: Pam Bailey

His weapon was a camera

By: Basman Derawi

On April 6, Palestinian photojournalist Yasser Murtaja was covering Gaza’s Great Return March, a six-week demonstration along the Israeli border to call attention to Palestinians’ right to return to their ancestral homeland. He was shot by an Israeli sniper, dying of his wounds.
Carrying his soul in the palm of his hand,
His heart races to see his homeland.
To tell the truth of his people.
With his naked hands,
With nothing behind his back
Only “press” on his chest,
Witnessing the march.
His weapon is his camera,
The scariest of weapons for his killers.
A bullet explodes in his side;
The sniper who stole his bed
seeks to steal his words. 
His blood flows to the ground, 
His soul travels to the heavens,
Yet his words will live.

This story was originally published by We Are Not Numbers on April 8, 2018

A day of protest in Gaza – By Rana Shubair

By: Rana Shubair – Gaza

On Land Day, March 30, I set out with my three, 12-year-old children, husband and other family members to join an estimated 60,000 other Gazan Palestinians for the first day of the Great Return March by the border with occupied Palestine [Israel]. Each day until May 15, the anniversary of the Nakba [“catastrophe” when more than 750,000 Palestinians were forced from their homeland to create Israel] we will camp by the border to remind the world that we have a right to return home.
With my daughter Huda (left)
It took me 45 minutes to get to the eastern border of Gaza City. We passed through the densely populated neighborhood of al-Shijaea, where a terrible massacre took place during the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza. The streets were congested with Friday morning vendors whose faces reflected the miseries and toils of Gaza life. Mule- and horse-pulled carts dominated al-Mansoura Street as I rode in the car; I realized I had actually never been to that part of the city before!
When we reached the Israeli border area, tents and seating areas places where people were to sit were placed about 700 meters from the fence that separates Gaza from the rest of occupied Palestine. My eyes beheld a heavenly scene of a vast, green area on the other side of my country. (The area now known as Israel has plenty of water, unlike Gaza!) My heart raced and pounded in the same way it had when I went to Jerusalem in 2000 and visited al-Aqsa Mosque. I wanted to run to that oasis and touch the isolated and prohibited area of my homeland. A sudden rush of adrenaline filled my body.
Families sat on the ground with their kids, who wore the national Palestinian dress or camouflage uniforms. When I asked them to pose for a picture, each kid held up the name of the town his/her family originally came from and a sign that read, “We will return.” For a fanciful moment, I imagined that today was actually the day of return. All of the people gathered there greeted each other with, “Inshallah, we will all return.” Gaza happens to be my native homeland, but I was envious, so I said to my friends there: “I’m going back, too. All of Palestine is my country.”
I pointed to the closed border area, where the barbed fence and armed watchtowers were located, and said to my kids with a half-cracked voice, “See, that is Palestine. See how beautiful it is.” As the sirens of ambulances intermingled with the vociferous speeches and national songs, I realized there would always be martyrs. As long as Palestine is not free, and as long as we are locked up in the big cage that is Gaza and denied the right to live like other ordinary humans around the world, there will always be young people willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the sacred soil of Palestine.
At that moment, we were all one. Everyone there was united under one flag and one motto: We have a right to return to Palestinians’ historic homeland. This overwhelming feeling of unity long has been missing, especially in Gaza. As I pondered the faces of my people there with me, one fact was clear to me more than ever: None of us had anything more valuable to lose than what we already had—our home.
The fearless ones, mostly young men, ventured close to the border even though they were not armed—they couldn’t resist getting a closer glimpse of their occupied homeland. They were as vulnerable as us women and posed no threat. Yet as they had threatened, Israeli snipers were positioned to kill these dreamers. The Israeli occupation forces also threw teargas canisters at the crowds.

The toll at the end of the day was 16 martyrs and more than 1,500 wounded. But being a Palestinian and standing up for our rights has meant sacrifice since our first displacement in 1948. My family and I will not back down. This story was originally published by We Are Not Numbers

This story was originally published by We Are Not Numbers