My name is Olfat al-Kurd. I live in Shuja’iya in Gaza. I am 37 years old and have four children. In July 2017, I joined the B’Tselem team as one of three field researchers in Gaza. In the past few weeks, since the protests along the fence with Israel began, we have been working around the clock to document, collect eyewitness accounts and testimonies of injured people, and gather information about the demonstrations and casualties.
I attend the weekly protests not only in my professional capacity but also as a Gazan. Some of my photos, posted on B’Tselem’s photo blog, show how most of the protesters gather in tents pitched far from the fence. These families enjoy entertainment stages, live music, food stalls and other family activities. We go there to convey a political message, to demonstrate, but non-violently – we don’t go there with weapons. The soldiers shoot at us nonetheless, and people are injured from live fire and tear gas.
This week, a concerned Israeli colleague asked me why I keep attending the protests, even though it’s dangerous. I replied that I am, of course, afraid, sometimes so much that I fear I won’t come back.
But the truth is that nowhere in Gaza is safe – whether near the border or in our own homes. Israeli planes can bomb any house, anywhere, at any moment. We all live in constant dread of something terrible happening. Everyone in Gaza lost a relative in the last wars. I lost my brother in the 2009 ‘war’.
The festival activities at the protests are a rare opportunity for us to breathe, meet people, and feel that we belong to something larger than ourselves. The open areas near the fence are the vastest in Gaza, but no one has dared go there since the last war. We can’t go to the beach any longer because sewage infrastructure has collapsed as a result of the blockade, and raw sewage flows into the sea. Many Gazans live in abject poverty and cannot afford to sit in a café or a restaurant, so they come to the protests with a coffee thermos and food.
Israel has been holding Gaza under blockade for more than ten years. Some of the young people participating in the protests and being wounded or even killed by soldiers, do not know what it’s like to have running water and a steady supply of electricity. They have never left Gaza and grew up in a prison.
You can’t visit us, Israel doesn’t allow anyone to see what’s going on here. There is no real life in Gaza. The whole place is clinically dead.
The younger generations are crushed by the hopelessness and death everywhere. The protests have given us all a spark of hope. They are our attempt to cry out to the world that it must wake up, that there are people here fighting for their most basic rights, which they are entitled to fulfill. We deserve to live, too.
Gaza Field Researcher