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From the magazine Io donna. May 14, 2011.
They are graduated, speak a perfect English, have a passion for music, dance, and are very active on Facebook and Youtube. They are the young generation in Gaza who wants to bring springtime in the most tormented Strip of the Middle East. Free from ideologies, only asking for living and planning their lives with no  longer fear.

“I want to wear what I want to work. I want to speak about politics without fearing that the guy next to me will listen and report me. I want to walk on the streets with my male friends without fearing that Hamas, the Salafis or anybody else will condemn me. I want to be able to plan my future, instead of having to figure out what will happen tomorrow. I want to sing, I want to love... To stop living in fear”.

Samah Ahmeed had spoken quietly so far, but to the question “What do you wish for yourself? What are your dreams?”, she pours out like a river, flowing in an eddy of rage and disenchantment.  
Samah is 30 years old, she’s graduated in Political Science and works as a social worker with children. She has African roots but is multigeneration Palestinian. A black matron with whom we smoke shisha under a gazebo at the Gallery Café, almost forgetting we are in Gaza City, inside the Strip that is sealed by Israel and ruled by Hamas’ islamic regime, where everyday life is made of rockets shot over the wall, Israel’s reprisals, warships by the sea, internal conflicts and, in the last month, very high alert for foreigners.

The artist May Murad, 27, at her exhibition
in French Cultural Center.
We enter the Gaza Strip a few days after Vittorio Arrigoni’s murder, the Italian activist who was kidnapped and killed here on the 15th of April for reasons which are still too confused. In the static and apparent calm, the security measures for foreigners are stricter than ever, close to paranoia: we can go around only by car and only with trusted drivers; we have to lock ourselves in our apartments from dusk to dawn. We wonder why we have decided, in spite of all this, to cross the endless armoured corridor at the Israeli Erez checkpoint to lock ourselves as well in this  360 square kilometres prison.
We find the answer listening to Samah and her friends, youngsters who seem to have fallen here from another planet.

Samah and her friend Noor.

They are cultured, speak a perfect English, are fond of arts and music, bloggers, but most of all they are the founders of a revolutionary movement: it’s called “The 15th of March” because on that day the wind of Tahrir Square in Cairo blew onto Gaza City, and there 300 thousand people demonstrated on the streets.
The number one target wasn’t Israel, but the Palestinian division between Hamas, the party ruling in Gaza, and Fatah in the West Bank: the great dichotomy that freezes the roots of any peace process. And they also cried “stop” to the prohibitions that Hamas has imposed in the name of the islamic morality.
Although 65 per cent of the one million people here is younger than 25, it was the first time this majority dared to speak up: they all payed the price with imprisonment and beatings; Samah was also stabbed.
But tomorrow, the 15th of May, in the 63rd anniversary of Nakba (the Palestinian “catastrophy”, the day of the Israeli State foundation), they will take to the streets again to say they are still here. Even if Vittorio Arrigoni, who was their main supporter, is no longer here: one of the thousands rumours running through the Strip suggests that he was eliminated also for this reason.

Vittorio Arrigoni's funeral in Gaza.
“Hamas claims we are affiliated to political parties or even trained by the Israeli. Instead we simply are ourselves, tired of not having a decent life”. Ebaa Rezeq, 20, is one of the very few girls in the Strip not covering her head with the hijab, the islamic veil. We meet her at a party on a roof, at sunset. In Gaza alcohol is haram, forbidden: at parties, which are also forbidden, young people have fun with orange juice and Mecca Cola, cigarettes and shisha, Bob Marley songs and Arabic melodies.
A few days later, Ebaa invites us for a barbecue on the beach. “I study journalism” she explains “I’d like to attend a master abroad and then come back to work here, in order to make this a better place”. These guys are roasting kebabs on the grill, listening to Lebanese jazz and playing cards.
Shahd Abusalama, 19, of a fairylike beauty, brings us to her house to show us her paintings. She draws with charcoal naif, sadly intense subjects, and she’s also expert in dabka, the Palestinian folk dance.  “Years ago I used to travel in Great Britain for dance shows” she remembers “now getting out of Gaza is impossibile”. 
May Murad paints as well: she’s an eccentric 27-year-old, wearing dizzy wedges and her inseparable hat: “It’s a trick not to wear the veil” she smiles “it makes me feel prettier”. Her parents don’t accept her diversity, so May takes refuge at her uncle’s house where she can create abstract paintings with bold brushstrokes. We visit her exhibition at French Cultural Center, “the only place in Gaza where an artist can find opportunities...”.
Mohammed Antar is a 25 year-old rapper who writes amazing and strongly political songs with his band Egtya7 Underground: 8 musicians between Gaza and the West Bank, who compose and mix music through the internet. “Of course I’ve been arrested by Hamas” he says. “Rap is western culture to be suppressed. But I keep going ahead: here, the only thing you can do is make an effort to find yourself following your dreams, because outside yourself there’s nothing at all”.

Ebaa Rezeq and Shahd Abusalama at a barbecue on the beach.

At the Gallery Cafè, the only courageous venue for young people in Gaza to meet, we speak to Abu Yazan, a member of the radical group Gybo (Gaza Youth Breaks Out): they have published a manifesto on Facebook full of anger against Hamas, Israel and the United Nations. “We are like lice tightened between two nails, living a nightmare inside another nightmare” they wrote, with swearwords against all and anybody. “They arrested me 19 times” the guy smiles “but I had taken this into account”.
At the pink-painted Askadenia bar, on Omar Mukhtar avenue, Isnaa Badwan and Hadeel Fawzi are looking forward to singing for us: “Singing in Gaza is forbidden for women” they sigh “we are tired of performing in front of the mirror: we are forming a band to promote ourselves outside of Gaza through Youtube”. They tell us how much they love Lady Gaga, how they would rip apart the hijab, and the utopia of going out with a boy who’s not a future husband chosen by their families.

Shahd with Vittorio Arrigoni's portrait.

For the members of “The 15th of March”, men and women publicly hanging out together is very dangerous. And they ran a bigger risk last Easter, when their party in Vittorio Arrigoni’s memory exploded into dances and hip hop concerts. Hamas shut an eye, perhaps waiting to understand if this youth movement really has any revolutionary strength. In the meantime, however, some people connect the recent attempts of a dialogue between Fatah and Hamas to the firm and joyous protest of “The 15th of March”. Because,  as Ebaa Rezeq says, “people in Gaza were dead. Our voice is bringing them back to life”.

Finalist at Mediterranean Journalist Award of Anna Lindh Foundation, 2011.


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