“My goal is to take back my land, my grandparents’ land, and the memories of my family”.
That’s what nine-year-old Mohamed Ayyash told Al Jazeera when he was asked why he was at the front line of the deadly protest near the Gaza-Israeli border last Friday.
Mohamed has become the face of the Land Day protests in Gaza, which called for the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
At least 18 people were killed and more than 1,000 others wounded when Israeli snipers opened fire on unarmed demonstrators.
Photos of Mohamed wearing an improvised “onion mask” made using a spring onion and face mask went viral on social media.
The hand-made mask was the child’s attempt to reduce the effect of tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers, an idea that Mohamed got from his father.
“My father got injured in the first Intifada and used to tell me stories about (the onion mask),” Mohamed told Al Jazeera.
“I tried to recreate it and then it came out like that. I didn’t expect that my picture would go viral.”
Bassam Ayyash, Mohamed’s father, told Al Jazeera on Thursday that the “onion mask” helps reduce the effect of tear gas on nerves and helps keep composure.
“It would even help you pick up a gas grenade and throw it back at the soldiers,” he said.
Bassam, who was injured in 1989 during the first Intifada, said he was proud of his son and his determination to take back his ancestors’ land.
The Ayyash family was originally displaced from Yaffa during the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Zionist militias in 1948. The family now lives in Maghazi camp located in the centre of the Gaza Strip.
Mohamed wants to go back despite the threat from the Israeli army.
“I don’t fear them, they fear us,” Mohamed said.
“They’re scared because they have no land here, they came from a different land and they want to take Jerusalem,” he added.
Mohamed lost a relative in Friday’s protests, and a number of others were wounded.
But according to his father, Mohamed is ready for fresh protests leading up to the seventieth anniversary commemoration of the Nakba on May 15, the date used by Palestinians to mark the expulsion from their lands.
The nine-year-old, who has become a symbol of resistance for many Palestinians, had a baby sister born on Tuesday.
She was named Ahed al-Tamimi after the Palestinian teen activist who was arrested by Israeli soldiers in December 2018 and has been imprisoned since.