Homegrown Instagram influencers highlight Gaza’s plight

Meet three influencers who take to social media to discuss the conditions inflicted on the Gaza Strip.

A mobile opening Instagram account
Yara Eid's activism on social media during a three-day Israeli attack on Gaza in August gained a strong following worldwide [Hosam Salem/Al Jazeera]

Gaza City – It has been nearly eight months since Yara Eid returned to Gaza after six years in the United Kingdom to study international relations.

Not once could the 22-year-old return home during her studies to visit her family in Gaza because of the 15-year Israeli blockade on the coastal enclave and travel restrictions. Eid said she experienced “difficult times” after repeated Israeli attacks on Gaza during her time abroad.

“While in the UK, every time there was a bombing on Gaza my heart would stop literally,” Eid told Al Jazeera. “I would be glued to my phone 24/7 trying to call my family to check if they’re okay. It is never peaceful there.”

Particularly harrowing, she said, were attacks that occurred after she had returned home – three days of Israeli strikes that started on August 5.

Forty-nine Palestinians were killed in an operation targeting Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an armed group active in Gaza. Nearly half of the dead were civilians, Palestinian officials said.

At the time, Eid felt she had to do something, so she decided to use her mobile phone, go out onto the streets to talk about Israel’s air strikes on Gaza and try to make her voice heard.

“Normally, I feel very afraid of bombing sounds,” Eid said. “After the 2014 war on Gaza, I suffered from post-traumatic symptoms that led to health complications and put me in the hospital for years. I was 14 years old at the time.”

“This time was different. I decided to overcome my fears. I have a lot of relationships and friends back in the UK and strong English-language skills, so I decided to use that in conveying the message of Gaza, and the injustice, oppression and constant bombing that is taking place against people here.”

A lady holds her mobile
Yara Eid, 22, used Instagram to explain Israel’s bombing of the Gaza Strip in August to her friends back in Britain [Hosam Salem/Al Jazeera]

Eid used her Instagram account to cover what was going on. She went to several bombed areas and hospitals, and the number of her followers jumped to 40,000 in just a few days.

“Unfortunately in Gaza, we lack English speakers covering events on the ground, so I decided to use my voice and give a voice to the voiceless,” she said.

“It was my first time ever on the ground [as a reporter]. I just did what my instincts told me to do. If I saw people running, I would run with them and tell other people, ‘We’re running as there is a bombing somewhere nearby.'”

Eid’s activity on Instagram got a huge response from followers around the world. They asked for more coverage and said what she was doing was important.

“Documenting what was happening is so important to me because I want people to live the experience I was living,” Eid said. “We’re becoming desensitized to the images on TV, and I wanted to share a real-life experience of me.”

“People in the UK know Yara as an ordinary citizen who lives and studies in the UK, and she’s a student who went back to visit her family, and suddenly, she’s on the ground covering dangerous life experiences that summarizes the whole story of life in Gaza.”

A girl stands by the sea.
Bisan Odeh, 23, an Instagram influencer and social media activist from Gaza [Hosam Salem/Al Jazeera]

Bisan Odeh, 23, works on projects supporting Gaza’s youth, community initiatives and the content production industry. She writes stories that embody her society’s reality and produces social videos.

“For me, creating content on my Instagram page is the sweetest thing I do in life, and recently I have been producing social media programmes, the last called ‘Hakawatiyia’ [Storyteller].”

During the latest offensive on Gaza, Bisan felt that the besieged territory had been forgotten, that the victims – many children and women – were just reported as numbers.

Bisan told Al Jazeera that she began shooting videos after investigating the people who were killed in Israel’s attacks. She said they included the mother of a groom killed on her son’s wedding day and other innocent civilians, including 16 children.

“The list goes on,” she said. “At that time, I decided to publish a video that talks about the victims in Gaza. They are not numbers and what is happening to us is enough.”

The video that Bisan filmed in English went viral on social media platforms and was shared by many followers.

“Talking about Gaza is always different, but through social media, it only needs balance in coverage. We cannot portray life here as always rosy, and we cannot also talk only about bombing and destruction.”

Bisan said the psychological scars caused by the wars in Gaza accumulate day after day, and she herself is still struggling.

“Since the end of the war, I can’t continue my life normally. Even in creating new content. All I think about is that we, as Palestinians in Gaza, do not exist and are not important to the world. And this is what makes me mentally tired the most.”

A girl from Gaza standing;
Salma Shurrab is an influencer from Gaza interested in marketing, advertising and fashion [Hosam Salem/Al Jazeera]

For dentistry student Salma Shurrab, 20, her activity on social media is far from the realm of geopolitics. She specializes in marketing, fashion, advertising and travel.

Shurrab said when she travelled for the first time to participate in an international conference in Turkey, she witnessed the diversity of cultures and nationalities.

“What I noticed is that I do not differ from them in anyway,” she said. “I am a cultured, educated and conscious girl who even follows fashion and the latest styles, but after meeting many participants, it became clear “there is part of Gaza unknown to the world.”

After the outbreak of the August war, Shurrab said she felt she should inform her friends and new acquaintances of what was happening.

“I had just come back from the trip, trying to ignore the difficult reality of Gaza, and then as soon as I returned, the aggression began,” Shurrab said.

“Here I found that I had to accept my reality and contribute to exposing it, not to cover it with the image that goes with the world. I wanted to tell the world that life in Gaza is not normal and that it could change in an instant.”

Shurrab filmed a video depicting her life during the Israeli assault to convey the message that the people in Gaza can have their lives upended at any moment.

“The video went viral and many friends shared it. Everyone sent me beautiful messages of support and I was happy that I helped even a little bit to get the message across,” she said.

Despite the psychological impact of the Israeli onslaught, Shurrab said her ambition to produce advertising, travel and fashion content has not changed, but it collides with the difficult reality of the suffering in the Gaza Strip.

“I feel ashamed to reshare trips and fashion. I feel that all I have to do is talk about our suffering and try to clarify what is happening to people on a daily basis – whether from military escalations or restrictions imposed on travel and movement,” she said.

“We cannot escape the reality of Gaza. We can’t even go far with our dreams and ambitions as freely as we want.”

Source: Al Jazeera