Following poet and non-violent resistance activist, Ahmed Abu Artema, as he inspires peaceful protest in Gaza.
“What would happen if thousands of Gazans, most of them refugees, attempted to peacefully cross the fence that separated them from their ancestral lands?”
That was the question 33-year-old Palestinian poet and journalist Ahmed Abu Artema posted on Facebook earlier this year.
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His post went viral.
It was a rallying cry that inspired a movement of peaceful protests known as the Great March of Return.
Frustrated by Israel’s more than decade-long land, sea and air blockade of the Gaza Strip, upon which it has waged three wars in the past 10 years, and wanting to draw attention to the Palestinian right of return, Ahmed organised the marches as a cry for help.
Our hardships induced this scream for life. The March of Return is a scream for life so that we may leave the walls of our prison.
“Our hardships induced this scream for life,” the soft-spoken father explains. “The March of Return is a scream for life so that we may leave the walls of our prison.”
But Ahmed is an unconventional protest leader. More comfortable in a library than at a protest camp, the former student of non-violent resistance wanted the movement to follow the examples of Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi.
“Up until a few years ago, the idea of peaceful struggle in Gaza was considered strange and disapproved of, because in people’s minds it meant surrender,” he reflects. “But with the March of Return, there was a positive transformation. People started having faith in peaceful struggle.”
Many of the protests took on a carnival-like atmosphere, with people of all ages and even traditional dabke dancers in attendance.
But they were met with violence.
More than 18,000 Palestinians have been injured so far, many of them seriously, and nearly 200 killed by Israeli forces, including 21-year-old volunteer paramedic Razan al-Najjar who was shot as she tended to a wounded protester.
It’s a toll Ahmed grapples with in Gaza: Between Fire and Sea, as he visits some of the injured and relatives of the deceased.
For Ahmed, it’s a battle between his conscience and his dreams of a world beyond borders, where people of all nationalities can live and move freely.
But as the cost in human suffering mounts, can he reconcile the two and persuade others of the power of non-violence?
Filmmaker: Karim Shah
Video editor: Dima Gharbawi Shaibani
by Karim Shah